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Bury Canal Society

Potted History of the Society

The newsletter/magazine numbers for each year are in square brackets – some of them are still available to purchase and details can be found on the Sales page.


The society was founded in June. The first newsletter was issued, monthly meetings and informal working parties began. There were 150 members by the end of the year. [1]


Newsletter No. 2 introduced the committee, including Margaret Fletcher (Chairman), Graham Fielding (Treasurer) and John Fletcher (Spokesperson), plus 10 others. Liz Donlan became Newsletter Editor [3]. There was a small boat rally at Radcliffe and the first AGM. A study into the feasibility of restoration was published. Trips to visit other canals and slide shows began. [2-5]

1989 Official working parties began (with permission from British Waterways). The first sponsored walk took place. The first Towpath Guide was published. By the end of June there was almost £3000 in the bank. [6-9]
1990 The Society’s trip boat was built. The newsletter became a magazine [12], and reached 20 pages. Victor Tomlinson’s 25-year old history of the canal was re-published. Agecroft Road Bridge was rebuilt at navigable height. [10-13]

The trip boat (‘The Bury Packet’) was launched. The Society had the use of 8 boats of varying sizes and functions, including a dredger and 2 mud boats. Magazine 14 reached 28 pages and had a colour front cover. The 2nd edition of the Towpath Guide was published. [14-17]

1992 Fred Dibnah appeared on the front cover of magazine 19 after giving a talk to the Society. John & Margaret Fletchers’ Circular Walks book was published. Member number 500 was signed up. The first sketches for turning the Nob End building into a Visitor Centre were made; the cost was then estimated at £250,000. The trip boat was sunk at Radcliffe. [18-21]

The trip boat was raised, but the dredger was damaged. The Society magazine won the LTC Rolt award. [22-25]

1994 A Nob End Visitor Centre feasibility study was published. [26-29]
1995 Member number 600 was signed up. The History of the Canal in Pictures was published. The Society became a Limited Company and a Charity. [30-33]
1996 The Society put in a bid for £3.5M for Millennium Lottery money called Irwell Valley Connections; it was not successful. [34-37]
1997 The magazine advertised for a new Working Party Organiser. [38-41]
1998 The Waterway Recovery Group had its Reunion Weekend at Nob End. The Society went on the internet. Appleyard Bridge was rebuilt at navigable height. The trip boat was put up for sale. [42-45]
1999 Fred Dibnah became President of the Society. [46-48]
2000 The magazine produced a ‘Special 50th edition’ in August with 8 colour pages (out of 36), with Fred Dibnah again on the front cover. A special newsletter was issued to respond to false complaints made to the Charity Commission about the running of the Society. Fred Dibnah led a walk along the canal. [49-50]
2001 The dredger was sold. The towpath from Radcliffe to Elton was re-surfaced by Bury Council. [51-53]
2002 Work started on the Inner Relief Road in Salford, largely destroying Lock 2. British Waterways announced the restoration of the canal; there was a launch at The Lowry. Liz Donlan again won the Tom Rolt Award for the best canal society magazine. [54-57]
2003 The milestone survey was published [59]. Liz Donlan’s final magazine [60] was published; Paul Hindle became editor. A new Society logo and map were created. [58-61]
2004 An article on the canal tramroads was published [62]. The canal was excavated at the Middlewood site in Salford. [62-65]
2005 Fred Dibnah died. Whittaker’s Bridge acquired its installation: WATER MADE IT WET. A canal video was made. The Middlewood restoration was launched at The Lowry. [66-69]
2006 Margaret Fletcher died; a eulogy appeared in magazine 72. John Fletcher became Chairman. [70-73]
2007 The Middlewood restoration finally began, 17 months after the launch! [74-77]
2008 Middlewood construction continued. School Street Bridge was replaced. Robert Cornish’s Coal, Canals and Cotton was published. The Middlewood length was opened in September, with the new tunnel named after Margaret Fletcher. Alan Godfrey maps completed coverage of the canal. [78-81]
2009 A new Towpath Guide was published. Worsley Cruising Club visited Middlewood. [82-84]

Creams paper mill was demolished (apart from the shed over the canal!); plans for housing were submitted. Park House Bridge was cleared and fenced. The Middlewood developers were put into administration. The Holdsworth diary extracts began in the magazine. The WRG Christmas Dig cleared the canal at Nob End. [85-88]


The Creams shed was demolished; milestone 8¼ was repositioned. The steam crane was listed (Grade II). The Nob End workshop was in a dangerous state. John Fletcher was replaced by Paul Hindle as Chairman; John was made President. Milestone 3 was repaired and 6¾ replanted. [89-92]


Liam Curtin designed a Meccano Bridge for Nob End. Salford towpath was resurfaced at Agecroft. The Nob End workshops were demolished. Salford No 2 Tunnel was refurbished. The Canal & River Trust took over from British Waterways. The Meccano Bridge obtained planning permission; work on the abutments began in October, and the bridge itself was built in December. [93-96]

2013 The Meccano Bridge works were completed. The magazine went into full colour to celebrate the bridge; two ‘Souvenir’ issues recorded its building and opening [97/98]. A revised Towpath Guide 2 was published. The Society was granted ‘self-supervised status’ by C&RT. Member 900 was signed up. Plans for work at Nob End were agreed with C&RT. MB&BC Through Time was published by Amberley Publishing. Milestone ½ was rescued. [97-100]

Salford Through Time was published by Amberley Publishing (with 15 pages about the canal). The Ladyshore box boat was rebuilt at the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum. The Meccano Bridge won two national prizes, notably being runner-up in the C&RT Living Waterways Awards. Graham Fielding resigned as Treasurer after 27 years. The canal was featured on BBC Breakfast and in Waterways World. Milestone 1 was recovered. [101-104]

2015 The Society formally adopted Prestolee (Nob End) Locks. More plans for Nob End were agreed with C&RT, and many trees were removed both at Nob End and at the Breach. C&RT carried out weed removal work at Prestolee. A memorial Meccano bench was installed at the new viewing area at Nob End. A new Collins/Nicholson Guide was published with 11 pages about the canal. Two canal-themed floral installations appeared in Radcliffe. Big Dig 1 revealed much of the upper lock flight, accessed by a new route under Nob Bridge. [105-108]

Plans to revive the Kingfisher Trail were unveiled. Two Facebook pages were created. Big Dig 2 revealed more of the middle basin and the lower lock flight. Discussions began with C&RT about rebuilding the bullnose and backwall at the top of the locks. Over 60 access signs were installed along the canal. A major artwork project at Nob End was proposed by Liam Curtin. [109-112]


Housing developments began at Middlewood. The Ordsall Chord was installed and Princes Bridge removed. Bury Bridge Trading Estate was sold by C&RT. The Bury Fire & Rescue Service Facility was opened in Bury. A new restoration strategy was agreed with C&RT. Discussions began with Historic England to safeguard the steam crane. Towpath improvements from Radcliffe to Nob End began in December. There was a ‘Local Art and Heritage’ event, including Liam’s swan artwork. [113-116]


Stoneclough Community Centre adopted their length of the canal. The canal at Prestolee was dredged. Work on the towpath continued from Nob End to Ringley. The first phase of developments at Middlewood was almost complete. [117-120]


Talks began with the new C&RT National Restoration Manager. The ‘Bridging the Gap’ event involving 5 local primary schools took place in June. Towpath improvements continued from Nob End to Hall Lane. There was an Open Day for the Stoneclough Community Woodland, with new paths and steps. The Society gave a presentation to the new Altogether Little Lever Group. Member 1000 was signed up. [121-124]

2020 Covid put an end to meetings, working parties and the 2020 AGM. Prestolee packhorse bridge was refurbished. A new Restoration Feasibility Study for the summit level from Hall Lane to Bury was commissioned, funded by C&RT, Bolton & Bury Councils and the Society. Bury published a Strategic Framework for Radcliffe. A scheme to Save Rock Hall was begun, with Society involvement. Watson Homes proposed to build houses on three sites in Little Lever, including a plan to repair the breach and the adjoining canal. A revised plan for developments at Elton was issued by Greater Manchester. [125-128]

The Restoration Feasibility Study was completed, estimating a cost of over £6M. A new community orchard was planted at Nob End. An online AGM was planned. Plans for Watson Homes housing schemes, including repairing the breach at Creams, were turned down by Bolton Planning Committee. A draft Vision Statement was prepared. The Joint Steering Committee was renamed as the Restoration Partnership. [129-132]


Working Parties resumed. Gaythorn Wharf was excavated and then infilled. Working Party Organiser Ian Astbury died and a memorial fund was started. Work on Middlewood Stage 2 began. Watson Homes appealed against the Bolton Planning Committee decision. [133-136]

2023 Ben Williams died. Watson Homes appeal was successful, and work began on preparations to repair the breach. Andy Burnham (Mayor of Greater Manchester) chaired two meetings to discuss restoration. The Vision document was agreed by the three local councils. National funding for the C&RT was to be cut progressively to 2037. The canal at Middlewood was restored to navigation. Ian Astbury’s memorial bench was installed. The Society hosted a very successful meeting of the Northern Canals Association. [137-140]


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