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The Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal is a canal in Greater Manchester, in the north west of England. It runs between Manchester, Bolton, and Bury.
It is currently disused, unnavigable, and undergoing restoration. The canal begins in Bury, passing through Radcliffe and through the Irwell Valley before branching northwest to Bolton, and southeast to Manchester. The canal also joined with Fletcher's Canal at Clifton Aqueduct.
The Manchester arm of the canal emptied into the Irwell near to the Regent Road Bridge. This was the only point of access from the rest of the waterway network.
There are many interesting features along the canal, including Prestolee Aqueduct and Clifton Aqueduct, both Grade II listed structures. At the junction of the three arms of the canal at Nob End, two sets of three staircase locks, separated with a passing basin, form Prestolee Locks. The locks lowered the level of the canal 64 feet (20 m) over a distance of 600 feet (183 m). The upper staircase is still visible, however most of the lower staircase has been filled in and much of the stonework removed.
The 1936 breach of the canal at Nob End demonstrates the impressive engineering used in the construction of the retaining wall of the canal. Railway lines are clearly visible, used to increase the strength of the walls.
The iconic steam crane (also the logo used by the canal society) sits rusting and unused at Mount Sion, on the Bury arm. Built in 1884, the crane was used to move goods between the boats on the canal and a loading yard far below.
Work began in 1791 following the passing of an Act of Parliament for the construction of the canal. Designed by Matthew Fletcher, significant parts of the canal were completed by 1796. The canal opened in 1797, although the locks at Salford were not completed until 1809. The principal supply of water was Elton reservoir at Bury.
The Bury and Bolton arms are on one level, however the Manchester arm used 17 broad locks, some in staircases (Prestolee for instance).
Originally 15.25 miles (25 km) in length, the canal descended 187 feet (57 m) from the summit in Bury to the lowest point at Salford. The canal was originally designed to be a narrow canal with narrow locks, however during construction it was planned to link the canal to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, and therefore broad locks were built to accommodate this traffic. The route of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal was changed however, and the planned link never materialised.
Although the canal carried passenger services (popular until the advent of railways), most of the traffic transported coal from the many collieries that existed along the length of the canal, including Outwood Colliery and Ladyshore Colliery. Some of these collieries were linked by road, and some were linked by short tramlines. Other materials were also transported along the canal, including Nightsoil.
The canal suffered several major breaches, the worst of which occurred on July 6th 1936 at Nob End, close to Prestolee locks, near the junction of the 3 arms of the canal. This breach was never repaired, and although the canal saw continued use between Ladyshore Colliery and Bury, it eventually closed in 1961.
The Manchester Evening News reported the breach on July 7th 1936: CANAL BURSTS ITS BANKS - Barges Smashed and River Dammed "When the Bolton-Manchester Canal burst its banks at Little Lever yesterday millions of gallons of water cascaded 300 feet into the River Irwell, carrying down hundreds of tons of earth and stones. The river rapidly became blocked on the Bury side and the banked-up water flooded the surrounding land. "Like Niagara" was the description applied by one resident in the vicinity. Bricks and iron reinforcements of the side of the canal were torn away and carried into the river. Canal barges were smashed up as they too swept over the falls. Fortunately there are no houses in the neighbourhood, and no one was hurt. It is feared that work at a paper mill and a chemical works which depend upon the canal for transport will be affected. Mr John W. Martin, of Loxham Street, Bolton, said: "I was cycling along the bank when I suddenly saw signs of a subsidence begin on a bend in the canal. I could not stop and my only chance was to ride furiously along the two feet of earth which remained. As I passed over the earth fell away behind the back wheel of my bicycle and I was thrown off. The noise was deafening. A few yards from me tremendous quantities of water, rock, and earth were moving bodily from the canal." A gap about 100 yards long has been opened in the canal embankment.
1789 – Planning and design begins on the purpose, route and construction of canal.
1791 – Act of Parliament passed for the construction of the canal and work begins
1796 – Significant parts of the canal completed
1797 – Canal opened to traffic
1809 – Middlewood locks opened and access to the River Irwell is achieved, canal construction complete
1812 – First dividends paid out to investors
1831 – Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal company changes name to Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal Navigation and Railway Company, and begin building a railway alongside the canal
1838 – Manchester to Bolton railway line completed, passenger services on the canal cease
1846 – Company taken over by the Manchester and Leeds Railway Company
1880 – Repairs undertaken to damaged sections caused by subsidence
1920 to 1930 – More damage caused by subsidence, mainly from mining activities
1924 - Significant reduction in use of Bolton arm
1935 – Fletchers Canal closed
1936 – Major breach at Nob End
1941 – 7 miles of the canal abandoned by London, Midland and Scottish Railway, including the Bolton arm.
1961 – Remainder of Canal closed and abandoned, some traffic continues to use the Bury arm
1968 – All traffic ceases as the last boat carrying coal from Sion Street to Bury moors for the final time.
1987 - Formation of The Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal Society
2002 - Restoration of canal, announcement by British Waterways
2006 – Restoration of Middlewood Locks begins
There remain many obstacles to the canal's restoration as a navigable waterway. Approximately 60% of the original length of the canal is no longer in water. Bury Wharf is now an industrial estate. The section between this wharf and the first part of the canal still in water south of Daisyfield Viaduct is more accessible; a car park has been built near the viaduct but there are no major obstacles. The canal beyond this viaduct and up to Water Street in Radcliffe is still in water although strewn with weeds. Water Street now blocks the canal, which continues underneath through a small culvert – this road would need to be removed, and a new bridge built (the original bridge was demolished). A paper mill building was constructed on the line of the canal in 1956 however this stands empty and is to be demolished.
The 1936 breach at Nob End needs repairing, parts of the canal at Stoneclough need dredging, several new aqueducts would be required into Bolton to replace the original now-demolished structures as well as a new wharf - St Peter's Way is currently blocking the original route.
On the Manchester arm, the locks at Prestolee, Ringley, and Salford require significant amounts of work. The canal is dry from Ringley Locks and through Ringley Village. Giants Seat Locks, Rhodes Locks, all are completely overgrown and the canal does not take water again until it passes Clifton Aqueduct. Lumms Lane aqueduct would need to be rebuilt. Many parts of the canal on the Manchester arm have been either filled in, or built over, especially through Pendleton.
Despite these problems, restoration at the newly named Middlewood Locks in Salford began in September 2006. It is hoped that the full length of the canal will be eventually restored to operation by 2010.
The locks and part of the canal at Middlewood have already been dug out and revealed for the first time in many years.
There were some delays to this "whilst an exemption licence to the landfill tax is applied for from HM Customs and Excise. The licence has been applied for because small quantities of asbestos (less than 1%) within the material remaining mean that a separate registered disposal tip has to be used. Restoration was also briefly halted by the discovery of a WW2 bomb.
The next stage of restoration will be through Salford Crescent. The total restoration of the canal is estimated at costing £50m.
Restoration of the Bolton arm of the canal is hampered by the absence of the Hall Lane Aqueduct at Little Lever. This Aqueduct was demolished in 1950 to make way for the widening of the road it crossed, and it seems it is unlikely to be rebuilt. Dam Side aqueduct across Radcliffe Road in Darcy Lever is also missing, having been demolished in June 1965. Worse still, St Peter's Way has almost entirely destroyed a significant section of the canal as it heads into the centre of Bolton.