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Bridgewater Canal

Next tours: No dates until July 2019, probably to mark the anniversary of the canal’s opening.
Meet: tbc.

The Bridgewater Canal opened in July 1761 as the first man-made waterway in Britain with a route independent of existing rivers.

Its promoter was Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, who was looking for a way of reducing flooding in his Worsley mines.

The Duke turned to his engineer, James Brindley, and they developed a way of channeling the water so that the coal could be taken out on boats along it. When the Duke realised he had enough coal to supply the needs of Manchester and Salford he decided to build a canal across the land so that his supply could reach those towns.

Work on the new canal began in 1758. There were no locks. Once the canal opened, it became much cheaper transporting to coal to Manchester. The price of coal dropped and new industries using that coal began to flourish alongside the water. The original route, which officially opened on 17 July 1761, went from the Duke of Bridgewater’s Worsley coal mines to the River Irwell at Barton. There it crossed the waterway, now the Manchester Ship Canal, on an aqueduct that was one of the wonders of the age but has since been replaced with an equally ingenious structure. By the end of 1761 the canal had been extended to Cornbrook, and in 1765 it reached Castlefield where Brindley culverted the river Medlock.

Once a year in celebration we walk the entire length from Manchester to Worsley, starting at Deansgate railway station. The walk is led by Ed Glinert, and he will stop occasionally to relate the great stories about the canal.

And what stories! When Brindley first announced he intended taking the canal 38 feet over the river on an aqueduct held up by three sandstone arches he was greeted with incredulity. The Duke himself muttered: “I have often heard of castles in the air, but never before saw where any of them was to be erected”. To prove how the aqueduct would work at the parliamentary hearing Brindley unwrapped a large cheese which he carved out till it resembled his planned design. He then explained that he would make the aqueduct watertight using clay-puddling – placing several layers of clay, sand and water on the floor of the waterway – demonstrating the idea in front of MPs with buckets of water and wet clay. Indeed so fond was Brindley of the system, his dying words were “puddle it, puddle it”.

The walk will take much longer than our usual strolls around town so please bring some refreshments – Kendal Mint Cake is the usual dish of choice but Cadbury’s Dairy Milk (refrigerated) tastes a lot nicer – and wear decent footwear. We will not be walking back but heading straight for a welcoming hostelry. There are plenty of buses to get back to Manchester. If you’d like to attend please drop us an e-mail so that we have an idea bout numbers.

We are also planning to do the same thing all over again – by water. Sue will be in charge of our Castlefield-Worsley cruise run in conjunction with City Centre Cruises. She will provide full historic commentary and refreshments will be available. The cruise has to be booked via More details in spring 2012.