History of the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal

The Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal ran from Salford to Prestolee, between Kearsley and Little Lever, from where one arm ran to Bolton and another to Bury. The 15 miles of canal had 17 locks, including 4 staircases of two or three locks together.

The canal was originally to have been a narrow canal and work started in 1791 on construction between Oldfield Road, in Salford, and Bolton and Bury. Soon after this, a link was proposed to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. This would have gone westwards from Bolton to Red Moss, near the present Reebok Stadium, crossing the ridge at Aspull to the Leeds and Liverpool's Wigan lock flight. To take full advantage of this link it was decided that the Manchester Bolton and Bury Canal should be a broad canal like the Leeds and Liverpool, which meant that locks that were already built had to be re-built as broad locks. However, the link with the Leeds and Liverpool was never built.

The Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal Company also considered an extension eastwards which became the proposed Bury and Sladen canal. This would run north of Rochdale to Chelburn near the Littleborough summit. The route considered from here would have involved a 4.8 mile tunnel taking a direct route towards Ripponden and Sowerby Bridge. This would have brought a lot of additional traffic to the Manchester, Bolton and Bury. In the end, the Bury and Sladen Canal was never built and the Rochdale Canal carried all the traffic from that area.

The next proposal, 1799, was to extend the canal from Oldfield Road, Salford, across an aqueduct over the River Irwell, to link with the Rochdale Canal in Manchester. This proposal was turned down, so in 1808 a link of five locks was constructed linking Oldfield Road with the River Irwell near Castlefield, ending at last the canal's isolation.

Lock 1, next to the junction with the River Irwell - Photo: John and Margaret Fletcher Collection
Lock 1, with the junction with the River Irwell just below the stone bridge.
Photo: John and Margaret Fletcher Collection

Another link was proposed with the Rochdale Canal - this time from the River Irwell and through a short tunnel. This was eventually opened in 1839 as the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal.

As much of the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal ran along the side of the Irwell Valley, it was prone to landslips and breaches. The most serious of these occurred in 1936 when the high embankment carrying the Bury arm from Nob End high above the River Irwell collapsed, sweeping two boats into the river 100 feet below. This breach was never repaired although boats continued to carry coal between Ladyshore and Bury, both upstream of the breach, until 1951. Pictures...

The canal closed in 1961. Parts of the canal have been filled in and parts are dry. The Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal Society was formed in 1987 to promote the restoration of the canal. In 2002, British Waterways announced that most of the canal is to be restored in the next few years. Restoration...

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