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Canal Archive: Bridging the Years

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Mean Machines

With such a huge undertaking as the Manchester Ship Canal, any available machinery and technology was soon put to use. Huge machines such as land excavators, dredgers and steam navvies, could be found working away next to labourers in various conditions along the thirty-six mile route.

The various machines brought with them operating crews and drivers, as well as requirements for large amounts of fuel to power their steam engines. Such machines were also expensive to buy, and so had to be well maintained and operated in order to achieve optimum efficiency.

Many of the machines needed to be moved around the site depending on the work required. In most cases this was achieved through the use of temporary railway track, which had to be lifted up and re-laid according to requirements.

An engineering magazine published in 1894 marvelled at the use of such machines, stating 'Without the powerful excavating machines we have here described, it is hardly possible to think that the canal would ever have been completed. When we look back over 'the absolute incredulity expressed by many engineers that anything could possibly supersede spade and barrow work...it seems a remarkable thing that so many machines should have been brought to bear on this work...'.

Various figures issued at the time put the number of steam-powered excavators used on the canal at over a hundred, with one hundred and twenty-four steam cranes, over two hundred pumps, and many other pieces of apparatus. Over the next few pages we will look at a selection of those used.

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This is page 5 of Digging the Big Ditch.
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Cement Mixing Machine at Eastham

Cement Mixing Machine at Eastham
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