Packet House

by Keith Flamã©E February. 05, 2012 1702 views

This grade 2 listed building, and the Boat Steps directly in front of it, date back to 1760 and the half-timbering was added in c.1850 by the 1st Earl of Ellesmere. You would have purchased your ticket for the ‘packet boat’ at the Packet House and boarded at the Boat Steps.

The canal carried passengers as well as cargo. The service began in 1769 and in 1774, two new ‘Packet Boats’ were introduced. The word ‘packet’ evolved from the term for a bundle of official despatches sent overseas by ship. Later the term ‘packet boat’ referred to vessels carrying the Royal Mail. It is not proven that the Duke's boats carried mail, but it seems likely as they provided the most reliable service between Manchester and Liverpool.

By 1781 there were daily sailings, excluding Sundays, to Runcorn - a journey of eight hours. Another service ran from Manchester to Worsley in two and a half hours for 1/- (5p) and 6d (2.5p) steerage.

Hugh Malet, in his book ‘Coal, Cotton and Canals’ (1981) describes the Packet Boats:

'The bows were fitted with sharpened sabres, curved like a swan's neck - a threat to the tow lines of slow-witted barges which was more symbolic than real, but emphasised that they must give way…The faster vessels carrying first class passengers might be drawn by three horses, with a captain to steer and a liveried postillion (called the jockey) armed with a curved horn to warn other boats of his approach, spurs and a whip to urge his steeds forward. It must have been a gallant and graceful sight, with the ship riding up to six m.p.h. on her bow-wave and passengers ducking as they sped under bridges.'

A ‘Swift Packet’ service was introduced in 1843 with lower prices. It was possible to travel from Worsley to Manchester for 3d (1p) in the Best Cabin and 2d steerage. However, competition from the railways and the new horse omnibus service meant that the days of canal passenger travel were numbered.

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