In 1770, construction started on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, which was
completed in stages by 1816. At an overall length of 127 miles, it was
the longest canal in the country built by a single canal company. James
Brindley and Robert Whitworth were initially responsible for the design of
the canal, though the survey had been carried out by William Jessop.
During construction, several other engineers were involved. The Liverpool
end of the canal was completed in 1780, the initial contractors being
Samuel Weston and John Lawton. In 1848-9, the Liverpool Docks
engineer Jesse Hartley built a flight of 4 locks with hand-operated gates to
connect the canal with Stanley Dock via a short tunnel under Great Howard
Street . This simple piece of construction work had great
significance commercially, as it allowed the Yorkshire textile industry to
have direct access to the Liverpool Docks and thus transatlantic trade.
The canal took almost 40 years to complete, in crossing the Pennines the Leeds and Liverpool had been beaten by the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the Rochdale Canal. The most important cargo was always coal, with over a million tons per year being delivered to Liverpool in the 1860s, with smaller amounts exported via the old Douglas Navigation. Even in Yorkshire, more coal was carried than limestone. Once the canal was fully open, receipts for carrying merchandise matched those of coal. The heavy industry along its route, together with the decision to build the canal with broad locks, ensured that (unlike the other two trans-Pennine canals) the Leeds and Liverpool competed successfully with the railways throughout the 19th century and remained open through the 20th century.
It was always intended that the Leeds and Liverpool Canal would be linked to the docks in Liverpool. It was only in 1846, 30 years after the canal's completion, that the canal was directly linked to the docks via the Stanley Dock Branch. Georges Dock was filled in at the beginning of the 20th Century to allow the building of the Liver Building, Cunard Building and the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board Building, the Three Graces. This meant the North and South Docks were no longer directly linked. Boats wishing to travel from the North Docks to the South Docks had to go via the River Mersey.
Today the canal is linked to the Albert Dock and now runs in front of the Three Graces at the Pier Head.