Monday, 27 June 2016

You're never far from history on the canal

Looking down from the aqueduct at the road swing bridge
You can't escape history on the canals. We've only come six miles along the Bridgewater and reminders of Britain's industrial history just keep appearing.
Just a few hundred yards from our overnight mooring at Trafford Park was the first; the truly amazing Barton Swing Aqueduct which carries our canal over the Manchester Ship Canal. Dating from 1894, it is considered one of the great Victorian engineering feats.
The swing aqueduct was needed when the Manchester Ship Canal was built and replaced the original (and for its day equally impressive) masonry Barton Aqueduct which carried the Bridgewater across the Irwell river.
The 250ft long trough weighs 1400 tons
When large vessels needed to pass along the ship canal, gates close on the ends of the trough and each end of the canal and the 250ft long by 18ft wide iron trough, holding 800 tonnes of water, is rotated around its central pivot on a man-made island in the Ship Canal.
Looking down from the aqueduct one can see the similar but lower Barton road swing bridge, both operated from the bridge-keepers' tower in mid-canal.
This engineering masterpiece is rarely needed these days and that shows - the paint is flaking and weeds cling to its side. But the views along the Ship Canal are spectacular and it's a fine reminder of our dynamic engineering heritage.
The oldest dry dock on the canals dates from the 1760s
Worsley is next in our history lesson, and after passing the oldest canal dry docks on the system is the famous view of Worsley Delph - the canal arm that led into the Duke of Bridgewater's coal mines and the reason why the whole Bridgewater canal was built in the first place.
Off to the right is the canal leading to the Duke's mines
No less than 46 miles of underground canals were built through the mines to carry coal to what was Britain's first 'modern' canal and then to Manchester – and it arrived at a town hungry for the fuel to kick-start its industrial revolution.
Not all our engineering ingenuity is on such a big scale. Shortly before Worsley is a canalside lighthouse. Yes, a lighthouse; 36ft tall, made of stone and with a working light on the top (albeit it a small one which only lights on special occasions). Phil Austin spent four years building this 21st century folly which is now one of the canal's best known landmarks.
And Phil's folly, the 36ft tall lighthouse


  1. 800 gallons must be a typo, surely? I've got 200 gallons in my back end....

    1. Quite right! Should have been 800 tonnes - which according to my (probably wrong) back of a fag packet calculation is about 180,000 gallons