Named after Francis Egerton the Third Duke of Bridgewater who built the canal to transport coal from his mines at Worsley to the industrial areas of Manchester, the Bridgewater Canal was the forerunner of the UK canal network.
The Act of Parliament that authorised the Bridgewater Canal was passed in March 1759 and work began immediately. It was opened on 17 July 1761 and was the first canal in Britain to be built without following an existing watercourse. In 1765 the canal was extended to Castlefield followed in 1776 with a branch to Runcorn and in 1799 a branch to Leigh.
The canal’s total length is approximately 40 miles and is spanned by 78 bridges.
Unlike many later canals there are no locks along its length and the canal runs at the same level throughout.The only locks are at Hulme providing access to the River Irwell and at Runcorn which provides access to the Manchester Ship Canal.
Victoria’s visit to Worsley in 1851. The popular story goes that the boat was pulled by two grey horses, one of which became so perturbed by the cheering crowd that it jumped into the canal. I believe that they eventually got the horse out of the canal, not sure how though.
I believe she is a converted British Waterways mud barge.
It is from here that passenger services along the canal started in 1769 and by 1781 there were daily sailings (excluding Sundays) to Runcorn, a journey of eight hours and to Manchester which took two and a half hours. Faster vessels carrying first class passengers were also used and could be drawn by three horses and get up to 6mph, the crew of these boats used a horn to warn other vessels of their approach enabling them to get out of the way.
A ‘Swift Packet’ service was introduced in 1843 with lower prices. It was possible to travel from Worsley to Manchester for 3d in the Best Cabin and 2d steerage.
There are currently two dry docks which are still in use sheltered by 19th century sheds, a third dock has long been filled in. Here boats were both built and repaired for use on the canal and within the mines.