Land for sale? Contact


History and heritage

As a part of the Peel Group; Peel L&P is integral to a business that strives to make a positive impact on people’s lives. The Peel Group is one of the leading infrastructure, transport and real estate investors in the UK, with collective investments owned and under management of more than £5 billion.

We are an ambitious regeneration business with generations of heritage and expertise running through our DNA. First established in 1972 by Chairman John Whittaker, our visionary projects evolved into Peel L&P and we are proud to be responsible for some of the most transformational projects in the UK today.

The Peel Group has grown through an ethos of recycling capital and long-term investment, gaining a reputation for visionary regeneration projects, primarily in the North of England.

The Group is family-owned, and its principal investments encompass land and property, transport and logistics, energy, retail and leisure.


The Lancashire and Cheshire estates came into the possession of the Egerton family in the 16th century and included the medieval manors of Worsley, Bedford, Cadishead, Pemberton, Hindley and Tyldesley. The Egerton’s held the titles of Earl and Duke of Bridgewater from 1617, until they expired on the death of the 8th Earl in 1829. It was the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater who developed the land and coal mining interests on the Lancashire and Cheshire estates, and added to their growth with the construction of the Bridgewater Canal (1758-1799), the country’s first true canal initially built to transport coal from the mines at Worsley to Manchester.

Following the death of the 3rd Duke in 1803, the Lancashire, Cheshire and Brackley estates, coalmines and Bridgewater Canal passed into a trust for the benefit of his nephew, George Granville Leveson Gower, 1st Duke of Sutherland. Following Leveson-Gower’s death in 1833, the Estates passed to his son, Francis Leveson Gower, but only on the condition that he assume the name of Egerton. Francis Egerton came to live at Worsley in 1837 and was responsible for the construction of Worsley New Hall as well as St Marks Church and a number of local schools. In 1846, Egerton was granted the title of the 1st Earl of Ellesmere.

The Bridgewater Trust expired in 1903, leaving all the estates and assets in the hands of the 3rd Earl of Ellesmere who established the Ellesmere Trust. In 1921, the 4th Earl set up Bridgewater Wharves Ltd and Bridgewater Collieries Ltd to manage the coal mining interests.

Two years later the 4th Earl sold the Lancashire and Cheshire Estates, manorial rights, and shareholdings in Bridgewater Collieries and Bridgewater Wharves Ltd to a syndicate of local businessmen in return for a share in the new Bridgewater Estates Ltd.

In 1929, Bridgewater Estates Ltd surrendered its shareholdings in Bridgewater Collieries Ltd and Bridgewater Wharves Ltd to Manchester Collieries Ltd, who took over the Bridgewater Estates’ Walkden Offices, in return for shares in the new company. During the 1930s, Bridgewater Estates Ltd sold off parts of its land and in 1942, surrendered its mine leases to the Coal Commission following the nationalisation of mines under the Coal Act. In the 1970s, the company made some purchases of land including the Thornley Estate at Longridge near Preston, Lancashire. In 1974, the Bridgewater Estates Offices at Walkden closed. Bridgewater Estates Ltd was later purchased by Peel Holdings Limited in 1983.

Bridgewater Canal

A step back in time

We currently have over 15,000 items recorded in the Peel Group Archives covering all aspects of the company’s history including Ports, Airports and Peel L&P, dating from the 1700s up to the current day. We are constantly acquiring new material whether from within the company or from former employees to items acquired at auction. As records of the past, archives can provide evidence for business use today.

Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater

A plan of the Duke of Bridgewater’s Navigable canal
already made within the extension proposed from
Longford Bridge to Liverpool, c.1766 [Bridgewater
Estates Archive Collection, Salford Library]

Coal had previously been transported from Worsley to Manchester via pack horse or the Mersey and Irwell Navigation, which was constructed between 1724 and 1734. However, by the middle of the 18th century these modes of transport were proving to be both costly and unreliable. The 3rd Duke of Bridgewater and his Agent John Gilbert therefore set about planning a new watercourse with two cuts. The first would start at Worsley Delph and link with the River Irwell at Barton; the second cut would take the canal from the Delph
in the direction of Warrington and meet with the River Mersey at Hollins Ferry. The plan included an underground section into the Worsley mines to avoid the problems associated with transporting coal from the coal face to the surface.

The Bridgewater Canal scheme received Royal Assent in 1759 and James Brindley was brought in to advise on the construction.

Brindley had established a reputation for working with water and mines and had surveyed the Trent and Mersey Canal for the 3rd Duke’s brother-in-law, the Earl of Gower. By 1760, it had been decided to apply for a second Act that would allow them to abandon
the second cut to Hollins Ferry and to take the Canal over the Irwell at Barton via an aqueduct and thence directly into Castlefield Basin, Manchester.

In 1761, plans were also made to extend the Canal from Stretford to Runcorn in Cheshire providing a link with the Port of Liverpool.

Work began in 1762 after the passing of the third Bridgewater Canal Act but owing to structural works over the Rivers Mersey and Bollin, coupled with a series of disputes with local landowners, the canal took fourteen years to complete. A later Canal Act passed in 1795 allowed the Duke to build an extension to the Canal from Worsley to Leigh and this was completed in 1800.

During the 19th century, the survival of the Canal was threatened by the arrival of the railways. The Bridgewater Trustees, in whose authority the Canal was placed following the death of the 3rd Duke in 1803, strongly opposed any parliamentary bill that proposed to
bringr ailways into the local area.T heir opposition however was withdrawn when they were given a large number of shares in the railway company as well as representation on the board. As the railways developed the Trustees were hard pressed to find the financial
resources to support the upkeep of the Canal and in 1872 the Trustees sold the Bridgewater Canal and the Mersey and Irwell Navigation, which they had purchased in 1845, to the railway companies and the Bridgewater Navigation Company Ltd was formed.

In 1887, the Bridgewater Canal, along with the Mersey and Irwell Navigation, was sold again, to the Manchester Ship Canal Company in order to provide access to the lands alongside the Mersey and Irwell.

Manchester Ship
Canal Company

The idea to bring deep sea shipping direct from the Mersey estuary to Manchester was first suggested in the 17th century. However, it was not until 1885 that the proposal was given Royal Assent in the form of the Manchester Ship Canal Bill, championed by the Manchester businessman Daniel Adamson and the engineer E dward Leader Williams. The canal took six
years to build and was opened in 1894. The construction period was fraught with difficulties, not least the initial failure to attract enough capital to finance the scheme, followed by the death of the main contractor Thomas A Walker. Between 1891 and 1893, Manchester Corporation agreed to loan a total of £5million to the Ship Canal Company in returned for a majority on the board of directors. By completion, the Canal had cost £9,670,000, covered 35½ miles from the entrance at Eastham to the docks at Manchester and Salford, and was to cover 700 acres with quays 5½ miles in length.

As traffic along the Canal grew additional dock space on the Manchester side was increased in 1905 with the opening of No. 9 Dock on the site of the former Manchester Racecourse at New Barns. At the beginning of the First World War, 5.4 million tons of traffic were handled through the Port of Manchester. A factor in the success of the canal was Trafford Park, the world’s first industrial estate, attracting factory owners with the prospect of access to deep water transport. A railway network was expanded to link with main lines and this network grew to be the largest privately-owned railway in Britain with 75 locomotives and 2700 wagons using 200 miles of track.

Docks and other services specifically for oil products were also developed with the opening of two berths at Stanlow in 1922 and 1933, followed by the QE II Oil Terminal at Eastham in 1954. In terms of tonnage, 1955 was the busiest year when 18.5 million tons were processed.
However, by the 1960s the future of the canal looked bleak. Although palletisation and containerisation had helped to stave off problems up to the mid-1970s this was only temporary. By 1976, Ellesmere Port was doing more business than Manchester Docks, which was handling less than two million tons per annum. The upper reaches from Runcorn to Manchester were in decline and threatened with closure.

In 1987, the company was taken over by the textile firm Highams. Later that year, Manchester City Council relinquished its seats on the board in return for the repayment of the original loan plus shares in a new subsidiary, Manchester Ship Canal Developments Limited. By 1991, ownership of the company had been transferred to Peel Holdings.

Map of the Manchester Ship Canal, showing its course from Eastham to Manchester, with railway and canal connections, c1950 (Peel Archives).

Mersey Docks and
Harbour Board

Liverpool Town Council was the original port authority and in 1709, it was involved in the promotion of an Act to build the first enclosed dock on the site of the original “Pool”. By 1750, the old Dock Committee was replaced by the Liverpool Dock Trustees, although still under the control of the Liverpool Corporation. Under the control of the Port Trustees, the Port of Liverpool had expanded. In 1824, Jesse Hartley was appointed Dock Engineer and up to his death in 1860 constructed or altered every dock in the port, adding 140 acres of wet docks and 10 miles of quay space.

However, from 1850, the Corporation of Liverpool came under increasing pressure from Parliament, Manchester interests and dock users to pass control of the port to a separate public body. As a result, in 1858 the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board (MDHB)was established as the port authority for the lower Mersey, including most of the dock scheme at Birkenhead, which had been managed by the Birkenhead Dock Company until a financial crisis in 1847.

Under the MDHB, the Port of Liverpool and its docklands continued to expand. In 1873, Parliament sanctioned the building of five new docks and the extension of two existing ones, as well as building a boundary dock wall at an estimated cost of £4million. In 1898, Parliament’s permission was sought for further improvements at the north end which included the remodelling of the south system, new branches, and graving docks.

During the First World War, the Port was a transport centre for the movement of troops, munitions, and foodstuffs. The Port also played a crucial role during the Second World War as a naval repair base and two thirds of the cargo handled through the Port was exports, mainly war stores en route for battle, including aircraft. The docks of course were the reason Liverpool was heavily bombed during this period and a total of 68 bombing raids took place between July 1940 and January 1942. By the end of 1941 alone, 69 out of 144 cargo berths were closed and there were serious losses of ships, food and fuel. The worst night in the history of the docks was 3 May 1941 when the S.S. Malakand, a steamer loaded with over 1000 tons of shells and bombs caught fire in Huskisson No. 2 Dock resulting in an explosion that completely destroyed the dock.

In the post-war period the MDHB embarked on a rebuilding programme that would enable the port to retain its national and international importance. This included new berths and a new dock entrance at Langton Dock, which cost £23 million, as well as a special iron ore
facility at Bidston Dock and Tranmere Oil Terminal. The Board also invested in a large number of new vessels and technological innovations such as the world’s first port radar station.

With the growth of containerisation in the 1960s, the MDHB needed to provide modern facilities for larger ships. Plans to build a new dock at Seaforth were approved by Government in 1965 and in the interim Gladstone Dock was converted to deal with container ships.

However, whilst Seaforth was being built, the Port suffered a financial crisis and a succession of intense labour disputes. Aware that the Port would be unable to meet its debts a bill was put before Parliament in 1970 to make the Port Authority a statutory company and three days after the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board was forced into liquidation, the new Mersey Docks and Harbour Company (MDHC) held its first meeting.

However, the docks were still in decline. Many of the facilities built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries were unsuited to modern shipping and cargo tonnage fell rapidly. In 1972, 3 miles of docks south of the Pier Head were closed and sold to the Government appointed Merseyside Development Corporation.

It was clear that the management of the port had to change, and this involved large scale voluntary severance of surplus manpower and changes in working practices. Following the creation of the Liverpool Freeport in 1984 the MDHC made a profit of £800,000 on a £50 million turnover and the Port embarked on a new period of growth. On 22 September 2005, MDHC was acquired by Peel Ports.

Mersey Dock and Harbour Board: plan of the Liverpool Dock Estate, 1930 (MDHB Archives, Liverpool Maritime Museum]

More information

For more information about any of our history and heritage, please get in touch via our contact form.