Manchester Transport




Canals & Inland Waterways

The Rochdale Canal

The original Rochdale
Canal runs for 33 miles between Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, and
Manchester. It begins at Castlefield, at “Dukes” Lock 92, as the name
implies, crossed the hills to Rochdale, before it fell into disuse.
Dukes Lock
marks the end of the Bridgewater Canal, and the start of the Rochdale
Canal, though it was named after the Francis Egerton, Duke
of Bridgewater
had to pay for its construction as a condition of being allowed to connect
his canal to the Rochdale system. It is number 92, as the last lock
on the Bridgewater. A pretty lock -keepers cottage overlooks this lock,
and the adjacent wine bar has borrowed the name. This
once great canal is paradoxical – it was, until recently, a very short
reach, covering just under 2 miles, with its 9 double chambered locks,
and yet boats had to pay a sum of about �30 for the privilege until
as recently as 2000 AD, and a Rochdale Canal Licence had to be purchased
from the office nearby the top lock at Dale Street.
However, extensive
restoration has resulted in it being reopened to navigation as far as
Littleborough since summer 2002. Further stretches are planned to be
reopened in time – refer to the official website for current progress
information at their website: The
Canal offers an alternative view to Manchester, rising as it does, mostly
unseen by the bustling traffic above, and occasionally emerging into
pleasant aspects where bystanders invariably stop to watch this ancient
ritual enacted.
Towards the top of the flight, the canal tunnels beneath a 20 storey
office block, into a subterranean cavern where the canal cuts through
the enormous concrete pillars which support the building overhead.
The Rochdale Canal company was transferred across to the Waterways Trust
in August 2000, and all running of the canal has been contracted out
to British Waterways since then.

Wigan Pier  Leeds & Liverpool CanalThe Rochdale Canal passing through the Gay Village at Canal Street, ManchesterRailway Bridge over the Rochdale canal at Castlefield, ManchesterCastlefield, the Rochdale canal and Dukes Lock 92 with the Merchants Bridge
Left to Right: The Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Wigan Pier, The Rochdale making its way through Manchester’s Gay Village and railway bridges over the Rochdale Canal at Castlefield.

The Rochdale Canal was re-opened to navigation along its entire length
in July 2002 after extensive renovation over several years.

Leeds & Liverpool Canal

The Leeds & Liverpool
Canal is 127 miles long, with 91 locks, and is the single longest canal
built by one company in the United Kingdom. It took well over 40 years
to complete, after a great deal of disagreement about its route from
Lancashire to Yorkshire. The company was established in 1770 and construction
began at once, with John Longbotham as its engineer; later he was succeeded
by Robert Whitworth, and after many delays due to the outbreak of war
with France in 1792, it was finally completed in 1816. In 1820, a branch
was opened to connect it to the Bridgewater Canal at Leigh.
Owing to its
huge double locks, and the large payloads its boats could carry, the
company was very profitable, despite fierce competition from the blossoming
railroad companies. In its heyday, the canal carried 50,000 tons of
coal a year from the Lancashire coalfields to Liverpool, whence most
was exported to America.
Water, however, was constantly a problem, as double locks used great
quantities of it, and in spite of the building of several feeder reservoirs
along its length, it regularly had to be closed in periods of drought
through water shortage.
freight gradually declined, carriage having moved to the railways and
to improved road freight haulage made possible by the opening of the
motorways, and by the early 1960s, like many other canal companies,
the trade was untenable. It closed in the hard winter of 1962-63, and
was thereafter abandoned. Not until the rebirth of canal cruising in
the late 1970s, this time as a leisure pursuit, was it possible to restore
the canal to boat traffic. Nowadays, one of its most famous landmarks
is the beautifully restored Wigan Pier, immortalised in George Orwell’s
novel “The Road to Wigan Pier”.

Ashton Canal

The Manchester &
Ashton Canal was the first canal to reach Portland Basin, opening in
1796. It originally connected Manchester, (and thence the Bridgewater
Canal) to the Huddersfield Canal.
It was never the
most prepossessing of canals, as it passed, and still does, through
the industrial heartland of Victorian Manchester, with all of its factories
and industrial spoilage, and through the housing estates of the poor
unfortunates who worked in those factories. Yet there are things worth
seeing on the stretch. It is another hard uphill slog, with locks all
the way, over 30 to Ashton-under-Lyne, all padlocked against vandalism.
Locking downhill from Ashton is rather more inspiring, as it offers
panoramic views of Manchester city centre.
A short walk
from the canal at Fairfield is the Moravian Settlement, a secluded other-world
settlement established by Protestants in the 15th century. Please note
: boaters wishing to cruise the Ashton Canal will need special padlock
keys. These can be purchased from British Waterways Offices at Ancoats,
or from the lock house at Fairfield.

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This page last updated 20 Nov 11.