Revolution in Salford!

The Bridgewater Canal in Worsley

Worsley (now part of the city of Salford) is hardly the kind of place you'd think of as the cradle of the industrial version of the Renaissance.

Yet if Ironbridge can be said to have laid the ground for the industrial revolution, Worsley was certainly the first foundation stone.

It was here that Francis Egerton, third Duke of Bridgewater, began exploiting the rich, local seams of coal on his estate. This expanse of mined coal was transported by road to Manchester - a time-consuming and costly business dependent on the availability of carts and horses and the state of the unmade roads.

Today engineers from all over the world come to Worsley to look, learn and recreate what they find here in their own countries.

Francis Egerton conceived the canal as a way to move coal from his mines in Worsley into Manchester - a way that he believed would be quicker and more cost-effective. Over the years, iron ore deposits from the Duke's mines have built up to cause major siltation problems in the canal.  

Whilst the iron ore deposits give the canal its rich orange tint,  they also prevent any flora or fauna from living in the canal. Salford City Council is now working with partners in an attempt to secure the funding necessary to remove the ochre deposits, hopefully to make the canal a vibrant part of the local waterways network once again.

Early history

The canal received Royal Assent on 23 March 1759, and construction started in 1761. It was the forerunner of all modern canals.

His engineers were James Brindley, who later built the Trent & Mersey Canal, and John Gilbert. Originally there were some 40 miles of underground canals running deep into the Egerton mines, some on different levels and linked by ingenious incline planes. This whole system was fully operational until the late nineteenth century.

In 1762, Egerton obtained consent to extend his canal to Runcorn and to join it to the Trent and Mersey Canal at Preston Brook. The route between Liverpool and Manchester was opened in 1776 and in 1795 the line was linked with the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Leigh.

Although Egerton lost a fortune in his investment, he finally began to recoup his money in ripe old age, to die, happily, a rich man again. The canal was purchased for £1,120,000 in 1872 by the newly formed Bridgewater Navigation Company, and they in turn sold it to the Manchester Ship Canal Company in 1885.

As the canal approaches Manchester, there are close-up views of the Ship Canal and of Salford Quays, as well as a circuit of Manchester United's Old Trafford Football Stadium, before arriving at Castlefield Basin, and the end of the Bridgewater Canal.

Today, as with most inland waterways, its only business is in pleasure craft.

Bridging the Years project

A dedicated website - Bridging the Years - explores the creation of the Bridgewater Canal as Britain's first commercial waterway and the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal over 100 years later.

The website is the culmination of a partnership project between Salford City Council and Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council which explored the history of the Bridgewater Canal, the Manchester Ship Canal, Manchester Docks and Trafford Park. The website is part of a wider consortium involving other modes of transport and has contributions from Leicestershire County Council and South Gloucestershire Council in addition to Salford and Trafford.

Latest photos from our Bridgewater Canal photo set on Flickr

DSCF2611 WORSLEY (,2004:/photo/5530540580/in/set-72157626149978239) E0002 (,2004:/photo/5530540008/in/set-72157626149978239) DSC_8492 (,2004:/photo/5530539340/in/set-72157626149978239) Bcanal_1511 (,2004:/photo/5530538936/in/set-72157626149978239) Bcanal_1279 (,2004:/photo/5530538470/in/set-72157626149978239) SAL0185 (,2004:/photo/5530537926/in/set-72157626149978239) SAL0114 (,2004:/photo/5530537620/in/set-72157626149978239) SAL0068 (,2004:/photo/5530537480/in/set-72157626149978239) SAL0096 (,2004:/photo/5530537380/in/set-72157626149978239) SAL0061 (,2004:/photo/5529955611/in/set-72157626149978239) SAL0048 (,2004:/photo/5529955153/in/set-72157626149978239) E0005 (,2004:/photo/5529954945/in/set-72157626149978239) Bridgewater Canal 087 D211 (,2004:/photo/5529954681/in/set-72157626149978239) Bridgewater Canal 093 D211 (,2004:/photo/5529954475/in/set-72157626149978239)

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This page was last updated on 2 October 2013

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