Name changes over the years

Published: Wednesday, 18 January 2023

AS ALWAYS with canal history, digging into the past is always fascinating and often contradictory, writes Mike Todd.

But starting from the present:

HancocksSwingBrigeBoth spellings

The CaRT online map uses the name Handcocks unlike Nicholson's which uses Hancocks. Waterway Routes uses Handcocks but I suspect that he relies heavily on the CaRT database. I have seen a CaRT notice which uses both spellings in the same post! Other guides use both at times but it is obvious that most are not primary sources.

The Leeds & Liverpool Canal Society has an article in its 13th Newsletter dated 2004:, an article on the names of bridges between Liverpool and Dean in 1775. That list is very different from any modern list and it is not clear which one relates to the bridge in question.

As the article states, the names of bridges have changed over the years. Elsewhere it is said that the swing bridges were often named after the permanent bridge keeper, so possibly the name changed every time a new one was appointed! We also know that names of people, even more than places, had a variety of spellings until quite recent times.

Less obsessed by spelling

Also, the language was more a spoken than written language, so folk were rather less obsessed by spellings than our grammar school educated political elite of today seem to be (until the advent of texting seemed to reverse the trend). It is quite possible than more than one spelling of a name was in use concurrently.

Even bridge numbers, which were in any case often a late introduction, are sometimes changed. Those in the 1775 list bear no resemblance to the current numbers!

The oldest detailed map I can access immediately is the 1850 OS map There is almost no overlap between the 1775 list and this map. However, this map does say very clearly that this is Handcock's Bridge (ie the  definite name). The road to the north west of the bridge is marked Wango Lane and I recall vaguely seeing one of the bridges called Wango Bridge.


When we were last there in summer of last year, I failed to take a photo of the name plate for that bridge (I do for most) but since most are now new replacements in the ubiquitous blue, they probably do not add any info to the CaRT database. It is possible that there is no obvious name there but as it is a busy bridge, with timed closures to boats, it is likely that locals have to refer to it more frequently than other canal bridges!

There are, of course, two possible approaches to names: either go by what other people use or allow the owner of the name the right to decide (and to change).