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In 1864 a bridge was built across the River Mersey in Warburton by local merchants to allow trade between Cheshire and Lancashire. The tolling of this bridge was approved by the Rixton & Warburton Bridge Act 1863. This bridge was a substantial stone and iron built structure, but now runs over a dry ditch (The Mersey was re-routed and now bypasses the bridge). This ditch has been filled in and as such the bridge has become defunct, and may even have been removed as the scrap value of the iron would have been substantial, and was no longer required to support the road embankment. It is on this obsolete/removed bridge that the tolls are applied.

The Act foresaw the building of the Ship Canal, and incorporated a specific clause that a bridge must be provided over the new ‘cut’, and it must be maintained at the sole cost of the developing company – the Manchester Ship Canal Company. At the time the toll was introduced, the Act could have had a toll review process, but the Act clearly sets a fixed rate of charges, which caps the cost per crossing to 12.5p, and a maximum daily charge of 25p. At 12.5p a crossing, the costs of the undertaking would have been repaid after 44 thousand crossings – which over the last 158 years would have been met with just 278 crossings a year.

The act was amended in 1867 by a new act, the Rixton and Warburton Bridge Amendment Act 1867. This Act prevented the paying of any dividends, and prohibited any company money to be used to amend the Act. It is fairly clear from the Act that the intention was that while tolls could continue to be taken, the ‘profits’ from any toll would have to be used to maintain and improve the bridge. Remember this is just the bridge that now runs over a dry ditch.  

After the Manchester Ship Canal Act was passed in 1885, it was amended in 1890 by the Manchester Ship Canal (various powers) act 1890. This act covered the amalgamation of the companies, applying the rules set out in the Railways Clauses Act, 1863. This act requires on amalgamation that ‘The special Acts relating to or affecting the dissolved company or their undertaking in force at the passing of the amalgamating Act, "shall, except so far as they are thereby expressed to be varied or repealed, remain in full force; ……… and all matters to be done, continued, or completed, or which but for the amalgamation would, might, or could be done, continued, or completed, by the dissolved company, or their directors, officers, or servants, under or by virtue of those Acts, shall or may be done, continued, or completed by the amalgamated company, ….. so far as it relates to or affects the dissolved company or their undertaking, shall be read and construed as if the name of the amalgamated company had been used therein in relation to that undertaking instead of the name of the dissolved company." In addition, the transfer of undertakings is covered in the 1890 Act. So in relation to the operation of the original toll bridge and its access roads, the same restrictions apply.

Now of course we have the ‘new’ Cantilever Bridge built in 1893, but it is clear that the maintenance of this bridge must, under the 1863 act be met in its entirety by the Manchester Ship Canal Company, with no ‘call’ on the profits of the now defunct original bridge. Aside from specific legislation relating to the Bridge, the Transport Charges &c. (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1954 S6 states “….the Minister shall have regard to the financial position and future prospects of the undertaking and shall not make any revision of charges which in his opinion would be likely to result in the undertaking receiving an annual revenue either substantially less or substantially more than adequate to meet such expenditure on the working, management and maintenance of the undertaking and such other costs, charges and expenses of the undertaking as are properly chargeable to revenue, including reasonable contributions to any reserve, contingency or other fund and, where appropriate, a reasonable return upon the paid up share capital of the undertaking." 

So we have a bridge in Warburton that cannot be operated at a profit, and has to be maintained by the Manchester Ship Canal Company.  The Manchester Ship Canal Company is owned by Peel Group, that is owned by Mr John Whittaker (Isle of Man), with a 75% majority stake in the group, with the Olayan Group (Saudi) owning a 25% stake. Under the the Rixton & Warburton Bridge Act 1863. tolls can be charged for a steam powered carriage – now interpreted as a car up to a daily rate of 2 shillings and sixpence (12.5p) per crossing, but capped at 25p a day for multiple crossings.

Our sincere thanks to Cllr Graham Gowland of Lymm Parish Council for this extensive review of the history and legislation of Warburton Toll Bridge.

Rixton & Warburton Bridge Act 1863.

The Rixton and Warburton Bridge Amendment Act 1867

Transport Charges & c. (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1954

Manchester Ship Canal (various powers) act 1890

Railways Clauses Act, 1863

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