All the mileposts on the Trent & Mersey Canal measure the distances between Preston Brook, at the Mersey end of the Canal, and Shardlow, the Derbyshire inland port where goods were trans-shipped between the canal barges and the bigger river boats that plied the River Trent.
The Trent & Mersey Canal was built between 1766 and 1777, and was open between Shardlow and Stafford by 1770. Its surveyor, James Brindley, died of overwork in 1772, and the responsibility for the canal passed to his brother-in-law, Hugh Henshall.
Not only did the route of the new canal lie beside the river at Shardlow, but the turnpike road that formed part of the route between London and Manchester (later the A6 road) crosses the river a few hundred yards away at Cavendish Bridge, built for the 4th Duke of Devonshire by James Paine, and swept away in a flood in 1947.
The ancient village of Shardlow lies some way to the west of the canal, so the waterside buildings grew very quickly around the road bridge and the Shardlow lock. As such it presents a collection of eighteenth-century industrial buildings, houses and inns to rival the more famous Stourport on the River Severn.
By the time John Byng, later Viscount Torrington, passed this way in 1789 the place was distinguished by –
…so many merchants’ houses, wharfs etc, sprinkled with gardens looking upon the Trent and to Castle Dunnington Hill as to form as happy a scenery of business and pleasures as can be surveyed.
Indeed, the place was known colloquially as “Little Liverpool”.
Its heyday was over by the mid-nineteenth century, though the North Staffordshire Railway maintained the Trent & Mersey Canal as a means of extending their catchment area for freight.
Most of the warehouses were adapted, particularly to store corn.
The last grain traffic on the canal ceased in 1950, and the port became moribund. The canal stables and the brewery were demolished, and much more might have been swept away during the 1970s but for the creation of the Shardlow Conservation Area in 1975.
Now the canal warehouses are back in use for boat-building, housing and leisure. The Clock Warehouse is a busy pub [http://www.clockwarehousepub.co.uk], and the Navigation Inn, which has been an inn since 1778, is a particularly fine place to eat and drink: https://www.facebook.com/navigationinnshardlow.