During the late 18th century the industrial demand for transport between Manchester, Preston, Lancaster and Kendal gave rise to proposals to build a broad bream canal from Westhoughton, east of Wigan to Kendal. John Rennie produced a survey which included several aqueducts but with only eight locks near the Kendal end at Tewitfield. Based on this survey construction was started in 1792.
It took 7 years to open the canal between Preston and Tewitfield and this included a large aqueduct over the River Lune north of Lancaster. At the same time the southern section between Chorley and Clayton was opened.
There was however a five-mile gap across Preston and the River Ribble. To temporarily solve this problem a tramway was built to complete the connection, albeit not a very viable solution. The tramway only survived until 1857 and since then the two sections of canal have been separated and the main Lancaster Canal was isolated from the national canal network until 2002, when the Ribble link was completed giving access between the Lancaster Canal and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. In 1819 the north section from Tewitfield was extended to Kendal and a short spur built to connect the canal to Glasson Docks.
The Glasson Arm, as it is known, has six locks to enable the canal to achieve sea level at Glasson Docks. This meant that the Lancaster Canal from Preston had only eight locks over the whole length from Preston to Kendal and only six locks to allow access to the sea, giving a length of just over 41 miles of lock-free canal.
In its heyday, the canal was hosted to express passenger boats known as "fly boats", averaging a speed of around 10mph from Preston to Kendal. Until 1849 there was a waterbus running between Kendal and Preston. The journey would take a staggering 14 hours but was very successful and carried 14,000 passengers in the first six months. In 1833 to complete with stage coaches this was reduced to 7 hours 15 minutes.
When the M6 motorway was built in 1968, it was cut through the canal at Tewitfield. The section of the canal north of Tewitfield was abandoned and the eight locks removed from the navigation and apart from a couple of minor changes, this left us with the Lancaster Canal as we see it today.
Today a group of volunteers are working towards connecting the canal at Tewitfield to Kendal again.