We left Worsley on Friday, cruising just a short distance to moor in the bushes on the offside near Bridgewater Marina.
Worsley Delph, the raison d’etre of the Bridgewater Canal.
Back in the mid 1700s Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, had a problem. He had extensive coal mines in the Worsley area, and a ready market in the Industrial Revolution driven expansion of Manchester. But he just couldn’t shift the stuff fast enough using horse and cart. As a young man he’d done the “Grand Tour” of Europe, and had seen first hand the operation of canals and pound locks, and realised that water transport on an artificial navigation could be the solution.
The original proposal placed before Parliament involved two routes from Worsley, one to Salford and the other down towards Warrington to meet the River Mersey. The Salford cut went well, not so the Mersey section, which was abandoned in favour of an extension of the Salford route to Runcorn. At Stretford the line was cut almost due east, finally reaching Castlefield in Manchester in 1765. The Duke’s commitment to reduce the price of coal delivered to the city was realised, dropping to 4d a cwt, around 33p a ton.
The arched opening in the picture above was the entrance to the underground mines, ultimately 46 miles of tunnels with inclined planes connecting the levels. The lower levels were canals carrying the coal out into daylight in double-ended boats.
Worsley is now a peaceful, well, mainly, suburb of Salford. But in the 18th and 19th centuries what is now the green was a hive of industry, with forges, carpenters and all manner of canal and colliery related trades active on the site.
The Packet House stands alongside the short cut to the Delph.
The Packet House, Worsley.
From here, fast horse-drawn packet boats would take passengers into Manchester. The trip, taking less than 2 hours, would cost around 1s. That’s 5p for those who can’t remember £sd…
We covered the 1½ miles to our weekend moorings at a lot slower speed, finding a spot long enough between the bushes on the offside for both boats.
After a quiet, uneventful couple of days we set off, the first port of call should have been Bridgewater Marina for diesel but they’ve run out, so we’ll make that stop on the way back.
Leaving our weekender.
From here to Wigan the primary industry was “black gold”, coal. So much was extracted from deep underground that the countryside has subsided to a remarkable degree, leaving the canal, with it’s successively built-up banks, standing high above the landscape.
Cruising towards Leigh
I always think that this section is a bit desolate, with low scrub vegetation struggling to get a living from the poor soil, mostly landscaped pit waste. But I suppose it’s a far better view than it would have been 100 years ago.
To compensate for the slowly sinking scenery, Bailey Bridges have been pressed into service at many of the crossings.
Whitehead Hall Bridge
Under the span the headgear of Astley Green Colliery can be seen, now a sole survivor of the many that would have punctured the skyline, and marking the Colliery Museum.
The canal cuts into Leigh, a town who’s fortunes were built on the textile industry. Cotton and silk spinning mills were built to supply the growing demand, five of which still stand.
Leigh Mill, or Leigh Spinners.
Butts Mill chimney
Leigh is a typical Lancashire mill town, what you see is what you get.
Mather Lane Mill
Little and Large – narrowboat and, I think, a “Duker” a motorised Bridgewater barge. Built in the 1950s specifically for use on this canal, this class of barge was made redundant as recently as 1974, when Kelloggs at Waters Meeting shifted to road transport.
Leigh is also the furthest west the Bridgewater Canal penetrates, this section from Worsley was built in 1795, and was connected to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal when the Leigh Branch of the L&L was finished in 1820.
Leigh Bridge, from the Bridgewater to the L&L
Leigh boasts almost as many supermarkets as old textile mills, Ann and I did a good shop at Tesco, about 10 minutes away. We could have used Aldi, right next to Leigh Bridge, or Lidl, a bit the other side of Tesco. Then there’s Sainsbury’s, on the north edge of town but a bit too far to walk back laden. I think there’s an Asda knocking about somewhere, too.
From Leigh we had another half-hour to Plank Lane Bridge, where we turned around and moored.
Moored at Plank Lane
Pennington Flash lies alongside and below the canal, a large depression caused by coal extraction now filled with water.
Weather permitting we’ll have a walk all the way round tomorrow. There are paths all across the area, with some interesting features….
“Book” made out of old lock gates
Thanks Carol, and Doug and James, for your comments regarding my leg. It's maybe not as bad as I first thought; and intensive regime of icing, massage and stretching is showing results, I might be OK for next Sunday after all. A trial short run on Thursday morning will be the deciding factor...
Meanwhile, Chas is feeling a bit better though still has to be careful not to twist too sharply. Ann's knee is an ongoing problem that she can cope with, although once again she has to be a bit careful.
Locks 0, miles 7½