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Bury Canal Society

History of the Canal.....

In 1790 there was a proposal for a waterway to link Manchester with Bolton and Bury. In fact the canal was to start at the River Irwell in Salford. One of the land owners, Matthew Fletcher, was the original technical adviser and he was a mining engineer and coal mine owner. The Bill received its royal assent on 13 May 1791.

The canal was opened in 1797 from Bolton and Bury to the Oldfield Road terminus and extended down five locks to the River Irwell in 1808. 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 at Wigan Top Lock which was still being built. The scheme was known as the Red Moss extension. There were also other extension schemes to link the canal at Bury to Sladen (via Rochdale) and across the hills to Church (via Haslingden). None of these schemes was ever begun.

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".

Boats at the Bury Terminus c1910 photo

1830 there was a proposal to convert the canal into a railway. In 1831 at the first general meeting of the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal Navigation and Railway Company, the line of the proposed railway was changed in MBBC Breach photoorder to retain the canal. In 1838, forty years after their introduction, the packet boats were sold as they were proving to be uneconomical and their speed damaged the canal banks. By 1838 the company completed the railway and commenced passenger trains between Manchester and Bolton. In 1846 the Company was taken over by the Manchester and Leeds Railway Company, and the name of the company was changed in 1847 to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company.

MBBC breach photo





The Bolton arm went out of use in 1924, and in 1936 there were two serious breaches of the canal bank, notably at Little Lever, and navigation was restricted to a 4 mile length from Bury to Ladyshore and a 3 mile length from Salford to Clifton. In the immediate post war period, like most canals in this country, the remains of the Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal were nationalised. In 1955 the canal was described as "a waterway having insufficient commercial prospects to justify their retention for navigation". The rest of the canal was abandoned in 1961 but some traffic continued in Bury until 1966. Parts of the canal have been filled in over the years and sections have been sold to a variety of owners.

The Restoration

Aerial shot of MBBC photoIn 1987 the Manchester Bolton and Bury Canal Society was formed and has cleared some parts of the canal and towpath. The Society has tried to have the line of the canal protected by objecting to planning applications where the line of the canal would be affected and ensured that the local authorities protected the line of the canal in their Unitary Development Plans.

With the publication of books about the canal, circulation of the canal society magazine, guided walks and giving slide and talk shows to groups locally, and in other parts of the country, The Society has tried to promote to enthusiasts and the general public the restoration of the canal. The Society has educational open meetings and often the speakers talk about other canal restoration schemes. Four magazines are published every year. Society members, the local authorities and members of parliament are kept informed of our activities and aspirations.
MBBC Meccano bridge




In 1995 the society changed from being an informal society to become a limited company and a registered charity. The Society has been working in partnership with British Waterways (now the Canal & River Trust) and the three local authorities (Bolton, Bury and Salford) to restore the canal. Restoration of the canal was announced by British Waterways in 2002, and the first 500m length was re-opened in September 2008.

In 2012 the Society built a Meccano Bridge at Nob End in Little Lever. The bridge was designed by artist Liam Curtin, and the Society was the Principal Sub-Contractor for Bolton Council. More  improvements have been agreed
with Canal & River Trust to clean up the locks and make them more visible and accessible. The photos show the 2008 restored length at Middlewood in Salford (above) and the Meccano Bridge at Nob End (with digital water!) (left).


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