Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The waterways of Manchester and Salford by boat

The website of 'Manchester Walks' said of this cruise: take to the water for our 3-hour round trip with historical commentary. We head along the Bridgewater Canal, through Pomona Lock, and down the Manchester Ship Canal to Salford Quays and Media City, where we turn round to go back.

Meet outside the Castlefield Hotel, Liverpool Road.

Castlefield is perhaps the most historic area of Manchester, from Roman times through to the canals and railway building of the industrial revolution. This trip gives a unique waterborne view of not only Castlefield, but the Upper Bridgewater Canal, the Irwell, the Manchester Ship Canal, and the glittering developments of Salford Quays and Media City.

I joined Sue (our guide) and the rest of the passengers aboard the 'Emmeline Pankhurst' this morning in the quay beside the Castlefield Hotel on Liverpool Road, Manchester.

'Emmilene Pankhurst' at the quay in Castlefield this morning

We 'pushed back' across Castlefield basin into the River Medlock opposite the quay, before moving forward and turning left out of the Basin into the Bridgewater Canal.

In the River Medlock, opposite the Castlefield quay. The 'High Girders' of the former Great Northern Railway line into Manchester Central station (now a conference centre) above the 'bowstring bridge'. The nearer set of 'High Girders' today carries the Manchester Metrolink tramway to G-MEX station from Altrincham and Eccles.

We cruised down the Bridgewater Canal alongside the former Manchester South Junction & Altrincham (MSJ&A) railway viaduct, past the site of Pomona Gardens, to Pomona Lock which lowered us to the Manchester Ship Canal. Pomona is the goddess of fruit trees, and long before this area became an industrial powerhouse, then an industrial wasteland, there was a deerpark on the de Trafford country estate here with extensive gardens at Pomona.

The substantial brick arch viaduct which used to carry the MSJ&A lines from Old Trafford all the way to London Road (now Piccadilly) station. I well remember travelling along the line frequently when I lived in Sale as a boy, and travelled into Manchester on the old DC electric trains that served the line. The original masts that carried the 1930s DC electric overhead wires support today's 25Kv AC wires.

A look at the interior of our boat, looking towards the stern. The tour was, perhaps, half full so there was plenty of room to move about

Pomona Dock, with the Manchester Ship Canal beyond. This was built in the 1990s to replace the disused Hulme Lock.

Beyond Pomona Lock, Ordsall Hall which is approaching completion of extensive renovation is visible in the distance (note the gables behind the brick wall in the foreground). It will be far easier to see if you click twice on the picture to take it to full size.

We cruised north up the Ship Canal back towards Manchester. The Ship Canal becomes the River Irwell at some indeterminate point, generally taken to be the position of the green footbridge in the picture below

Cruising north up the Ship Canal, which becomes the River Irwell beyond the green footbridge. The brick arches to the right is the other side of the former Great Northern Railway line into Central Station.

The disused Hulme Lock used to link the Bridgewater and Ship canals but has fallen into disrepair. It has been replaced by Pomona Lock.

This dock was where the 'night soil' (the contents of the outdoor privies) of Salford was loaded onto barges to be taken downstream and used as fertiliser on fields outside the city.

We pass under Trinity Way. The nearer brick arch in the distance carries the MSJ&A railway from Deansgate to Salford Crescent. The stone arch behind it used to carry Stephenson's 'Liverpool & Manchester Railway' into its Liverpool Road Manchester terminus. Today it carries the tracks of the railway at the Museum of Science & Industry (MoSI), over which I fire and drive the replica 'Planet' locomotive on a regular basis (see earlier in this blog).

The original Liverpool & Manchester railway stone arch bridge on the right, the newer rail bridge on the left. The newer bridge carried extra lines into the MoSI complex at the time it was the Liverpool Road Goods Depot. Today, it carries our MoSI railway 'Pineapple Line' track.

The Victoria & Albert Marriot hotel on the right used to be the Victoria & Albert Warehouse. The lattice bridge ahead carries Quay Street.

The bridge ahead carries Bridge Street, and this is where we turn around and head south. Off the picture to the left is the Mark Addy pub, named after the son of a boatbuilder who was awarded the Albert Medal (which was later superseded by the George Cross), and a number of other honours, for the rescue of over 50 people from the then highly-polluted River Irwell in the 19th century.

The 'Mark Addy' and Bridge Street bridge marked the furthest north navigable point of the River Irwell by our boat; above here the river is too silted to allow any but the smallest of vessels to sail. So we turned around and headed down-river, past Pomona Lock and down to what was Manchester Docks and is know a much-redeveloped part of Manchester and Salford.

Just beyond Pomona Lock, heading south, is 'The Soapworks' office development. This was the erstwhile Colgate Palmolive factory, which used to be a major employer in the area.

Downstream of the old Colgate Palmolive factory was Trafford Road Swing Bridge. It is still in place, but the absence of large vessels this far upstream means it does not (indeed can not) swing these days. It has become a static structure supplemented by the fixed Trafford Road Bridge (which we are passing beneath in the picture) to accommodate the much higher capacity road system in the area today.

This view, looking back at Trafford Road Bridge, shows how it used to look from both sides before the parallel fixed bridge was built immediately upstream of it (so not visible here) to provide more road capacity.

The Lowry Centre at Salford Quays

Downstream of The Lowry Centre is the Media City development. The BBC is moving out of its central Manchester premises to re-locate to here, as are BBC Sport and the Childrens' Programme section, currently based in London.

Across the Ship Canal from Media City, on the Manchester side, is the Imperial War Museum North

I am old enough to remember Manchester Docks in their heyday in the 1950s; so very different to the sights we see today. Driving over Trafford Road Swing Bridge with my father in his car, I looked in through the great dock gates to see line upon line of moored ships, their great bows rearing up; an incongruous sight 35 miles from the sea!

Cycling through the Lanes near Lymm it was not unusual to see a great oil tanker, or perhaps a Manchester Liners cargo ship, apparently sailing through the flat green fields of North Cheshire as it navigated the canal up to Manchester.

Trafford park, on the banks of the Ship Canal south of Trafford road Bridge, was at one time the biggest industrial estate in Europe employing 75,000 people. It housed companies such as Metropolitan Vickers (Metro Vics to the locals), Ford Motor Company, and Kellogg's Corn Flakes (the latter still there today) and it had its own railway system. Growing up in Stretford as I did, Trafford Park was audible; the 'hum of industry' accompanied by works sirens, steam whistles, and the unmistakable clanking clatter of rebounding buffers of loose-coupled goods trains.

Trafford park, originally the country seat of the de Trafford family, was literally a Hive of Industry. The Ship Canal and the railways were the arteries that kept it alive. In those days, you could hear, feel, see, and smell the country at work.

The docks fell into decline with containerisation, when ships became too large to fit up the Ship Canal and instead unloaded their containers at Seaforth Dock in Liverpool for onward shipment by rail and road. Trafford Park does still have a large container terminal but this is served by rail and by road these days.

The Lowry to the right, looking down what was Dock 8, where the Manchester Liners ships used to moor. On the tour was a passenger who used to work for Manchester Liners as an electrician and he described how Dock 8 would be full of Liners, double-berthed, both sides of the dock, in the 1950s.

Mode Wheel Locks, the last set of locks lifting ships from the sea at Liverpool to the docks at Manchester. This as far south as we will go, so we turn here and head north again back to Pomona Lock. The locks are hydraulically operated; note the hydraulic accumulator tower on the right.

On the Manchester bank, a reminder of what this place once was.

From Industry to Entertainment; a closer look at Media City, typical of the area today. The BBC will occupy the building on the left.

Heading back upstream, the Lowry to the left, the Lowry lifting bridge ahead

Looking down one of the original docks, to the distant Beetham Tower, not far from where we started this cruise.

Back on the Bridgewater Canal, having ascended Pomona Lock, we pass the site of Pomona Gardens. It's difficult to reconcile this scrubby wasteland with the gardens described earlier in this post.

Lots of Canada Geese, many as here with young, along the Bridgewater. The young especially may look pretty, but these birds (a native of North America) are a serious urban pest. They can be aggressive, they displace indiginous species, and they have prodigious appetites with messy digestive systems to match. Despite many attemts to reduce their numbers, they continue to thrive.

We return to Castlefield basin, where the Rochdale Canal's last lock (no.92) is visible under the bridge ahead providing water for the Bridgewater Canal (no doubt a condition by the Bridgewater's owners on the Roachdale being allowed to join the Bridgewater).

Approaching our final stop, back at the Castlefield Hotel. We are about to pass beneath one of the brick arches of the MSJ&A 'South Junction' line from Deansgate to Salford Crescent. The quay is ahead beyond the arch, with MoSI visible on the far side of Liverpool Road.

Alltogether a great day out. Highly recommended!



  1. Just booked this trip as a Christmas gift - can't wait! x

  2. I'm sure you'll enjoy it!