The Bridgewater Canal was built by the Earl of Bridgewater to carry coal out of his mines to Manchester.
The Packet-boat 'Duchess Countess', skippered by Captain John Miller, was the last high-speed passenger boat to be built for the Bridgewater and made a daily passenger run between Stockton Heath and Manchester, carrying passengers and express goods. The service between Manchester and Stockton Heath ran for about 50 years, although there may have been another boat in the early years of the service.
The unusual name of 'Duchess Countess' comes from a particular marriage within the Bridgewater family. A nephew of the last Duke of Bridgewater was created Duke of Stafford. He married Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland in her own right, so becoming a Duchess as well as a Countess A sister packet-boat, 'Countess of Grosvenor', skippered by Captain James Pearson, made similar return runs between Stockton Heath and Runcorn each day. After the demise of the 'Countess of Grosvenor', Captain Pearson took over command of the.
For a number of years Stockton Heath was the southern terminus of the canal, due to the owner of the land beyond not being willing to sell. Even with the eventual extension of the canal the packet-boats continued to terminate at the London Bridge Steps, beside the London Bridge Inn, The steps are still there, in good condition and well worth a visit. On the other side of the road bridge carrying the A49 over the canal there are two other interesting and important buildings. One housed the ticket office for the packet-boat services.The other, on the other side of the canal is the former "Bank Rider's" or "Jockey's house.
(It is not clear whether this building provided accommodation for the Bank Riders of both services.)
On what must at once been an outside wall of this house is an unusual painting, depicting two horses drawing a streamlined passenger boat. It cannot be the 'Duchess Countess' (that ended its days at Welsh Frankton on the Llangollen Canal) as it is depicted with a rounded cabin roof, whereas the 'Duchess Countess' had a flat roof. It might well have been, however, the predecessor to 'Duchess Countess' or the boat on the Runcorn service.
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