The Wigan coal field was becoming increasingly important as the 18th century progressed and large conurbations like Liverpool began to require increasing amounts of coal. In 1712 it was proposed that the River Douglas should be made navigable from Wigan to Tarleton where the cargo would be transferred to larger boats on the River Ribble and transported down the coast to Liverpool. This project was eventually completed in 1742.
Because the Douglas Navigation was not particular efficient it was proposed in 1767 that the route would be covered by a section of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The stretch between Liverpool and Gathurst was completed in 1776. A short connecting section at right angles to the main waterway joined the canal to the old navigation. In 1780 the canal reached the centre of Wigan.
There was so much traffic along the waterway that a double lock was constructed at Gathurst.