About the National Waterways Museum

National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port (c) Canal & River Trust

The National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port showcases the history of the canal and the lives and times of the people who worked on them.

Sitting where the Shropshire Union Canal meets the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey, the museum is set in a glorious collection of canal buildings with spectacular double locks taking boats through the heart of the museum on the Canal.

A historic collection of canal boats can be seen at the museum, with several open for visitors.  The atmospheric Porters Row cottages show how life would have been for the families who worked around the docks.  If you are lucky, you may run into costumed characters who will be happy to tell you about their life.

Through hands-on exhibits and family friendly interactives, the museum presents rich industrial heritage.  Visit the historic slipway which has a unique position overlooking the waterways.  

Walking the 7 acre site takes you through a dynamic landscape of Victorian buildings, docks, locks, stables, cottages and canal basins, many of which are Grade II listed.

The Waterways Museum Society

Waterways Museum Society logo

The aim of the Waterways Museum Society (WMS) is the preservation of the historic boats, skills, knowledge and way of life of the waterways. 

Some forty years ago the society founded the Boat Museum (now the National Waterways Museum) in Ellesmere Port, which it continues to actively support.

The Society now owns just one of the historic vessels at the museum: the horse drawn tar boat Gifford, which is looked after and operated by WMS members.  All the other craft have been handed over to the Canal & River Trust for their ongoing maintenance and preservation.

Gifford (c) Waterways Museum Society
Gifford (c) Waterways Museum Society

Whilst members' financial support is essential in enabling the Society to continue its work, it also likes to welcome individuals who may be interested in becoming more actively involved in the work of the society - for example, by being involved in its governance, or representing its interest on external bodies involved with waterways.

Gifford now

After finishing her working life in 1963, Gifford fell into disrepair and was rescued by a group of waterways enthusiasts who formed themselves into a society, with the aim of establishing a Museum to preserve and protect historic boats, artefacts and to keep alive the skills and history of Britain’s inland waterways.  Gifford was one of the first boats in the collection and was displayed at The Boat Museum (now the National Waterways Museum) when it opened in 1976.  Gifford is owned, operated and preserved by The Waterways Museum Society and remains on display at the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port.

Gifford’s initial restoration was undertaken by Malcolm Webster at Malkins Bank on the Trent and Mersey Canal.  Gifford’s condition is monitored constantly, and preservation/restoration work is undertaken, as and when required, by professional boatbuilders and paid for by the Society.  Society members take Gifford to events in order to demonstrate and keep alive the skills of operating a working boat, both horse drawn and paired with a motor boat, and attend to day to day maintenance.

In 2018/19, restoration work was undertaken by Adrian Polglase, and his team, at Alvecote, Staffordshire.

Gifford returns after refit during the Easter Gathering - 19 April 2019 (c) Chris Bacon
Gifford returns after refit during the Easter Gathering - 19 April 2019 (c) Chris Bacon

Latest News

February 2021 The Waterways Museum Society ceased all trading and operational activities on 8 October 2020 due to a significantly reduced active membership.  All remaining funds, assets and property were transferred to the Canal and River Trust and now, having been dormant for the statutory three months, the Society has now applied to Companies House to be voluntarily struck off the Register of Companies.  On successful completion of that will undertake a merger of charities with the Canal & River Trust to be formally recorded in the Register of Merged Charities. Find out more

October 2020 - Gifford joins the National Waterways Museum collection: the future of historic narrowboat Gifford has been the focus of the Waterways Museum Society's efforts over recent months in preparation for its closure, and they're pleased to announce that the Canal & River Trust has agreed to add the boat to its collection at the National Waterways Museum, ensuring the future care of one of the Museum's long standing floating exhibitions.  Full story.

Find out more about the National Waterways Museum here and the Waterways Museum Society here.