The Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal

Brief History

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The indicates which sections are still in water and which section have been filled or are dry.

The idea of a canal to link Bolton and Bury to Salford seems to have originated in Bolton in 1790 when, Matthew Fletcher, whose family were to become the biggest coal owners in the Irwell Valley, did a preliminary survey. He recognised the importance of the Croal/Irwell valley and the urgent necessity for an adequate and cheap form of transport for the goods being produced there. Hugh Henshall, Brindley's brother-in-law, carried out a further survey and an Act to make the Manchester Bolton and Bury a narrow canal, was obtained in 1791 at an estimated cost of £47,700. The original sum was insufficient to complete the canal and a second act was enacted on 12th March 1805 authorising the raising of a further £80,000.

The canal was used mainly to carry coal from the collieries in the area to fuel the local mills, factories and hearths. The canal was to be a total of 15 miles one furlong in length and there was a rise of 187 feet between Manchester and the lock-free level of Bolton and Bury. It had 17 locks, and six aqueducts of which three were large ones. A start was made at Oldfield Road, Salford, and the canal was cut westward and also along the two branches to Bolton and Bury. During construction, and following proposals to link it with the Leeds and Liverpool Canal which was then also under construction, it was hastily decided to make the canal broad instead of narrow. Some of the locks already finished had to be taken down and rebuilt.

In the end the link to the Leeds & Liverpool was never built, the Bridgewater Canal getting the through traffic into Manchester instead. This left the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal unconnected to the main canal system. The first freight tolls from Oldfield Road to Rhodes Lock were taken in 1795. In 1796 the first passenger packet boat travelled from Windsor Bridge in Salford to Bolton along an unfinished canal. 1799 brought a proposal to aqueduct the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal over the River Irwell to join the Rochdale Canal, but in 1801 this bill was lost. It was not until 1808 that the land north of Hampson Street was acquired and the connection with the Irwell was made. In 1836 locks four and five on this flight were moved because of the construction of' the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway line, and two short tunnels were created. The Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal directors discussed a link with the Rochdale Canal by a tunnel from the River Irwell, and the idea was revived in 1836 to become the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal.

The Manchester Bolton and Bury Canal prospered and other industries grew up along its banks: chemicals, cotton mills and dye works. Passenger packets ran regularly from Bury and Bolton down to Manchester. As the 19th century drew to a close the older coal mines became worked out and the traffic began to fall away. The canal suffered a number of breaches especially on the hillside overlooking the Irwell and Croal Valleys. A serious breach occurred in 1936 at Prestolee and effectively cut off' the summit level from the lower level to Manchester. The then owners, the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company, sought powers to abandon the canal, but a heavy coal traffic continued to use the Bury branch until the closure of' Ladyshore Colliery in 1951. During the second world war a section in Salford was drained for fear that the canal might be the target of enemy bombers.

After this the canal became virtually disused and filling commenced in some sections. Other parts became dry and overgrown and some of the locks were filled. In 1961 the Manchester Bolton and Bury Canal was officially closed to navigation by an Act of' Parliament. In 1968 the then Salford Corporation gave permission to fill in the canal from its junction with the Irwell to the Borough boundary.

The canal has passed into various ownership's and today British Waterways own less than 50 % of the canal. The last half mile of the Bolton section was lost in 1973 with the construction of Saint Peter's Way. In 1972 the terminal warehouses at Bury were demolished, the basins filled, and the site is now occupied by industrial units. A further section in Bury was lost by the construction of a road improvement scheme. The development by Snow World will destroy the first half mile section in Salford and sever the link with the National Waterways Network.

The canal rose from the River Irwell in Salford through 6 locks and two short tunnels to Oldfield Road Wharf a distance of approximately 1/2 mile. For the next 5 miles the canal passed through Salford, crossing the River Irwell at Clifton Aqueduct and was raised by Rhodes Lock 7. From Rhodes lock the canal passed through Ringley and Prestolee with Locks at Giants Seat 8 & 9 and Ringley 10 & 11 and crossed the River Irwell again at Prestolee Aqueduct. At Nob End the canal was raised by a flight of 6 Locks to join the section that ran from Bolton to Bury on the level, terminating at Church Wharf in Bolton and Irwell Forge and Rolling Mills in Bury. At Elton the feeder supply from Burrs discharged into Elton Reservoir which provided the main water supply for the canal.