When it was first opened in the 1700’s, the Leeds & Liverpool Canal helped open up the West of England and the great Port of Liverpool to businesses in Yorkshire.
When completed in the early 1800’s the canal stretched 127 miles across the Pennines a notoriously hilly area of land. To cope with the landscape, 91 locks we incorporated into the canal to take barges up and down.
There is a particular steep gradient that the engineers had to deal with around Bingley on the outskirts of Bradford. To deal with this they incorporated two staircases of locks – Bingley 3 Rise Locks and the longer Bingley 5 Rise Locks.
The Canal was opened up in stages, this stretch including the 5 Rise Locks opened in 1774 (Gargrave to Thackley) and a feat of engineering like this had never been seen on a canal before.
As the name suggests there are 5 consecutive locks, so that means 5 chambers but 6 gates. The lower gate of each lock forming the upper gate of the next chamber. The Leeds and Liverpool Canal is a wider canal than many and so the locks needed to be 4.3m wide and allow 2 boats to enter the lock chamber side by side.
The gates on each lock consist of 2 hinged sections attached to each side of the canal. Each half gate being 2.1m. The locks close forming a V shape downstream.
The 5 locks gradient is 1:5 making it the steepest set of locks in the UK. There is a rise of 18.03m over a 98m distance.
Because of the potential problems of opening and closing 5 locks, a full time lock keeper is employed at Bingley. The locks are actually padlocked shut when not in use. Barry Whitelock who retired in 2017, was England’s longest serving lock keeper and received an MBE in 2007 for “Services to Inland Waterways in the North”.
5 Rise Locks is a grade 1 listed structure and is visited each year by hundreds of tourists but also Gongooziers! Did you know that a Gongoozier is the term used to describe those who harbour an interest in canals and canal life, but do not actively participate. This is particularly apt here where lots of people spectate, watching the locks opened, without contributing any help!
It was a tourist attraction from the moment it opened. On 21st March 1773, a crowd of 30,000 people turned out to witness the first boat passing through the locks. The smaller Bingley 3 Rise Locks just upstream opened up at the same time.
3 Rise Locks
I did wonder how long it would take to navigate the 5 locks, but it turns out it is not as long as you think. Even on its first use it only took 28 minutes to move through the 5 locks and a time of 30 minutes today is what the Canals and Rivers Trust advise to plan for.
Going down the locks is a quicker journey and going up the locks can take as long as 45 minutes.
5 Rise Locks does need regular maintenance and the locks are drained every few years so this can take place. In 2022, new gates were installed out of a hardier wood – a green English oak and were 7m tall making them amongst the tallest lock gates in England. Each one also weighed approximately 6 tonnes.
5 Rise locks
There is a great little café at 5 Rise Locks (closed on Mondays during the winter) and if you stand at the top of the staircase of locks there are some great views of the old Mills of Bingley.
The locks are maintained by the Canals & River Trust.
If you want to find out more – there is a free leaflet with a map you can view here: