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Bridgewater Canal

The Bridgewater Canal is a canal in northwest England centered on Manchester. The entire canal is on one level and has no locks. Cranes are located at intervals along the canal's length to allow boards to be dropped into slots in the canal banks. This allows sections of the canal to be isolated in the event of a leak.

The Route

The canal begins at Castlefield Basin in Manchester city centre where the canal terminates, and joins to the Rochdale Canal, and where boats used to unload their cargoes. The canal travels east from Manchester for about four miles (7 kilometres) where it splits into two parts at "waters meeting" junction.

The original part of the canal travels northwest for about 10 miles (16 kilometres) until it reaches the village of Worsley and the entrance to the Duke's underground coal mines via the Worsley Navigable Levels. On the way to Worsley it passes over the Manchester Ship Canal on the Barton Swing Aqueduct at Salford. This section of the canal was later extended a further 5 miles (8 kilometres) to Leigh where it makes an end-on connection to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

The other part of the canal travels about 20 miles southwest to Runcorn where it connects to the Trent and Mersey Canal, on the way passing through the towns of Sale and Lymm.


The Bridgewater Canal was the first true canal in Britain in that it relied on existing watercourses purely as sources of water rather than as navigable routes. It came about because the 3rd Earl of Bridgewater wanted an efficient way to transport coal from his coal mines at Worsley in Lancashire, into Manchester, where the Industrial Revolution was underway. In addition to easing the overland transport difficulties, the underground section of the canal at Worsley also removed the need for expensive and difficult vertical winding of the coal to the surface whilst providing drainage for the mines and a source of water for the surface canal.

The Earl commissioned James Brindley to build the canal, and it opened in 1761. At the time it was considered a major engineering achievement, as the canal contained a large Aqueduct over the River Irwell, and it greatly enhanced Brindley's career. The worsley part of the canal was later extended to Leigh in 1799.

The Earl had invested a huge sum of his own money into constructing the canal, and it was a huge fianacial success. Due to the greatly increased supply of coal which the canal had enabled, the price of coal in Manchester fell by nearly three quarters within a year of the canal opening. A few years later construction began of the route to Runcorn which opened in 1772.

The canal carried commercial freight traffic until 1974, and is now used by pleasure craft.

The Bridgewater canal is unusual because it is one of the few canals in Briain which is still privately owned and was never nationalised. This is because it was bought by the Manchester Ship Canal company in the 1890s, which itself was never nationalised.

See also