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Canal Archive: Bridging the Years

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Earlier Schemes

Through time various plans had been put forward for waterways to Manchester.

In 1721 an Act was passed in Parliament allowing the navigation of the River Mersey and River Irwell. A local engineer, Thomas Steers, had surveyed the rivers in 1712, and had published his proposals. The scheme received backing from various parties, leading to the passing of the Parliamentary Act, the prelude to which states that the navigation would be 'very beneficial to Trade, advantageous to the Poor and convenient for the Carriage of Coals, 'Stone, Timber and other Goods'.

The navigation of the rivers involved improvements to the waterways to allow vessels to pass more easily, free from natural obstructions. Progress was slow, but eventually the navigation opened for business, with eight sets of locks; Warrington Lock, Partington Lock, Calamanco, Hulmes Bridge, Stickings Lock, Barton, Mode Wheel, and Throstlenest.

Vessels used on the Navigation and other rivers were called 'Flats'. Those used on the Mersey and Irwell Navigation were built to fit the Navigation's locks. Their masts could be raised and lowered very quickly, allowing them to pass beneath the low bridges on the route. In the early years of river transport, if there was insufficient wind for their sails, the vessels were pulled along by groups of men known as bank or bow hauliers. Horses were also used, with this becoming the norm with the later canals.

Competition for the owners of the Mersey and Irwell Navigation came along in the form of the Bridgewater Canal. The Company opposed its construction, but could not stop the Duke of Bridgewater in his quest, and once constructed, the Canal and Navigation competed for trade between Liverpool and Manchester. The Bridgewater Canal had an obvious advantage, being a much more direct route, with none of the twists and turns so common in the river navigation.

To counter this new owners, who had purchased the Navigation in 1779, pursued a programme of improvements, with new 'cuts' to shorten the route, and work to upgrade the locks. These improvements included the construction of the Runcorn and Latchford Canal, which opened in 1804.

Once both routes were more evenly matched, there was enough trade for each waterway and both prospered, with cargoes such as grain, timber, cotton and sugar being carried to and from Manchester.

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This is page 1 of Bringing the Sea to Manchester - The Need for a 'Big Ditch'.
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Mode Wheel Mill and Lock on the Mersey and Irwell Navigation

Mode Wheel Mill and Lock on the Mersey and Irwell Navigation
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A Portrait of the Third Duke of Bridgewater

A Portrait of the Third Duke of Bridgewater
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The Runcorn and Latchford Canal at Runcorn

The Runcorn and Latchford Canal at Runcorn
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