The Bridgewater and other canals

The Bridgewater Canal was the first modern canal in Britain, running cross-country between watersheds without relying on the courses of streams and rivers. It was built for Francis Egerton, third Duke of Bridgewater, primarily to transport coal from his mines in worsley. The idea of a canal was not new, but the wealth, determination and acumen of the Duke, combined with the purses of his supporters and talent of his engineers, made it a reality. He was only twenty-two years of age when the first act was passed in 1759. James Brindley acted as consulting engineerer, and John Gilbert was resident engineer. Although coal was being unloaded at Cornbrook, barely a mile to the south in 1763, various delays and the considerable engineering problems in harnessing the Medlock held up completion until 1765. The canal meets the river head on, and an overflow sluice here takes surplus water by tunnel (replaced in 1838) to the Giants Basin, and the point at which the river re-emerges on Potato Wharf. The basin and its warehouses have been described as among the most brilliant engineering achievements of the project.

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Manchester, Ashton Canal Aqueduct, Store Street

By 1776 the Bridgewater canal was extended west to Runcorn, giving Manchester efficient links with international trade routes. More canals followed and the surviving warehouses of the Bridgewater and Rochdale Basins are of considerable interest, while Benjamin Outram's skewed aqueduct (c.1794-9) on the Ashton Canal is the earliest surviving example of its type.