Canals started to become important in the 18th century because the newly developing industries needed an economic and reliable way of transporting their goods in large quantities. By the 19th century, large systems of canals linking various parts of the country had been developed.
An idea to use canals to link the coal mining area of Ruabon in North Wales to the Mersey in the north and the Severn in the south was proposed. This was never completed, but a link was constructed between Nantwich and Llangollen. Unfortunately the closest this canal came to Whitchurch was over a mile away from the town centre.
In 1805, a group of Whitchurch businessmen approached the canal company for permission to extend the canal into the centre of Whitchurch. This was granted, and the canal was extended via an arm into Whitchurch, firstly to Sherryman’s Bridge (the area to the north of Jubilee Park) in 1808, and then further into the town to the Wharf (adjacent to Park Road and Mill Street) by 1811.
The then Earl of Bridgewater gave the land which became the canal basin where the warehouses and toll-house were built, and which gave enough space for the canal boats to turn.
Heavy goods such as coal, lime and iron were brought in, and led to the formation of a gas company based down at the bottom of Sherrymill Hill, which provided gas to Whitchurch until natural gas was piped in. In the opposite direction, cheese, boots and shoes were shipped out.
To encourage the development of trade and industry, a four-storey steam-powered corn mill was build at the end of the Arm, which is now the restaurant. In addition a canal- side silk mill was constructed at Sherryman’s Hill.
To make room for the wharf area at the end of the canal, the Town Mill was pulled down, and the Mill pond, which was behind it was gradually filled in with rubbish and then grassed over. This became the White Lion meadow and today is the car park by Tesco.
By 1939, all traffic on this section of the Llangollen canal and the arm into Whitchurch had ceased, and they were closed to navigation. The Whitchurch Arm was infilled and partly built on. However, in 1993 after a concerted effort by Whitchurch Town Council and dedicated volunteers, part of the Arm was reopened, linking it again to the tourist traffic on the Llangollen Canal. It is hoped that in the future it will be possible to bring the Arm further into Whitchurch.