Leeds nostalgia: Curious case of quarter mile on Leeds & Liverpool Canal

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We return once again to the milemarkers on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, which have been the subject of debate on account of the orientation of the restored markers, whose signs appear to have been put on back to front, as it were.

Historical Mike Harwood, from Kirkstall, addressed this matter and also shed light on the curious question of why the UK’s longest canal is said to be 127 miles long from the Liverpool end but 127-and-a-quarter from the Leeds end.

Mike says: “According to the 1893: Canal, Rates, Tolls and Charges (Leeds & Liverpool Canal) Order Confirmation Act, for a fraction of the first mile the Company may charge as for a mile, and for a fraction of a mile after the first mile the Company may charge according to the number of quarters of a mile in that fraction, and a fraction of a quarter of a mile may be charged for as for a quarter of a mile.’ And, perhaps to complete the picture we can add that the maximum rate for each mile (and so quarter-mile) reduced at the end of the first, ten, twenty and thirty miles of a trip. Thus, the first post facing our boatman setting off with a load of say waste sulphate of lime towards Leeds would tell him how far he was from Liverpool. He would subtract that from the distance on the last post before his destination. Then, adding on any ‘spare’ bit at either end as a full quarter-mile he could easily work out the distance and the charge.

“Thus it is seen that quarters and halves and the orientation of the posts was in effect required by the statute. The carriers and boaters were concerned not with the distance to Liverpool or to Leeds.

“It is for this reason that the distance plates are displayed on opposite sides of the post to what you might expect. As the first plate seen displays the distance from your previous location.”