Manchester & Salford Junction Canal

Manchester & Salford Junction Canal History

The owners of the Bridgewater Canal built a link from their route into the Mersey & Irwell Navigation in Manchester. While this connected the two waterways for the first time, neither the river navigation or the neighbouring Rochdale Canal and Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal companies were too pleased about the high tolls being charged by the Bridgewater company for use of the short link.

To counter the Bridgewater Canal's link, the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal opened in the centre of Manchester where it connected with the Rochdale Canal. It was just 1 mile long and more than ¼ of this was inside a tunnel, it also had 4 wide locks. At its northern end the short canal linked into the River Irwell, its junction was almost directly opposite the entrance to the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal.

After just 3 years the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal was proving to be something of a flop. Traffic from the Rochdale Canal to the River Irwell was not nearly as high as had been expected and although the Rochdale Company had gained some trade from the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal this too was lower than had been hoped. There were a number of reasons for low usage of the junction canal; firstly (and most importantly) the Bridgewater company lowered its tolls as soon as the junction canal opened and secondly the 500 yard tunnel and 4 locks on the junction canal were much harder to navigate than the locks on the Bridgewater link. Having made a constant loss since opening, the junction canal company sold out to the Mersey & Irwell Navigation Company.

The neighbouring Bridgewater Canal company bought its big rival, the Mersey & Irwell Navigation. Along with it they also acquired the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal. This was quite ironic as the junction canal had only been built so that Rochdale Canal traffic could avoid paying tolls to the Bridgewater Company!

Traffic was so low on the junction canal that receipts had fallen to below £1,000 per year.

The link between the Rochdale Canal and the River Irwell was severed when a few hundred yards at the southern end of the junction canal were closed and filled in.

The canal bed was used by the Great Northern Railway and for a while this actually helped the canal. The railway company installed lifts to exchange goods from their Central Station freight depot down into the canal tunnel below it. Although this didn't last for very long it probably saved the canal from complete closure.

The Manchester Ship Canal opened replacing the Mersey & Irwell Navigation. The new company bought the Bridgewater company and thus they became the new owners of the junction canal.

After a whole life of under-achievement the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal was finally closed. However, it was not officially abandoned for another 14 years. The canal was officially abandoned in 1936 but the canal's bed has been well used since...

During WW2 the tunnel was used as an air raid shelter while Central Station (now the G-Mex Centre) and the Granada TV studios now stand where narrowboats were once towed. However, in recent years there have been great changes...

In June the building of a "new" marina off the Rochdale Canal in central Manchester was announced. This was christened the "concert hall marina" during construction as it ran into a basin alongside the newly created Manchester concert hall. Later in the year the marina was officially opened as the Bridgewater Basin (the concert hall being named the Bridgewater Concert Hall). However, this new marina is in fact the original southern end of the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal which had stood unused since its closure in 1936. Although the new basin is owned by the local council it has been put under the control of the privately run Rochdale Canal Company. This has brought the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal full circle as it was the Rochdale Canal Company who originally promoted its construction

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The Manchester & Salford Junction Canal Route

The Manchester & Salford Junction Canal ran wholly within Manchester city centre from the Rochdale Canal near Great Bridgewater Street to the River Irwell near Water Street.

My reference book from 1971 claimed that the junction with the Rochdale Canal could still be seen. However, I did not notice it when I visited the area in 1995 - though I have to admit I didn't know exactly where to look for it! Since then the junction has reopened and now leads into the new Bridgewater Basin. Apparently there is a swing bridge across its entrance though this puzzles me slightly as the Rochdale Canal towpath is on the opposite side to the junction. This new junction is just above Tib Lock (No.89).

From the Rochdale Canal the original route headed north west under Great Bridgewater Street and Lower Moseley Street. On the western side of the road, Central Railway Station was built on the canal's bed. The station has long since seen its last train though it has now been revitalised as the G-Mex Centre. I now realise that as I walked back to my car after visiting Manchester in 1995 I walked right across the canal's former bed. This is at the point on Lower Moseley Street where the new Supertram line runs onto the road. Steps lead down beneath the tram line bridge. This is where the junction canal passed heading from under the bridge into what is now the G-Mex Centre.

At the back of the former station is Watson Street and then Deansgate where the canal disappeared into a 500 yard tunnel. Much more than your usual claustrophobic bore, this tunnel had wharves within it where goods could be interchanged with the railway depot above. I was unsure as to whether this tunnel had survived until I received the following information from Phil Pritchard...

'I visited the tunnel last year (2000) with the British Rail "Permanent Way Institute" organisation, as part of a visit to the GMEX centre. The tunnel is indeed still there, access is down a forty foot ladder, through a manhole cover adjacent to the NCP pay booth! There is an enormous cavern, then the tunnel is entered proper. Wharves, goods interchange shafts & bollards can still be seen. It is split into sixty foot sections, with blast walls inbetween each section. The air raid shelter structures are also still there. The north western end (near the Granada TV studios) is flooded with very clear water to a depth of approx. 3 feet. There was talk of Granada re-opening the tunnel as part of a WW2 experience to be included in their Studio Tour'.

The north west portal of the tunnel used to be somewhere close to Atherton Street and just to the west of this road the Granada TV studios now stand on the canal's route. On the west side of the studios is Water Street which runs parallel to the River Irwell. The junction at the north western end of the canal can still be seen on the river about ½ way between Princes Bridge and Irwell Street.

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