The Big Ditch...
Manchester's Ship Canal
version of the History Press (formally Tempus Publishing) Book by
Cyril J Wood in eBook format
Chapter Two - Description of
the Route of the Manchester Ship Canal
Before entry onto the Ship Canal is attempted, permission
must be obtained from the Manchester Ship Canal Company.
For details of how to go about this and what preparations need to be made
before cruising the Ship Canal, please refer to the chapter on Navigational
The Manchester Ship Canal and adjoining waterways
Eastham Locks from the River Mersey at sunrise
The northern end of the
Manchester Ship Canal
is approached from the tidal River Mersey estuary at Eastham, upstream of the
old Eastham Ferry landing stage (now demolished).
The river’s channel is regularly dredged and is deceptively deep at this
point even though it is close to the banks of the river. Navigation of the River
Mersey should only be attempted whilst accompanied by a River Mersey Pilot and
permission from the Manchester Ship Canal
must be obtained well in advance of when access to the canal is required.
The entrance locks
at Eastham looking towards Liverpool.
The scaffolding structures are called “Dolphins” which are used to guide craft
into the locks
On arrival at the canal, there are four entrance locks.
On the left are the old barge locks used by the
Mersey flats and other barges small enough to fit.
Use of these locks meant that a large amount of water was not wasted by
barges using the larger ship locks.
Adjacent to the disused barge locks are two sets of ship locks allowing passage to ships
of larger dimensions. These locks
have intermediate gates so that smaller craft do not have to use the full length
of the locks and in doing so, saving water.
The fourth set of locks on the right, slightly downstream from the Ship
Canal entrance locks and, incidentally the largest, are not actually connected
to the Ship Canal, but allow tankers access to the Queen Elizabeth II Oil
Terminal adjacent to the canal. Also adjacent to the entrance locks are control sluices and
the de-masting berths used for removing ship’s funnels and masts when they were
too tall to fit beneath the fixed bridges on the canal.
Some later ships were constructed either to conform to the Ship Canal’s
dimensions or were fitted with telescopic masts and funnels that made the
de-masting berths redundant.
and “gig” boats (small craft used for bringing ropes ashore) still use this area
as their berths whilst waiting for the ships that they are to guide along the
Map 1 - Eastham before 1953, prior to construction of the Queen Elizabeth 2 Oil Terminal
Map 2 - Eastham - Present Day
Eastham Locks looking towards Mount
After passing through the entrance locks, the canal
follows the banks of the River Mersey, from which the canal is separated by a
narrow strip of land known as Pool Hall Bay Embankment.
Before long, a small river passes beneath the canal
in a “siphon” and runs across the mud flats exposed at low tide and into the
The siphon is a technique
pioneered by James Brindley when improving the mine drainage at the Wet Earth
and also at Castlefield in
where the River Medlock was diverted beneath the
This technique is used at many locations along the canal
were a watercourse is required to cross the canal but not to physically connect
Map 3 - Eastham to
One of the navigation beacons
that line the length of the canal. This particular example is marked "2" and is
The outlet from Pool Hall Syphon
The rural setting of the canal’s surroundings start to
change to a more industrial nature and it is not long before
Manisty is reached.
This is an artificial mound created by the waste from the canal’s
construction and named after the engineer in charge of the construction of this
section of the canal.
On the eastern
bank can be seen the unloading berths for Bowater’s Paper Mills with the
Vauxhall Motors’ Ellesmere Port
plant behind it.
is now a nature reserve and is home to many species of wildlife such as badgers,
rabbits, hedgehogs and foxes, as is most of the embankment separating the canal
from the River Mersey.
The view from on top of
looking towards Eastham with Pool Hall Syphon on the left
Mount Manisty Cutting
Map 4 - Mount Manisty to
“Solon” unloading at Ellesmere Port in 1993
Looking towards Mount Manisty from Ellesmere Port Docks
About a mile on from Bowater’s Wharf is the Ellesmere Port
Container Terminal built in 1970 on the North Quay.
Roll-on-roll-off car ferries bring in foreign cars as well as taking
British cars for export as well as container ships from all over the world. It
is not uncommon to see Russian, Spanish and Japanese ships moored next to each
other at the quay.
Adjacent to the
container terminal is the entrance to the
its numerous basins.
Thomas Telford’s original lighthouse stands sentinel over the entrance
locks and dates from 1828 when, prior to the construction of the Ship Canal, the
canal ran straight into the Mersey Estuary.
it has the distinction of being the only lighthouse on the British inland
Map 5 - Ellesmere Port
Lighthouse before restoration… originally marking the entrance locks to the
Since the construction of the MSC
it has been one of the few lighthouses on the inland waterways system.
A more recent photograph after restoration
Canal entrance basins and
housing development surrounding the
Looking up the duplicated locks to the Upper Basin
There were extensive warehouses located here, the most
famous being “Telford’s Warehouses” constructed
to house clay for the potteries and other commodities not suitable for storage
Their graceful arches
spanned the basins until they were damaged by fire in May 1970 and had to be
Today the area is the
home to the
Museum, one of the premier
museums of canal and inland navigation history in the country. The Museum has a wide range of craft and exhibits on
display ranging from Mersey Flats, a
concrete barge, narrow boats, various historic canal craft and even a
“starvationer” as used inside the Worsley Mines on the
There is a café and a large shop selling canalia, books, videos, etc.
The Museum is well worth a visit and can provide a special plaque for
visitors arriving by boat… regardless of which canal they arrive on.
Arrangements can be made to moor in the Museum’s basins overnight and
whilst visiting the museum. It is also one of the few “bolt holes” for small (by
Ship Canal standards) craft traversing the Ship Canal.
A concrete barge that once travelled along the MSC to Liverpool preserved in the
Opposite the Boat
Museum, the embankment separating the Ship Canal
from the River Mersey gives way to a concrete dam which is the location that
water was first admitted into this section of the canal and caused so many
problems in the November of 1892.
The location where water was first admitted into the MSC in
A barge rounding the bend at Ellesmere Port adjacent to the Boat Museum
is followed by the Stanlow Oil Refinery and it’s tanker berths.
These berths constructed in 1922 and expanded in 1933 are located on
The island was once home to Stanlow Priory were Benedictine or “Black”
monks lived until the priory was closed.
They relocated to Chester and established a Cathedral there in the twelfth century.
The reason for the closure of the priory was the encroachment of the
river and the severe weather that constantly battered the buildings during the
winter, conditions that were also prevalent during the construction of the
Today, the remains of the
priory buildings can still be traced in the undergrowth.
The only residents on the island are rabbits, hares, badgers, foxes and
The older buildings
on the island still bare the camouflage that disguised them from the probing
eyes of the Luftwaffe during World War Two.
The private ferry at Stanlow
Island connecting the island to the
refinery in 1990
ferry landing stage looking towards Ince
It is only possible to reach
Island by ferryboat from
the refinery opposite although, when researching and photographing the canal, I
did walk from Eastham to Stanlow along the embankment that separates the canal
from the river, a practice that is not encouraged by the
Manchester Ship Canal
or Shell UK
who controls the oil berths at Stanlow.
There are two berths located on the island plus a turning basin used when
manoeuvring tankers in and out of the berths.
The Stanlow Island Ferry runs from one of the lay-byes on the canal,
opposite the island. Ships can moor
in the lay-by to await access to the main oil berths on the island or load and
unload if access to the main berths is not required.
The hose handling rigs installed here rise and fall with the ships as
their cargo is discharged or loaded.
The old beacon on
A tidal refuge at
On the southern side of the island, the River Gowy passes
beneath the Ship Canal in a siphon.
At one time, the point were the Gowy runs into the Mersey
was used for mooring craft and a tide refuge can still be seen poking out of the
mud. The River Gowy forms the
southern geographical boundary of the
Peninsula and the Ship
Canal now enters Cheshire
as it passes along the side of the oil refinery with its numerous berths and
lay-bys. The refinery is followed by
Ince Power Station, which possesses unloading wharves.
At one time, the power station received fuel in the form
of shale oil delivered via the Ship Canal and
unloaded at the wharf.
Stanlow to Ince
Approaching Frodsham Marshes doing slightly
more than 4 mph on board Carmet Towing's mv "Venom"
The flat marshlands that follow Stanlow are the Ince and
Frodsham marshes. They indicate the
edge of the Cheshire Plain, created after the Ice Age, when the glaciers melted
and their waters ran to the sea forming the
Basin in the process.
Due to the marshes being only slightly above sea level, they are
criss-crossed by many drainage dykes or gutters, which come together and pass
beneath the Ship Canal in a siphon before running into the
Mersey at Frodsham Score.
The towns of Frodsham and Helsby can be seen in the distance huddling
beneath the stone outcrops of the hills that protect them.
If Helsby Hill is viewed from the south, at a particular angle the
profile of a Native American’s face can be seen in the rock-face.
Ince to Frodsham Marshes
Looking towards Stanlow at Frodsham Marshes
Frodsham Marshes at this point contain sludge ponds where
dredgings from the Ship Canal are deposited.
The canal clings to the River Mersey’s banks as it starts a giant “s”
bend lasting until Runcorn. The first sweeping curve towards Weston Point, before
which, the River Weaver runs across the canal.
Soon the Ship Canal widens out as the entrance to the River Weaver is
reached. The water running down the
River Weaver feeds into the Ship Canal and opposite the river’s mouth are
situated sluices through which the river’s water empties into the River Mersey.
Care must be exercised due to the volume of water passing across the
canal after periods of rain. Shortly
after the entrance to the River Weaver can be seen Weston Marsh Lock, the
entrance lock to the Weaver Navigation.
This is a canal that bypasses the lower section of the River Weaver and
the location was named “Salt
Port” due to the primary substance that was loaded
into ships at this point. Today, it
is the location of the giant Castner Kellner chemical plant.
At night, when illuminated, this complex is especially impressive.
The Weaver Navigation also gives access to the
Trent and Mersey
via the restored Anderton Boat Lift and the disused Runcorn and Weston
that originally connected to Runcorn Docks and the
Larger ships require help around this turn and were assisted by tugs to ensure
that the combination of the tight turn, winds coming off the exposed River
Mersey and water running out of the River Weaver was negotiated safely.
Weston Marsh Lock leading to the Weaver
Weston Marsh Lock with Castner Kellner chemical works in the
Marker buoys marking the channel at Weaver Turn
A channel marker buoy in front of Weaver Sluices
Map 8 -
Frodsham Marshes to Weston Point
Weston Point Power Station undergoing refurbishment in 2013
Weston Point Power Station in the 1930's showing the
Runcorn and Weston Canal as well as the MSC and River Mersey
A little further on today Weston Point Turn is dominated by the Eddie Stobart Logistics Terminal
(Photograph - Eddie Stobart Logistics)
As the Ship Canal rounds the bend
at Weston Point
there are three waterways side by side… the River Mersey, the
Ship Canal and the Runcorn
Just before Runcorn Docks are reached can be seen the disused Weston
Mersey Lock which gave flats and barges access to the river at that point.
Shortly after this, the Runcorn and Weston canal reaches its truncated destination
at what is now the giant Eddie Stobart Logistics Terminal, leaving the Mersey and the Ship Canal to their own devices.
A narrowboat's eye view of "Stolt Kestrel" loading at Runcorn Docks
A disused part of Runcorn Docks in 1987, now
Bridgewater House looking isolated and forlorn in
... and today the building is a college
surrounded by business developments
Once around the bend at Weston Point, the canal passes the
disused entrance locks that gave access from the Ship Canal to the
The locks, now sadly filled-in are watched over by Bridgewater House, an
impressive mansion built by Francis Egerton for James Brindley and himself to
live in whilst overseeing the construction of their canal.
The house dates from a period of time when a window tax was imposed.
Consequently, many of what appear to be windows are actually imitations
painted onto the brickwork. At one time,
the house was the Port Division Office for the
Manchester Ship Canal but is
now a college.
Two photographs taken either
side of the Runcorn
Bridge in 1986
Map 9 - Weston Point
The Ship Canal and Mersey
Estuary looking towards Eastham from Weston Point
The adjacent River Mersey now narrows
considerably and, consequently first bridge crossings of river and the Ship
Canal loom in the
distance. First, the
Bridge carrying the main
railway line from Liverpool to
This is quickly followed by the Runcorn-Widnes Suspension Bridge
constructed in 1964 to replace the earlier Transporter Bridge opened in 1905,
that occupied a location adjacent to today’s bridge.
A rare, poor quality photograph showing the three
Runcorn/Widnes Bridges prior to the demolition of the Transporter Bridge in
1964, immediately after the completion of the suspension bridge
The small pier with the railings
around it is all that remains on the Runcorn bank of the Runcorn/Widnes Transporter Bridge.
The span of the
Bridge is illustrated in
this photograph. At one time it was the longest suspension bridge in Europe
Map 10 - Runcorn prior to the infilling
Map 11 - Runcorn
- Present Day
After the suspension bridge is the disused
Old Quay Lock, which used to give access to the upper reaches of the
Mersey and Widnes Dock… the terminus of the
Saint Helens Canal.
Adjacent to the lock was located the Manchester
Canal’s Old Quay workshops.
This was the headquarters of the canal’s Maintenance Department and home
to the dredgers that could sometimes be seen removing silt from the Ship Canal’s
A barge moored in the disused Old Quay Lock
Spare lock gates stored opposite the Old Quay
Two photographs in the vicinity
first of the canal’s swing bridges can now be seen in the distance.
This is the Old Quay Swing Bridge.
These bridges were designed by Edward Leader Williams and bear a striking
similarity to those on the River Weaver.
This is not surprising really as Leader Williams was the engineer to that
waterway before moving to the Ship Canal.
Guinness tanker unloading “black velvet” into road tankers to be transported to
the bottling/canning/distribution plant
On the marshlands just after the
Bridge is the Hempstones
Nature Reserve. This was the location of
Wharf where Guinness, the rich Irish stout
known as "Black Velvet" was imported from Ireland and distributed by road tankers.
Previous to this it was the site of a World War One mustard gas factory
and after the factory was demolished, the contaminated land was capped with
concrete. Building on this land is
not allowed due to possible contamination.
photograph illustrates the close proximity of the disused Runcorn and
Canal on Hempstones Nature Reserve.
If the area is explored, the
remains of the Runcorn and Latchford Canal
can be seen. This was a canal opened
in 1804 and was an extension to the old Mersey
and Irwell Navigation. It linked
Runcorn to Woolston Cut without the risks and unpredictability of having to
navigate the tidal river and was a more direct route cutting off many meanders
in the Mersey. The
entrance lock from the Mersey has long since
disappeared, although its location can still be seen in the mud flats.
Parts of the canal have been swallowed up by the construction of the MSC
but there are still many isolated remains to be seen including some of the
locks, one of which is located around a bend in the canal a short walk along its
This aerial photograph combined
with a computer generated illustration of the Mersey Gateway Bridge
the existing two bridges spanning Runcorn Gap and the MSC with the
proposed new bridge in the background
In 2013 construction work commenced on the
Mersey Gateway... the second high-level road bridge across the Mersey. This
bridge will supplement the first as traffic volume has exceeded the levels that
it was designed to carry. In the original plans
for the new bridge had four suspension towers and a light railway deck suspended below the roadway for
trams but the completed bridge only has three suspension towers and does not
possess the light railway/tramway deck when it opened for traffic on the 24th
computer generated image of how the new bridge might look. Note the light
railway/tramway deck slung beneath the main carriageway
The completed bridge as seen from Fiddlers
Ferry when it opened in October 2017
Map 12 - Hempstones Nature Reserve to
The Mersey widens out after Runcorn Gap and
then narrows again opposite to Fiddlers Ferry Power Station where it starts its
characteristic meandering. The river continues its tidal meandering eastwards
through the Crossfields Chemical plant at Bank Quay. Here is located a historic
Crossfield's Transporter Bridge across the
tidal River Mersey near Walton
Originally there were two transporter bridges here
in addition to the Runcorn/Widnes Transporter Bridge. The first one was built in 1902 and carried railway trucks from one side
of the river to the other and is now demolished.
The second one, illustrated above was built in 1912,
and bought by Warrington Council. It
is now disused but is a listed structure, is complete and in good condition awaiting
restoration at some point in the future.
Unfortunately its location on private land is a hindrance to visitors who have
to request permission from the land owners... Levers.
Map 13 -
After passing numerous industrial estates on the edge of
Runcorn, the Ship Canal now leaves (temporarily) the company of the Mersey and enters a cutting.
The Promenade Caravan
Park is situated on the
right-hand bank of the canal and soon Randle Sluices are reached.
Here, excess water is run-off from the Ship Canal into a nearby meander
of the Mersey.
There is also a subway beneath the canal through which the Vyrnwy water
pipeline passes. Just past Moore
Lane Lay-by is the Moore Lane
followed by Acton
used by Dupont UK
and the Acton Grange Railway Viaduct.
Acton Grange Railway Viaduct
Chester Road Swing Bridge
Winter looking towards Chester Road Swing Bridge
(Photograph - BBC)
The next canal crossing is Chester
Bridge where the A5060 Chester Road is carried over the
canal. This is followed by Warrington
Wharf, Walton Cut and a sand berth.
The lock at Walton Cut gave access to the river diversion and the section
of the Mersey
that runs alongside the A5060
Chester Road, through to the centre of
The next swing bridge is Northwich Road
which carries the A49 London Road.
Adjacent to the bridge is the old Twenty Steps Lock where the Runcorn and
Canal cut across yet
another meandering section of the Mersey up to
Woolston Cut and Woolston New Cut… canalised sections of the river, which made
up part of the Mersey and Irwell Navigation
improvements during the 18th Century.
Entrance to Walton Lock and Warrington Wharf -
On the eastern bank of the canal is Stockton Heath and
Latchford High-Level Bridge (similar in design to Warburton High-Level Bridge
further along the canal) soon span the canal.
This high-level bridge is one of the few fixed bridges on the canal.
The canal continues along a ruler-straight section in a deep cutting to Knutsford
Bridge where the A50 crosses the canal,
followed by Latchford Railway Viaduct and Latchford Locks giving a rise of 42ft.
carries the A49 over the MSC at Stockton Heath
is the in-filled remains of Twenty Steps Lock... part of the Runcorn and
One of two virtually identical
high-level bridges carrying minor roads across the canal.
This example is Latchford
and the other is Warburton
Bridge near Lymm.
Map 14 -
Heath to Latchford
towards Latchford Railway Viaduct from Latchford Locks
Map 15 - Latchford to Thelwall
These locks are the first to be encountered since the entrance locks at
Eastham, twenty-one miles distant.
They are duplicated locks with intermediate gates in each chamber to keep water
wastage on the canal to a minimum.
Adjacent to the locks, on the left hand bank was located the now demolished “New
World” domestic appliance factory, famous for cookers and other
A 2003 photograph of
Latchford Locks shows the now demolished New World
domestic appliance factory on the off-side of the canal
The Mersey meanders towards the canal on the left hand bank,
but there is no actual connection until a little further on at Bollin Point.
At Thelwall Ferry, a rowing boat is used to ferry pedestrians across the
canal. The ferry only operates at
certain times of the day and an adjacent notice board gives details of the hours
of operation. On the western bank, a
little way past the ferry, is situated the Woolston Deposit Grounds, one of the
locations where dredgings from the Ship Canal are dumped.
These deposit grounds are created by disused meanders in the River Mersey that
became isolated when Woolston New Cut was constructed.
The notice board at Thelwall
The rowing boat
still in use as a ferry boat at Thelwall Ferry
An aerial view of Woolston Deposit Grounds
showing the disused meanders in the River Mersey
A panoramic photograph showing the River
Mersey running from the right to Woolston Weir in the centre
Bridge, better known as
Thelwall Viaduct, carries the M6 Motorway not only over the Ship Canal but the
River Mersey as well. In recent
years the viaduct has undergone considerable works as the expansion rollers
supporting the roadway were found to be crumbling.
This necessitated replacement of all the rollers as well as other
remedial work. The approach
embankments span the Bridgewater Canal,
a disused railway and the A56 trunk road.
Statham Golf Course is on the right hand bank of the Ship Canal and
contains isolated meanders of the Mersey
within its grounds.
Thelwall Viaduct carrying the M6 Motorway
across the MSC
Rixton Junction at Bollin Point where the
Butcher's Field Cut of the River Mersey leaves the MSC
Field Cut of the River Mersey joins the Ship Canal on the left at Rixton
Junction (also known as Bollin Point) where, on the opposite bank, the River
Bollin also runs into the canal. The canal now bends to the right in the
first proper bend since Runcorn.
Bridge carries the B5159
across the canal and is a toll bridge connecting the A6144 to the A57.
A toll is charged for the
passage of vehicles, not to cross the bridge over the Ship Canal but the remains
of the original bridge that carried the road over the dry, infilled bed of the River
Mersey and later the Mersey and Irwell Navigation.
Just after the bridge, a pipeline passes beneath the
canal and a disused meander of the River Mersey, partly
in water, joins the canal. The
original line of the river is visible for quite a way across adjacent the fields
if viewed from Warburton
Bridge, and it is this
original line of the river that was crossed by the toll bridge.
After another bend, the canal was crossed by Bob’s Ferry, now disused,
which allowed a pedestrian connection between Partington and Cadishead.
and approach embankments seen from the banks of the MSC
The view from
The disused meander that lead to the original Warburton Toll Bridge can be seen
in the distance
Map 16 - Thelwall to Warburton
Cadishead Viaduct takes a railway line across the Ship
Canal. Immediately after this is the
Partington North and South
Wharves, both of which
serve the chemical and petro-chemical plants nearby.
After Irlam Wharf,
on the right, is the Mersey Weir where the river runs into the canal. From its
source in the hills above Stockport.
As is usual when a river runs into the canal, care must be exercised
after rainfall due to the high volume of water running into the canal which can
push craft towards the opposite bank.
Next to the weir is Irlam Railway Viaduct whose strength, after
construction, was tested at the insistence of the railway company by driving ten
railway locomotives onto it at the same time having a total weight of 750
tonnes. The test was successful and
no modifications had to be made to it.
Map 17 - Warburton to Partington
Junction where the un-navigable River Mersey joins the MSC
Irlam Railway Viaduct
A lay-by precedes Irlam Locks, which give a rise of 16ft.
and is followed by yet another lay-by.
The original course of the River Irwell is to the left of the locks.
After the locks, a long sweeping bend is punctuated by Hulme Bridge
Ferry, Davyhulme Sludge Berths and Barton Locks, which give a rise of fifteen
feet. There are lay-byes situated
before and after the locks.
Bridge originally carried
the M60 across the canal but since the motorway’s absorption into the Outer
Manchester Circular Motorway its designation has changed to the M602.
Barton High Level
Bridge can be seen a control tower on an
island in the centre of the canal.
This is the location of Barton
(B5211 - Barton/Redclyffe Road)
and the famous Barton Swing Aqueduct (Bridgewater Canal).
Both bridges are controlled by an operator situated in
the adjacent control tower.
The tower was staffed twenty-four hours a day in years gone by when the
Ship Canal was busier than it is now.
Today, staff are only present when necessary.
A collection of vessels passing
through Irlam Locks
Map 18 -
Partington to Irlam Locks
Map 19 - Barton Locks
Barton Lift Bridge (A57) with Barton
High-Level Viaduct in the background
An aerial view of
Bridge and Barton Swing
Aqueduct. In this 1987 photograph the aqueduct is painted red and white.
The colour scheme didn’t last long and soon
reverted to the more usual grey and white
Barton Aqueduct from Barton Road Bridge in busier times
MSC tug “Ulex” assists a cargo
vessel past Barton Swing Aqueduct and
The Swing Aqueduct replaced James Brindley’s original
aqueduct, which originally carried the
across the Mersey and Irwell Navigation.
On construction of the Ship Canal, Brindley’s original structure was not
demolished until the Swing Aqueduct was completed and open to traffic in order
to maintain a continuous route for boats on the Bridgewater
Canal, which was heavily used by
commercial traffic at that time. The
line of the original aqueduct can still be traced, as can the smaller aqueduct
over Barton Lane
and the location of the approach embankments.
Barton Swing Aqueduct swung to allow passage
along the MSC
Over the years, the Swing Aqueduct itself hasn’t escaped
modification. At one time, in the
late 1980’s, it was painted red and white instead of the usual grey colour.
At the time the repainting was done, the towpath that cantilevered over
the water channel of the Bridgewater Canal
was removed, as was the approach ramp on the Patricroft side.
Map 20 - Barton
Looking towards Trafford Park from Barton Aqueduct
Map 21 - Barton to Eccles
Cerestar Wharf adjacent to centenary Lift
Bridge in Trafford Park
As the Ship Canal approaches the outskirts of Manchester,
there are numerous wharves and landing stages, some of which are now disused.
One wharf that is still active is the
Wharf were various raw
materials are unloaded and edible products loaded.
A short distance after
is the Centenary
This unusual bridge was opened in 1995 and has a span of forty three
metres. It was the first movable
bridge to be built on the canal since 1895 and carries Centenary Way (A576)
across the canal just before it bends to the right at Little Bolton.
The size of
Bridge in Trafford
Park can be judged by the diminutive
articulated lorry crossing it
The bridge was completed in 1994
and opened by HM Queen Elizabeth ll.
It was the first new movable bridge built
since the canal was opened in 1894, hence the name
Map 22 - Eccles to
Around the bend from Centenary Lift Bridge are Weaste Wharf, Southern Oil
Wharf and numerous factories signal the approach to Mode Wheel Locks, the
last on the canal. These locks give
a rise of thirteen feet and complete the 60.5 foot climb to Manchester Docks and
the River Irwell summit level.
Exiting Mode Wheel locks looking towards
Map 23 - Trafford
to Mode Wheel
Looking towards Mode Wheel Locks from Number Nine Dock prior
Media City Footbridge as seen from the BBC
Building in Media City
Immediately after the locks, on the right-hand bank are
the dry and graving docks owned by Manchester Dry Docks Limited.
Here, ships have had repairs made as well as being the final resting
place of many that have reached the end of their lives to be dismantled and
scrapped. Media City is on
the left hand bank of the canal. It was purpose built for Granada Television and
the BBC to bring their production and other facilities into one area. Adjacent
to Media City is Media City Swing Bridge opened in 2012. This footbridge gives
access to the set of "Coronation Street" and other various studio facilities on the
opposite bank of the canal.
upstream towards the Millennium Footbridge from Media City
photograph of Salford Docks in their heyday...
same location in the 1990s when Salford Quays was under construction
Media City under construction
Footbridge… the relocated Trafford
Bridge between Huron and Erie
A closer view across Detroit Footbridge
The Lowry Footbridge connects
the Lowry Complex to the Imperial
- North and Trafford Promenade
Lowry Footbridge illuminated at night
Welland Lock gives access to Mariner’s Canal,
Ontario, Erie and Huron Basins
Mariner’s Canal connects Ontario
Basin to Erie Basin
A nocturnal photograph of Mariner’s Canal
Narrowboats moored at Salford Quays
The MSC now reaches its ultimate destination of
Manchester Docks. The once busy
docks have now been redeveloped into business and housing complexes.
The first dock is now called the North Bay (previously Number Nine Dock)
and its banks are dominated by the Lowry
Gallery, Lowry Shopping
Centre and Salford Quays. Opposite
Wharf, the location of the Imperial
– North. The Millennium Lifting
Footbridge spans the canal connecting
to the Lowry Centre for pedestrians and marks the boundary separating the MSC
from Manchester Docks. The
bridge is a vertical lift bridge of similar design to the
a little way downstream although, with commercial traffic no longer using this
stretch of the canal it is rarely lifted.
Pleasure craft are not permitted to navigate below Lowry Footbridge
without prior arrangements being made with the MSC Company and craft are allowed
to moor at various locations above Lowry Footbridge. North Bay continues on to Huron and Erie
Basins, the two basins being divided by the relocated
relocated from further upstream and converted into a fixed footbridge.
A new canal, the Mariners’ Canal, connects to
Basin, a continuation of Central
Bay, the next bay along.
Bay is connected to Ontario
Basin by the newly constructed Welland
Canal and Lock.
Adjacent to the lock are moorings conveniently located for visiting the
Lowry Centre and Imperial War
Museum - North.
Welland Lock connects to St Louis and St Peter Basins, access to which
is currently strictly controlled, although it is planned to allow pleasure craft
access through Welland Lock on the first weekend of the month during the summer
period. Located in the base of
Welland Lock’s control tower is a sanitary station, water point and rubbish
disposal, access to which is by the conventional BW key.
Map 24 -
Erie Basin... once the location of Grain Elevator Number
Two at the end of Number Nine Dock
Map 25 - Salford
Quays - Present Day
Map 26 - Trafford
to Woden Street Footbridge pre-1986
The “Atlantic Fisher” moored at Trafford
in 1988 was one of the last ships of this size to use Manchester Docks
before the area was redeveloped
artist's impression of the proposed Clipper Quay Footbridge near Trafford Wharf
Two pleasure craft passing Trafford
Bridge in 1988 prior to the construction
of the fixed bridge alongside the swing bridge
Notice board at the junction of
Pomona Dock and the River Irwell - 2003
Map 27 - Trafford Road Bridges to
Footbridge - Present Day
The author’s narrowboat “Total Eclipse” in Pomona
Lock, May 2003
Bay are East Wharf North
and South and the South
Immediately after South Bay
was the original location of
Bridge that is now located
in North Bay.
An unusually shaped basin on the left was where the bridge swung away
from the bank of the canal and some of the supports can still be seen as can the
pivot island on the right which is now built upon and is part of the Wharfside
Promenade. Trafford Fixed and
The swing bridge was once the largest bridge of this type in
England. The next crossing, around a right hand bend is the Manchester
below Pomona Dock, taking the City’s tram system into the heart of the
redeveloped docks area and beyond.
The dock on the right is Pomona Number Three Dock and is the location of a
proposed marina complex. At the far
end of the dock is Pomona Lock, which connects with the
This lock was constructed in 1995 to replace Hulme Lock, about a mile
further upstream. The sites of
Pomona Number Two and One Docks can be seen but have been in-filled.
The area is ready for redevelopment, although at the time of writing
building work has not yet commenced. A little way past the location of the in-filled Pomona
Docks is Woden Street Footbridge.
The footbridge marks the boundary between Manchester Docks and the River Irwell.
Before the docks were de-commercialised, it also was the lower limit of
navigation for leisure craft. Care must be exercised if there has been prolonged period
of rainfall as the Irwell is narrow further upstream and passage of rainwater
through the narrow section can be hazardous to navigation.
It is prudent to make for Pomona Dock in these circumstances and await
passage of Pomona Lock onto the safety of the Bridgewater
Image ?? - Landscape
The promenade alongside the River Irwell looking
towards Woden Street Footbridge
Nestling beneath the railway arches is the disused Hulme
Lock, once the connection between the Bridgewater
Canal and what is now the River Irwell. To the left of Hulme Lock entrance, hidden behind warehouses and
factories, the River Medlock joins the Irwell after its subterranean journey
Wharf and Castlefield
James Brindley constructed a siphon to convey the Medlock from Deansgate,
beneath the basins and wharves that he had built, to emerge a few hundred metres
from the junction with the Irwell.
Along the way, a subterranean chamber housed a water wheel, which powered
winches to lift cargo from the canal level up to Deansgate.
An overflow weir was also constructed at Potato
the shape of a giant cloverleaf.
Over the years, successive developments have eaten away at the weir and only a
small portion of it remains today.
The River Medlock emerging from its subterranean journey beneath the Castlefield
The entrance to the River Irwell from the disused
Hulme Lock. The River Medlock also joins the river to the left of the lock
Housing development above Hulme Lock looking towards Regent Road
Hulme Lock to the
and Bury Canal Junction
A twin-arched road bridge,
Regent Road across
This is followed by the
new Manchester Inner City Ring Road Bridge.
Shortly after the next two bridges, which both carry railway lines, the
entrance basin to the Manchester,
Canal can be seen on the left hand bank.
When excavations were taking place for the new Ring Road, work was held
up where the Ring Road crosses the in-filled line of
whilst industrial archaeologists inspected the site.
The Ring Road is carried across the line of the canal on bridges allowing
full navigational height and width due to the proposed restoration of the canal.
The Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal has many
interesting features including the Prestolees Aqueduct over the River Irwell and
the Wet Earth Colliery where James Brindley constructed drainage soughs for the
mines and carried them beneath the Irwell in a siphon similar to that used for
the Medlock at Castlefield and later used extensively on the MSC.
Returning to the River Irwell, a twin-arched road bridge
and two railway viaducts (one of which is the original Liverpool and Manchester
Railway Viaduct), also with two arches, lie in close proximity to each other a
little way upstream from the Ring Road Bridge.
The entrance to the
prior to restoration...
... and the same location after restoration leading to...
... Middlewood Locks and basin complex prior to redevelopment
and Salford Junction
Canal to the Lowry Hotel
Immediately up-stream from the three twin-arched bridges,
adjacent to the Granada Television Studios, is another canal junction.
This was the Manchester and
This canal was built to break the Bridgewater
Canal’s monopoly on craft movements (and
tolls) at the junction of the Rochdale and Bridgewater
Canals and between the two canals at
Castlefield and the River Irwell at Hulme Lock.
Little of the canal can be seen as it ran mostly in tunnels beneath the
city, although part of it still remains beneath Granada Television Studios and
the original terminus with the
Canal can still be traced.
The part beneath Granada Television Studios was used as an air raid
shelter during World War Two and the remains contain part of a lock. To learn
more about this forgotten canal go to the
Manchester and Salford Junction Canal section of this
A short distance upstream is the entrance to the Manchester and Salford Junction
Narrowboats moored on the River Irwell during the 1988 IWA National Rally
After Irwell Street Bridge the
left-hand riverbank on this stretch makes for a convenient mooring place with
access to the city centre.
is preceded by the Mark Addy public house.
The pub is named after a man who, as a seven-year-old boy, was
instrumental in the rescuing of an oarsman on the river close to Albert
Bridge. In later life, Mark Addy saved fifty people from drowning.
It is ironical that, during this period the Irwell was renowned for being
contaminated with sewage and chemicals.
Mark Addy died of poisononing after swallowing river water during his
fiftieth rescue. The pub that bears
Mark Addy’s name also has moorings adjacent to it, serves excellent food and
beers and makes a convenient place from which to explore the City.
A new footbridge connects the promenades on both sides of the
river just below the Mark Addy public house. This is the Spinningfields
Development that combines business accommodation with apartments overlooking the
outside the Mark Addy public house
Irwell Footbridge adjacent to the
Mark Addy Public House
Looking downstream towards Albert
is followed by Trinity or Calatrava Footbridge whose revolutionary suspension
design connects the Lowry Hotel with the opposite bank. The river now enters a concrete canyon punctuated by bridges and the occasional
disused landing stage… a throwback to when passenger boats ran from the city.
Large office blocks loom over the river as Blackfriars
After Victoria Bridges are negotiated.
After Victoria Bridge, the river is close to Manchester Cathedral and only a few
hundred metres of navigable river remain before the head of navigation is
reached at Hunt's Bank.
Blackfriars Bridge with the Cathedral in the
Lowry Hotel to Hunt’s Bank
(Limit of Navigation)
A narrowboat winding above Blackfriars Bridge
The disused landing stage
adjacent to the Cathedral once gave access to the now sealed tunnels that run
through the buried remains of “Old Manchester” and lead to the Cathedral’s
is Hunts Bank the head of navigation and the point at which it is time to turn
around. Shallow-drafted craft can,
in theory, navigate further upstream as far as the weir at Shooter’s Bank but
this is not recommended due to the unpredictable nature of the river and the
presence of submerged obstacles.
Looking downstream at Hunt’s
Bank… the limit of navigation, adjacent to the cathedral. Note the disused
stairs to a long gone landing stage on the left.
The nearest bridge is
Bridge after which is Victoria
The journey that started from the River Mersey Estuary at
Eastham on the Wirral
Peninsula, along the MSC,
through the rolling Cheshire
countryside and Manchester Docks to the limit of navigation on the River Irwell
in the heart of Manchester
is now complete. The journey has
been on of many contrasts… from countryside to city centres and from marshlands
to docklands. The MSC is a tribute
to the Victorian entrepaneurs and engineers that had the vision, foresight and
ingenuity to connect a city forty miles inland to the sea, creating Great Britain’s
and one of the World’s largest inland ports in the process.
Return to Contents
Chapter Three - Navigational Information
Pleasure craft wishing to navigate the
Manchester Ship Canal,
Manchester Docks and the River Irwell can only do so by prior arrangement.
For the latest information refer to the MSC's website at -http://www.shipcanal.co.uk/marine-msc/notices.htm
When permission is granted it is usually to groups of pleasure craft
cruising the canal in convoy, that
comply with strict safety and equipment standards and possess certificates
stating that they are seaworthy, possess radio communication equipment (fully
charged mobile telephones are allowed).
Pleasure craft such as narrow boats are sometimes required to “breast-up” (rope
together) in case of engine failure and to aid stability in choppy water. The
use of anchors is not allowed on the MSC even though they are required for a
Certificate of Seaworthiness.
All flames such as solid fuel stoves and
pilot lights have to be extinguished when passing through Stanlow Oil Refinery.
The Author's narrowboat "Total Eclipse" entering the
MSC at Ellesmere Port
(Photograph - James M Wood)
Ship Canal is an extremely
wide and deep commercial waterway.
It is used by large coastal and (quite often… very large) sea-going ships that
can create a large amount of wash even at low speeds.
Sometimes, tugs accompany ships to help them manoeuvre around sharp bends
on the canal. Even though leisure
boating is timed to coincide with a lack of commercial traffic, care must be
exercised at all times to prevent any disruption to the passage of any
commercial craft encountered… after all; they are using the canal for business,
and not for pleasure.
If a large craft is encountered, keep well away from the
canal’s banks as the wash from the larger craft could deposit smaller craft onto
the deeply shelving banks.
Similarly, keep well away from the bow and stern of large vessel.
Many modern ships feature submerged bows that protrude beneath the water
line. They may also have
bow-thrusters that can produce considerable turbulence when in operation.
Besides the obvious hazards created by the vessel’s propellers at the
stern and their associated wash, it may have stern thrusters which, when used in
conjunction with bow thrusters allow the vessel to move sideways.
If there are small craft using the Ship Canal, larger craft usually wait
until they have exited the section before proceeding.
Narrowboats in convoy
passing through Stanlow on the MSC
(Photograph - James M Wood)
When pleasure craft are using the canal they have to
navigate a pre-determined route and adhere to a timetable as directed by MSC
personnel and are not permitted to deviate from this route or timetable.
There are very few locations along the canal’s length below Lowry
Footbridge that are suitable for small craft to moor.
It is, therefore essential, in the interests of safety that craft are in
perfect operational condition so that there is no reason to moor along the canal
unless at a pre-arranged location or under direction of the Manchester Ship
Access to the Welland Lock and Canal is currently strictly
controlled by Salford Council, although it is planned to allow pleasure craft
access through Welland Lock on the first weekend of the month during the summer
period for a trial period.
is well used the arrangements for use of Welland Lock and the
Erie Canal may change.
Located in the base of Welland Lock’s control tower is a sanitary station and
water point, access to which is with the conventional BW key.
Care must be exercised if there has been prolonged period
of rainfall as many rivers empty into or share the Ship Canal’s course.
Locations were extra vigilance is required is at the following locations... the
junction with the River Weaver where the current of water crosses the MSC to
Weaver Sluices, the junction with the River Bollin where it empties into the
Ship Canal, Partington Junction where the un-navigable River Mersey empties into
the MSC, Rixton Junction where the River Mersey leaves the Ship Canal and the
entire navigable length of the River Irwell. The River Irwell is narrow upstream and the passage of rainwater through
the narrow section can cause the river’s water level to rise significantly and
dramatically in a very short period of time (I speak from personal experience).
This also causes an increase in the speed of the current.
If there is prolonged rainfall and the river’s water level rises it is
prudent to make for Pomona Dock and await passage of Pomona Lock onto the safety
The large expanses of water contained within the Ship Canal, Manchester
Docks and the River Irwell can be “choppy” when the weather is windy and are
best avoided in these weather conditions.
Mersey joining the MSC at Partington Junction
The following is a list of wharves still in use along the
length of the Ship Canal at the following locations
Queen Elizabeth ll Dock,
Oil and petro-chemicals
Manisty Wharf, Ellesmere Port
Bulk, semi-bulk & packaged cargoes
Ellesmere Port Docks
||Bulk, semi-bulk, project & heavy lift
Stanlow Oil Docks
Oil for Shell UK’s
Petro-chemical products, multi-user
Ince “B” Berth
Certain petro-chemical products
Weston Point Docks
Salt and chemical products
Petro-chemical and other approved liquid products with storage facilities
and connection to ICI Runcorn
and bulk cargo
Disused… formally the Guinness wharf
Disused Sand berth
and bulk cargo
Bulk chemicals, LPG and petrochemicals for Shell, Montell and Nova Chemicals
Scrap metals and other bulk cargoes
Park 2 (Cerastar Wharf)
Private wharf supplying maize
and other food products directly to the adjacent mill
Cement to Blue Circle
Barge wharf for grain to Rank,
Petro-chemicals and other approved chemicals
Dry-bulk, semi-bulk and general cargoes
Docks (old Manchester Dry-docks)
and general cargoes
craft (Mersey Ferries)
The maximum dimensions for craft using the Ship Canal are...
182.88mtrs (Large Locks)
106.68mtrs (Intermediate Locks)
24.38mtrs (Large Locks)
15.24mtrs (Intermediate Locks)
182.88mtrs (Large Locks)
106.68 mtrs (Small Locks)
Up to Ince Oil Berth
Up to Runcorn
Up to Mode Wheel
Above Mode Wheel
Eastham to Runcorn
For further details and the latest
navigational information contact...
The Manchester Ship Canal Company
Marine Operations Administration Buildings
Queen Elizabeth II Dock
0151 327 6278
- Eastham (Harbourmaster)
Return to Contents
The Manchester Ship Canal has changed in the
last thirty years from a fully commercial waterway carrying freight over the
whole of is length to a waterway where freight is still carried over the lower
and middle reaches with limited commercial traffic as far as Trafford Park.
Thirty years ago some occasional leisure traffic was tolerated by the Manchester
Ship Canal Company whereas today
Peel Holdings allow it with strict
regulations and boat progress is strictly monitored. In addition to this the Mersey Ferries offer
regular pleasure cruises in both directions from Liverpool Pier Head to
Salford Quays or the other way around with a shuttle bus to return passengers to where they started
One icon passes another... the Mersey Ferry "Royal Iris" passing Barton Swing Aqueduct
However the MSC is traversed the scale of of
engineering and construction cannot fail to impress enthusiasts who are
interested in the canal and its history. After years of neglect it is exciting to see new
developments and wharves being constructed along its length and we look forward
to seeing what the future holds for this Victorian waterway in the coming years.
Housing development at Ellesmere Port adjacent to the Boat
The contemporary photographs in this book are taken by
myself and the archive images are from the Greater Manchester Records Office, Wirral
Metropolitan College’s Carlett Park Library and the many friends and fellow
canal enthusiasts who entrusted their valuable photographs to me for
scanning, for which I am most grateful.
The photographs that I took were taken on many types of cameras
ranging from 5x4 large format, 6x9 and 6x6 medium format, 35mm negatives and
transparencies as well as digital images.
The technical quality of these photographs, especially those taken on
large and medium format cannot be appreciated when reproduced in a book,
eBook or website.
Many of the other
navigable waterways and docks mentioned in "The Big Ditch - Manchester's Ship
are covered in the
Author's latest work... "Mersey Connections - Navigable Waterways Connected to
the River Mersey"
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