History of the Canal – The Beginning

In 1790 there was a proposal for a waterway to link Manchester with Bolton and Bury. The canal was to start at the River Irwell at Manchester. One of the land owners, Matthew Fletcher, was the original technical adviser and he was a mining engineer turned coal owner. At a meeting on 19 January 1791 the last amendments to the draft Parliamentary Bill were made. The Bill received its royal assent on 13 May 1791.

The canal was opened in 1796 from Bolton and Bury to the Oldfield Road terminus and extended to the River Irwell in 1808. This extension necessitated the building of 5 locks. Originally the canal was built with narrow locks but during construction the locks were altered into broad locks when there was a proposal to link the navigation to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal which was still being built. The scheme, known as the Red Moss extension, was to go through Red Moss, a few miles from Bolton, and drop down thirty locks to Wigan. The idea was that the size of craft to be used on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal would have been able to use the Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal. This was not to be, as the route for the Leeds and Liverpool Canal was changed but the MB&BC was operated as a broad canal.

Coal carrying was one of the main reasons for building the canal. A lot of the mines were situated very close to the waterway so that loading was direct from pit head to boat. Lime, limestone, manure, stone, sand and slate were also carried on the canal. Prior to the construction of the railway between Bolton and Manchester passengers and parcels were carried on the packet boats. Later timber was carried in boats and by floating it on the water. Night soil was loaded onto boats from carts at Frederick Road bridge in Salford and was shovelled through doors in the bridge parapets into the boat below. Unlike the tradition on most other canals the boatmen did not live on the boats; they lived "on the bank".


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