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Visit Salford | Historic Worsley

History of Worsley

Now part of the city of Salford, three distinct communities, Worsley, Roe Green and Boothstown were previously part of the Manor of Worsley, which dated from the 12th century and was held successively by the de Worsley, Massey, Brereton and Egerton families until 1923 when massive death duties forced the 4th Earl to sell up. In 1923 the estates became a private company, Bridgewater Estates, later Peel Holdings.

Worsley Village

At the heart of the manor lay Worsley Village, the home of the lord of the Manor and site of the manorial corn mill. Records show that that in 1376 Worsley had a house with hall, chamber, chapel and kitchen but the location of this building is not known for certain. Worsley Old Hall dates from the 17th century but may incorporate parts of an older structure.

In 1598 Worsley passed to the Egerton family. In 1759 Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, his agent John Gilbert and engineer James Brindley , were responsible for one of the biggest and most important engineering feats of the 18th century, in the process transforming Worsley. Together they designed and built the Bridgewater Canal, linking the Duke's Worsley mines to the heart of Manchester, causing the price of coal to halve overnight. Thus it could be said that Worsley was the birthplace of the transport revolution that fuelled the industrial revolution.

To connect the Duke's mines to the Bridgewater Canal John Gilbert devised an underground canal, or 'Navigable Level', which extends from Worsley Delph for a total of 52 miles, on four levels; it is this underground canal system that has ensured Worsley's consideration for nomination as a World Heritage site.

Thus Worsley became an industrial village. Picturesque Worsley Green was the site of the works yard with its great forge chimney and clock that struck thirteen; there was a lime kiln, coke ovens, mortar mill, a coal staithe where coal was tipped into the waiting barges and an extensive boat building yard. The level of pollution was such that Barton Road acquired the name nickname 'Smoke Street'.

The 3rd Duke of Bridgewater died in 1803 and eventually Worsley passed to his great nephew Francis Leveson-Gower, who under the terms of his great uncle's will took the name of Egerton He came to live in Worsley in 1837 and found it to be -

"...a God-forgotten place. Its inhabitants much addicted to drink and rude sports, their morals deplorably low, the whole place in a state of religious and educational destitution..."

His efforts to remedy matters did much to improve conditions and his programme of building works helped create the Worsley Village we know today.

He built St Marks Church and school, the Courthouse, the police station, and the Aviary as a shooting and fishing lodge; he added the black and white decorative woodwork to the previously plain brick Packet House and he started a swift packet boat service on the canal.

He built a splendid new mansion, Worsley New Hall: an immense structure designed by architect Edward Blore in the Tudor style, it was completed in 1846, the year Lord Francis became the First Earl of Ellesmere. Its most distinguished guest was Queen Victoria who stayed at the hall twice, in 1851 and again in 1857.

Worsley's industrial role gradually declined. In the 1880s the underground canal ceased to transport coal, although it continued to drain the mines until the closure of the last local pit in 1968. When the Works Yard was cleared c.1903, and engineering operations transferred to Walkden, the base of the chimney was retained as a memorial to the Canal Duke. The Bridgewater Canal enjoyed a 'working life' of over 200 years, commercial traffic ceased in 1974. The last cargo consisted of four barges of maize carried from Salford Docks to Kelloggs in Trafford Park.

Worsley has a long history as a tourist attraction. When James Brindley's Barton Aqueduct opened in 1761 it was considered a wonder; no journey in the area was complete without a visit to marvel at the incredible sight of barges sailing over a river. Even more of an attraction was John Gilbert's underground canal, hundreds coming to marvel at the Duke's 'sough'. While leading scientists and engineers of the day came to examine the ingenious solutions to the technical problems others came for the sheer thrill of a journey into the unknown. They included such distinguished visitors as King Christian of Denmark, Grand Duke Nicholas, later Czar of Russia, assorted Austrian Archdukes, Russian Princesses and Duchesses, various members of the English aristocracy and Josiah Wedgewood.

Thanks to Ann Monaghan for this history.

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