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Bridgewater Canal

Facts and Figures

Key Dates

  • The Act of Parliament that authorised the Bridgewater Canal was passed in March 1759 and work began immediately
  • In 1765 the canal to Castlefield opened
  • By 1776 the canal was open to Runcorn
  • In 1799 the Leigh Branch opened
  • In 1872 the Bridgewater Canal and the Mersey and Irwell Navigation were sold by the Bridgewater Trustees for £1,115,000, the first ever "million pound cheque". They were sold on to the Manchester Ship Canal Company in 1876 for £1,710,000.

Its Namesake

The canal takes its name from Francis Egerton, the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater (1736 - 1803) for whom it was built.

Technical Information

  • The canal's total length is some 40 miles
  • The main length of canal, from Runcorn to Manchester, is 28.5 miles
  • The branch from Waters Meeting at Stretford to Leigh is 10.75 miles
  • It is spanned by 78 bridges
  • It is a contour canal i.e. it runs on the same level throughout its length. The only locks are at Hulme providing access to the River Irwell and at Runcorn to the Manchester Ship Canal.

It connects with the:

  • Rochdale Canal at Manchester
  • Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Leigh
  • Trent and Mersey Canal at Preston Brook
  • Manchester Ship Canal at Manchester and Runcorn

Its goods

Not content with just carrying coal, the Duke of Bridgewater saw the commercial possibility of linking Liverpool and Manchester. When the canal opened to Runcorn in1776, it provided cheaper, more regular and reliable transport for goods and raw materials. With the expansion of the cotton industry, raw cotton from the Duke's Dock in Liverpool became an important cargo.

In 1855 approximately two million tons moved along the canal. By 1862 competition from roads and rail, together with the decline of traditional industries, had reduced this to half a million tons, 80% of which, was coal moving from local pits to power stations.

Other cargo included maize, wheat and rice from Italy and Australia, hardwood from the Gulf of Mexico, tea and coir fibre from Calcutta, lead from North America and paraffin wax from Burma.

The last commercial traffic ceased in March 1974. The last cargo consisted of four barges of maize from Salford Docks to Kellogg's in Trafford Park.

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