The Bridgewater Canal received Royal Assent on 23rd March 1759, and was to be the forerunner of all modern canals. It was to follow a route which would be independent of all other watercourses. Francis Egerton, the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater conceived the idea as a way to move coal from his mines in Worsley into Manchester – a way he believed would be quicker and cheaper. In the event he spent over �20 million on its construction, and only raised �8 million in revenue. His engineers were to be James Brindley, who later built the Trent & Mersey Canal, and by John Gilbert. Originally there were some 40 miles of underground canals running deep into the mines, some on different levels and linked by ingenious incline planes.
Tunnel on the Bridgewater, Barton Swing Aqueduct, the Old Packet House, Worsley & Francis Egerton, Third Duke of Bridgewater.
This whole system was fully operational until the late nineteenth century. In 1762, Egerton obtained consent to extend his canal to Runcorn and to join it to the Trent and Mersey Canal at Preston Brook. The route between Liverpool and Manchester was opened in 1776, though Brindley died before it was completed. Finally, in 1795 the line was linked with the Leeds & Liverpool Canal at Leigh. Although Egerton, knownlater as “the Canal Duke” , lost a fortune in his investment, he finally began to recoup his money in ripe old age, to die, happily, a rich man again. The canal was purchased for �1,120,000 in 1872 by the newly formed Bridgewater Navigation Company, and they in turn sold it to the Manchester Ship Canal Company in 1885
The building of the Manchester Ship Canal necessitated the removal of Brindley’s stone aqueduct over the River Irwell, and its replacement by the present Barton Swing Aqueduct. This is a steel trough enclosed by gates at both ends, and pivoted on an island in the Ship Canal, about which it rotates to allow ships passage on the Ship Canal beneath. The weight of water carried by the aqueduct amounts to 1500 tons. The Bridgewater canal continued to carry working traffic until 1974, for its branches pass through the heart of Trafford Park, Manchester’s huge industrial estate, where large companies, such as Kelloggs and Courtaulds, still manufacture produce. By the time that trade ceased on the canal, it was carrying 10,000 tons of American grain a year into Trafford Park . As the canal approaches Manchester, there are close-up views of the Ship Canal and of Salford Quays, as well as a circuit of Manchester United’s Old Trafford Football Stadium, before arriving at Castlefield Basin, and the end of the Bridgewater Canal. Today, as with most inland waterways, its only business is in pleasure craft.
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