Shardlow is an inland port where the main road from London to Manchester crossed the Trent & Mersey Canal. One of England’s first long-distance canals, the T&MC extends 150 km from the Bridgewater Canal at Preston Brook, near Runcorn on the River Mersey, through the Potteries of North Staffordshire, to Derwentmouth, about a mile from Shardlow, where it joined the navigable River Trent. The section of canal through Shardlow was opened in 1770 although it was not until 1777 that through navigation from the Trent to the Mersey became possible with the completion of the Harecastle Tunnel north of the Potteries.
Shardlow became one of the principal hubs of the waterways system, where goods were exchanged between vessels that arrived from and departed to the principal towns of the Midlands and beyond. Warehouses were built around the canal basins, some specialising in handling such commodities as salt and iron. One of them, the Clock Warehouse of 1780 which has a large central arch for boats to enter and unload, was restored in 1979. When railway competition led to a decline in the carriage of sundries by canal in the mid-nineteenth century several of the warehouses were converted into corn mills. The boat-building industry flourished at Shardlow, in the nineteenth century, and several marinas built, maintain and accommodate modern pleasure craft. The Salt Warehouse, the oldest canal warehouse in the village, now houses a heritage centre, where there are displays featuring the history of the canal and those who worked on it, and where a trail guide (which is also online) can be purchased. There are several waterside pubs. Shardlow has been a Conservation Area since 1978.