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Manchester and Salford Junction Canal

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River Irwell, looking upstream. The entrance to the M&SJ Canal (via Lock No. 1) is on the extreme right. The large brick building is the Victoria & Albert Hotel, formerly the Victoria Warehouse and Albert Warehouse
Lock No. 1, River Irwell behind camera. Hard to imagine that this lock, and Lock No. 2, had been filled in, only to be rediscovered in 1989 during investigation into subsidence in Granada TV Studio's car park [1]
Below the camera is Camp Street, and below that is the canal. Behind the shops and offices on Deansgate is the former Great Northerm warehouse
Bridgewater Hall on the left, Manchester Central in background, with Lower Mosley Street between. The canal originally continued from the end wall of the basin in the photo, to the stop lock which was below Lower Mosley Street, and thence to No. 4 lock and onward to the River Irwell. The canal was narrower than the present leg, but the direction is the same

This canal was short in length, and long in planning. It connected the Rochdale Canal with the River Irwell, and thereby provided a link to the Mersey and Irwell Navigation and to the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal.

Although the canal was short, construction was made difficult by having to dig a fairly shallow tunnel under a populous part of Manchester, with its gas and water pipes and sewers.

The first plans were drawn up by John Nightingale in 1808. Land was purchased by the Mersey and Irwell Navigation Co in 1824. The M&SJC Act was passed in July 1836, and work began about a year later. The final design of the canal shows significant differences from drawings produced in 1835. The main contractor was William Mackenzie. Digging started in July 1837, and a through passage was completed in April 1838. The tunnel was 511 yards long, 20 ft wide, gaslit, and included a fenced tow path. The expected traffic did not materialise, an alternative route to the River Irwell having been established via Hulme Locks. This offered lower charges, while problems with the M&SJC incurred extra costs. Partial closure was authorised in 1875. The Great Northern Warehouse was built above the canal tunnel in 1899, and this had two hoist wells communicating with the canal. The tunnel was disused by the 1930s, and it was drained in the Second World War and adapted for use as an air raid shelter.[2]

The open stretch to the west of Lower Mosley Street was filled in, and Manchester Central station and its goods sheds were built over the area which had contained the entrance to Locks 3 & 4 and the reservoir and upper pumphouse. It seems that the area of the locks was spanned by a massive masonry arch when Central Station was built. The station was opened in 1877, and its arched iron roof has survived to house as Manchester Central Convention Complex (was 'G-MEX' exhibition centre until recently). The Great Northern Railway Goods Warehouse building has also survived. A present day visitor may wish to note that when standing in Camp Street, the tunnel is directly below their feet. From Camp Street, when facing Deansgate and the former Great Northern building, the tunnel undergoes a very slight deviation to the right under Deansgate, and passes under the warehouse and then under Watson Street, where it formerly emerged into daylight at the entrance to Lock No. 3. A plan [3] shows that beneath the warehouse, a short length of the canal was briefly widened to form a 'lay-by'. From the towpath of this lay-by, two short tunnels led to shafts communicating with the warehouse above. This allowed for transhipment of goods between the canal and the railway system. Slightly further on, two wagon hoists were built to communicate with the Central Station's goods yard above.

Returning to Camp Street, but now facing west, the canal tunnel ran directly below Camp Street, passed under Lower Byrom Street, and continued below Charles Street (later named Grape Street) for a short distance, before veering off slightly northwards just before the junction with Atherton Street, soon to emerge at the side of Charles Street, where it approached Lock No. 2. Charles Street (Grape Street) no longer exists, the site being covered by the ITV Granada studios. The houses of the set of 'Coronation Street' back on to the former course of Charles Street. The row ends at the former Charles Street's junction with the now truncated Atherton Street. This places the TV houses very close to the former tunnel entrance. This interpretation is based on comparison of satellite images with the 1848 and 1849 O.S. maps, and is supported by projecting the line of the surviving No. 1 lock to the line of Camp Street/Charles Street. Note: The land south of Charles Street (Grape Street) and extending to Liverpool Road had been used for the extensive Liverpool Road and Salford Goods Station. Part of this complex survives as Manchester's Museum of Science and Industry.

Arrangement of Locks, etc.

Reference to 36-inch O.S. maps dated 1848 and 1849 [4] [5] show some interesting features. There were two sets of locks, the lower set being close to the River Irwell (Locks 1 & 2), and the upper set (Locks 3 & 4) being immediately to the west of Lower Mosley Street. Lock No. 1 was single, with one pair of gates, while Lock No. 2 was double, (i.e. two parallel locks each with two gates). Lock No. 3 was also double, as was No.4, and Nos 3 and 4 were directly in series. Thus there were effectively two parallel locks here, each with three gates. It had been stipulated that the canal must not take any water from the Rochdale Canal, and, further, that the upper level must be 6-inches above the Rochdale Canal. This necessitated a 'Stop Lock', shown on the O.S. map as 'Stop Gate', located below the bridge carrying Lower Mosley Street over the canal (immediately alongside the works of Thomas Gadd). No details are available for the type of stop lock, but apparently it was troublesome.

Since no water could be taken from the Rochdale Canal, and because it was necessary to maintain a level 6" above that canal, water was drawn from the River Irwell and pumped to the section between the two sets of locks (just downstream of the tunnel). Water was then pumped from this section into a reservoir alongside the north bank of the canal at the entry to Lock No. 4, and opposite Dacca Mill. The O.S. map clearly shows the engine house and boiler house, fed by a tunnel with its mouth just downstream of the exit from Lock No. 3. The pump discharged water into the reservoir, which appears to connect with the canal via a very short tunnel.

The lower pumping engine and its boiler house are shown on the north bank of the canal, alongside Brunswick Wharf. Curiously, the map identifies the tunnel as a 'Bye Water Tunnel', with the upstream end marked ‘overflow’ and the downstream end marked 'Issues'. However, these descriptions are the converse of what would be expected, given that the pump was required to draw water from the river and pump it to the point upstream of the lock (through the connection marked as 'overflow') on the map. It is possible that by this time (1848) the M&SJC was allowed to take water from the Rochdale Canal, rendering the pump redundant. This is speculation, but the M&SJC canal had been taken over by the Bridgewater Canal Co., and they had an agreement to take water for the Bridgewater Canal from the Rochdale Canal, the previous supply from the River Medlock having become excessively polluted.

Archaeological investigation in 1989 revealed a surprising finding about the level of Lock No. 1. The lock would have been intended to allow access between canal and river in both flood and drought conditions, but, based on current river levels, it seems that the lock would have been redundant, not being required to operate except, possibly, in extreme drought conditions. It is postulated that the relative levels of Irwell and canal were altered by silting of the channel of the Irwell due to the dumping of cinders, resulting in the river level rising by over a metre. [6]

There was a network of canal branches above the stop lock serving several mills and the various buildings of Sharp Brothers, and connecting with the Rochdale Canal. Various maps identify these stretches as the M&SJC, but Bancks's 1831 map clearly shows that they predate the M&SJC, and were presumably owned by the Rochdale Canal Co. The first part of this network has survived, overlooked by the modern Bridgewater Hall.

Pumping Engines

A contemporary account[7] noted that each steam pump could raise about 700 gallons at a stroke, and worked at about 10 strokes per minute. It was stated that the engines were constructed on a new principle invented by Mr Andrew Knowles (a director of the company), with the cylinder placed over the pit and the pump directly over (under?) the piston rod. This gave a compact unit with a floor area of only four yards by two. ‘They have been erected by Messrs Walker Brothers of Bury.

It is probable that Walker Brothers were Richard Walker and Brother of Bury. This is supported by the following extract from a letter to a Manchester newspaper written by a Mr. Shuttleworth concerning his proposed ‘Hydraulic Railway’. . 'There are in this town two powerful engines of about 80 and 120 horse respectively, employed on the Rochdale Canal {M&SJ Canal?} to lift the water back, which would otherwise run to waste, after it had passed through the large and deep locks of that canal ; and such waste the company cannot afford. These engines are built by Messrs. Richard Walker and Brother, of Bury . They are constructed to bring into action steam power in its most simple principle, but are not patented. They each comprise a large cylinder placed partly over the well, so that the piston rod, passing through the bottom, may answer also, by its being extended, for that for the plunger, which moves in a vertical line below. When I add that these noble machines work expansively, you will, I fancy, be ready to allow that nothing can be more beautiful than the simplicity of the principle here developed. The pistons in them are rendered not merely first movers, but sole movers (say lifters), and placed in their cylinders immediately over their work.'[8]

Report of Opening, 1839

PUBLIC OPENING OF THE MANCHESTER AND SALFORD JUNCTION CANAL. On Monday last the ceremony of (which connects the Irwell with the Rochdale canal) opening this canal took place. It opens from the river nearly opposite the opening of the Bolton canal, and passes under Water-street and along the side of Charles-street.— It then enters a tunnel a half mile in length, which passes under Lower Byrom-street, Byrom-street, Deansgate, Alport-town, and Watson-street. The canal then emerges to the light, passes under Lower Mosley-street along the side of Stirling and Beckton's factory, and then turning to the right, passes under Great Bridgewater-street to the Rochdale canal.— The canal has the advantage of double locks, which will considerably facilitate the passing of vessels from the Rochdale canal, thereby avoiding an inconvenience which has hitherto caused considerable delay. The tunnel is lighted with gas every twenty yards, and there is a towing-path the whole length. The Salford Junction Canal will have very beneficial effect upon the canal traffic, as it will open a direct communication between Bolton and Bury and the South and West of England. The Staffordshire iron-masters will be enabled to send their iron to those places without breaking bulk, and when we consider the large quantity of iron consumed at Bolton and Bury, the opening will be of considerable importance. It will also free the streets of Manchester from a great quantity of the heavy traffic which is carried through the town to the Rochdale and Ashton canals Piccadilly from the Old Quay, to be forwarded to Ashton, Hyde, Stockport, and Oldham. We were informed when the bill was passing through Parliament, about two years ago, that the traffic then amounted to 30,000 tons per annum. To resume our account of the opening At twelve o'clock a considerable number gentlemen congregated in the yard of the Old Quay Company, which adjoins the junction of the canal and the river, and at a quarter past twelve, the packet vessel Eclipse passed into the first lock, which was filled in five minutes. The vessel, with two or three hundred persons on deck, then entered the well-lighted tunnel, which it passed in seven minutes. A second lock was here passed in five minutes, and third in the same time. The vessel had now attained the level of the Rochdale canal in exactly twenty-eight minutes. At every opening the passengers were loudly cheered thousands who had congregated to see the progress of the vessel. Another packet, the name of which we did not learn, followed in the wake of the Eclipse. As soon as the packet-boat had arrived at the Rochdale canal, the first trade-boat, loaded with limestone, proceeded down the Junction canal to the river, and on our return to the Old Quay yard, we found that it had accomplished its voyage. THE COLLATION. At half-past one about one hundred gentlemen assembled in spacious shed at the junction of the canal and river to partake of a handsome collation provided by the Old Quay Company. ……[9]


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 'Manchester - The Hidden History' by Michael Nevell, The History Press, 2008, p.108
  2. 'Below Manchester' by Keith Warrender, Willow Publishing, 2009
  3. 'Manchester's Central Station and the Great Northern Railway Goods Warehouse' by E M Johnson, Foxline Publications
  4. The Godfrey Edition Old Ordnance Survey Town Plans: Manchester & Salford Sheet 27: New Bailey & Ordsall Lane [1]
  5. 'The Godfrey Edition' 'Old Ordnance Survey Town Plans: Manchester Sheet 33: ‘Manchester (Oxford Street & Gaythorn)' [2]
  6. 'Manchester - The Hidden History' by Michael Nevell, The History Press, 2008
  7. Manchester Chronicle & Salford Standard, 2 November 1839, reproduced in 'Underground Manchester' by Keith Warrender
  8. Sheffield Independent, 16th October 1841
  9. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser - Saturday 2nd November 1839