The Manchester Ship Canal is a 36 mile stretch of navigable river linking Manchester to the sea, making use of the rivers Mersey and the Irwell for its passage inland, while not large enough for the large more modern commercial vessels it still carries about 6 million tons of freight a year, now operating under private ownership.
The proposal for a waterway linking Liverpool to Manchester and thereby giving Manchester access to both the Port and the coast was first made about 1660, though it was some years after this that it first came to anything.
Thomas Steers reviewed the idea in 1712 and established enough interest in the plan for an Act of Parliament permitting the proposed project to be proposed in 1720 and passed the following year.
Work began in 1724 by the Mersey and Irwell navigation Company andten years later in 1734 moderate sized boats were able to gain access to the quays near Water Street in Manchester , small ships could also be accommodated depending on the amount of water available. The completion of the Bridgewater canal in 1776 saw completion evolve did the development of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in1830.
1872 saw ownership pass to the bridgewater navigation Company, though by then the waterway was in need of some major restorations, at the time being described as hopelessly choked with silt and only open to craft over 50ton for 47 out of 311 working days of the year.
By1882 interest had developed in upgrading the canal to a “Ship Canal” to help bypass the heavy railway charges for freight from Manchester to the coast, an idea promoted by Daniel Adamson with a meeting of interested parties at his home in June 1882, this included the engineers Hamilton Fulton and Edward Leader Williams , who were both invited to submit ideas. A suitable proposition was made to Parliament, but strong opposition from the railway companies and other organisations both delayed and imposed conditions on the enterprise, with the final act not passed until August 1886 with conditions that the company raise £5,000,000 capital and buy out the Bridgewater Canal as well as the Mersey and Irwell companies with two years.
The first Sod was cut by Lord Egerton of Tatton on 11th Nov 1887 the then Chairman of the the Manchester Ship Canal Company, with a considerable amount of the necessary capital being supplied by the Manchester Corporation, who in 1890 help11 out of 21 of the seats on the Company’s Board of Directors.
Thomas Walker was appointed contractor with Edward Leader Wiliams as Chief Engineer and designer.
Work proceeded well for the first two years until the death of Edward Leader Wiliams in 1889 after which his executors continued the project, but weather problems and severe flooding set progress back until the company decided to take over the work themselves.
The canal was completed in November1893 and opened to commercial traffic 1st Jan 1894, with Queen Victoria performing an official opening 21st May 1894.
The project had cost £15,000,000 and at that time was the world’s largest canal of its type.
1909 saw the water level raised by 2 feet giving a draft capacity of 28 feet.
Unlike other UK canals it has never been nationalised and is still in private ownership as part of Peel Holdings who also own the Port of Liverpool. It is open to leisure craft from the Shropshire Union Canal at Ellesmere Port, from the River Weaver at Weston or from the Bridgewater canal at Pomona lock , Salford, though safety rules do apply and may practically exclude the casual visit.
Maximum ship size at Salford Docks is typically length 530 feet (160 m), beam 53.5 feet (16.3 m), and draught 24 feet (7.3 m).
The Queen Elizabeth II Dock was built to handle liquid cargo (oil). A
separate entrance lock is