Report of General Monthly Meeting by Zoom - Tuesday 9th March 2021


Manchester Ship Canal by Les Green and Bob Cannell


I guess most of us have, at one time or another, driven up and down the M6 motorway. Between junctions 20 and 21, the road rises disproportionately high, up and over a single, straight strip of water. Disappointingly, there aren’t any signs to tell drivers what they are crossing and, personally, I’ve never actually spotted a ship beneath me but nevertheless, this arrow straight, blink-and-you-miss-it, length of silver is the Manchester Ship Canal.

In the March online general meeting, Les Green and Bob Cannell, of the Daniel Adamson Preservation Society, presented members with an extensive history of this stretch of water. We learnt that Manchester became the third busiest port in the country despite being some 40 miles inland, and they outlined the growth of Manchester during Victorian times to become “Cottonopolis”, a huge network of cotton factories in the north of England.

Initially driven by the invention of the steam textile mill by locally born Richard Arkwright, with supplies of coal on the doorstep and barges able to bring cotton bales direct from Liverpool along the Bridgewater Canal, the cotton industry grew and grew. Eventually, demand for raw products exceeded the capacity of the canals and rivers; even the newly-built railways were unable to meet requirements. In addition, Liverpool docks began to impose higher tariffs for unloading the bales from sea-going ships onto the small barges that were able to negotiate the inland waterways. So, in 1882, there was a proposal to construct a new canal suitable for sea-going ships to steam right into the heart of Manchester itself. Various designs were considered, including an inviting lock-free version at sea level – but that would have arrived 60 feet beneath Manchester’s streets.

Finally, by 1894, the canal we see today had been constructed on the Roman principle of the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Twelve thousand navvies and a hundred steam excavators worked for six years to dig the canal.

The resulting easy access was what Manchester needed for a century’s more cotton production but by the 1980s this was in decline and the canal gradually fell out of use. Commercial use has now returned to the lower stretches of the canal, where ocean-going ships can still be seen. Further upstream, leisure activities dominate the waters, including boat trips on the coal-fired Daniel Adamson pleasure steamer.

Vernon Tottle