Amberley Publishing - Transport, Military, Local and General History

Tag Archives: Canals

  • Canals, Docks and Routes in Salford by Paul Hindle

    Amberley first contacted me to see if I would write Bolton Through Time for them. Although I live just inside the Bolton boundary I’m not really a Boltonian, and soon Bolton Camera Club did an excellent job with that book.

    Instead, as Chairman of the Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal Society I suggested that I could write a Through Time book about the canal. So in 2013 I set to work, using the Society’s own photographic archives for the ‘then’ photos, before going out to take the ‘now’ photos, largely done on foot, walking the whole canal towpath which runs from Salford (not Manchester!) to both Bolton and Bury. In the process I noticed that I was walking rather oddly, and eventually I was rushed to Salford hospital for a brain operation!

    The Entrance to the Canal. Both views taken from the Princes Bridge. The left picture was taken in 1905 when Princes Bridge was being rebuilt. It shows the river towpath crossing the canal entrance over the curved 'Bloody Bridge'; the lower lock gates of Lock 1 are open. The right picture, after restoration, shows the entrance to the Margaret Fletcher Tunnel under the Inner Relief Road, leading to the new lock. (Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Several of the ‘now’ photos have already become redundant, due to various redevelopment schemes. For example the entrance to the canal from the River Irwell (shown on pages 8 and 9) has been transformed. Princes Bridge has gone and been replaced by a new lower footbridge, and the walls and roof of the first part of the entrance tunnel have been removed. The Ordsall Chord now spans the river at this point, with its new railway lines linking Victoria and Piccadilly stations. On pages 13 and 14 there is a new housing development alongside the canal, rather than the ‘urban desert’ seen in the book. On page 19 the water tower has gone. Prestolee Locks (seen on pages 44-46) have been excavated to about half their depth, making them much more visible. The Fire & Rescue training centre mentioned on page 75 has now been built, keeping the line of the canal clear. All that in just four years!

    Prestolee Locks. Two views of the canal basin and the lower locks; the stonework has been partly dismantled. Two branch canals lead off to the left serving a quarry, tramway and vitriol works. Overall the 6 locks raise the canal 64 feet in just 200 yards to the summit level. (Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    A year later Amberley asked me to take on Salford Through Time. Although I had worked at Salford University for 30 years I didn’t really know much of Salford well, and, as it is a large city, the biggest problem was which parts to include. Eventually I came up with the idea of three linear routes through the parts of Salford I knew best. The first went from Exchange Station, along Chapel Street to the Crescent (passing the University), then on to Broad Street and Eccles Old Road. The second route was a tour around Broughton and Kersal. The third route gave me another chance to follow the Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal just as far as Agecroft, using mainly a different set of photos. This time I had to obtain most of the ‘then’ photos from the very helpful Salford Local History Library. Again already several of the ‘now’ photos are redundant, starting with the office block on the front cover (and page 17) which has already gone.

    Exchange Station. The railway line linking Salford and Manchester Victoria stations was opened in 1844, but Victoria became so congested that Manchester Exchange station was opened by the London & North Western Railway (LNWR) in 1884. It was named Manchester Exchange despiten most of it being in Salford. Manchester Cathedral is on the right, and a wide approach ramp led across the River Irwell to the station. A second approach led down to Chapel Street. (Salford Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    Another request from Amberley came in 2017 and I suggested Salford Quays Through Time. The Quays is a development of the former Manchester Docks that were in fact in Salford. Once again I went back to the Salford Local History Library, and I hit the first problem, which was that many of the photos did not say which dock they were showing, and half were undated. There are only so many photos you can show of a dock area, so I decided to widen the scope of the book to include the local areas of Ordsall and part of Weaste, which were developed alongside the docks.

    Dock 9. The left picture, taken in the 1930s from the Grain Elevator, shows a very busy Dock 9 with numerous ships and barges. The right picture shows the same view today, taken from a lower viewpoint. To the left there is the low-rise housing of Anchorage Quay and Grain Wharf, with the Lowry beyond. The basin is spanned by the relaocated railway swing bridge. The part of the dock in the foreground is now called the Erie Basin, which is continuously aerated. To the right is a row of high-rise buildings. (Salford Quays Through Time, Amberley Publishing)

    The changes throughout the area in recent years have been massive. In Ordsall the area was largely made up of terraced housing which has been largely replaced by modern housing. The road network has been drastically altered. The only surviving features are the medieval Ordsall Hall, Ordsall Park, four churches and the main roads. In the Quays only the outline of the four docks remains, and even that has been altered by closing off three of the four docks from the river, and creating new canals and basins. So in both Ordsall and the Quays getting matching ‘then’ and now’ photos was very difficult. I found Ordsall a fascinating area, notably the surviving Barracks area of terraced housing, including St Ignatius Church and the Salford Lads Club. A final section took me to the peaceful Weaste Cemetery where several famous folk are buried.

    Paul Hindle's books Manchester Bolton & Bury Canal Through Time, Salford Through Time and Salford Quays Through Time are available for purchase now.

  • Narrow Boats by Tom Chaplin

    The horse tows away a Joey boat with load of rubbish into Farmer's Bridge Top Lock. Note the simple towing mast and crude shape of the boat. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    As my wife and I approach our golden wedding anniversary, we have been reminiscing about our early life, when especially in winter, working narrow boats outnumbered pleasure narrowboats. These wonderful craft, with their floating population, brought their own culture and atmosphere to the canals. Unfortunately, the last of the family-operated long distance vessels stopped trading in 1970.

    The story of the narrow boat goes back to Georgian times when Britain had an agrarian economy and boats were pulled by horses. That soon changed: a horse could just as easily pull a canal boat loaded with 25 tons as a 1-ton cart on roads that often amounted to little more than muddy lanes. Narrow boats were soon moving raw materials and finished goods around the country and the industrial revolution became possible. In time, the horse gave way to steam, then diesel and boats operating in pairs were able to double the tonnage.

    Top cloths are positioned over the planks and side cloths to protect the coal. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    Virtually all of the modern steel narrowboats afloat today were built after the end of trading and both their shape and decorations have become increasingly remote from the traditional working boat. Narrow Boats traces how these historic craft evolved, and explores why different companies developed their own design. In those days, boats travelled as far in a working week as pleasure cruisers did in a month. At the centre of these staggering levels of efficiency were the boatman and his family, on whom the reliable, fast deliveries depended. This book gives the background to life aboard these marvellous vessels and the very cramped quarters that formed a permanent home.

    This engraving, first published in 1873, shows a typical horse boat replete with the familiar form of decoration that changed little during the next century. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    Victorian reformers campaigned for better conditions and secured acts of parliament to improve matters. Nevertheless, it is all too easy to peer into a mock up boatman’s cabin at a museum and react with horror to the prospect of this being home to a family. In reality of course, some had bow cabins which held an extra bed, and once fitted with engines, the boats usually worked in pairs and this meant two cabins, which doubled the living accommodation. In large families, children sometimes worked and lived aboard a childless or less fecund relative or friend’s boat. During the 19th century, many urban families shared damp, insanitary basements with several others and in this context the narrow boat cabin probably seemed a pretty good option.

    Restored boats, with their stunning painting, are now highly valued and many of today’s pleasure-boats and house-boats attempt (with mixed success!) to reproduce the effect. Narrow Boats takes the reader on a close look at how the boats were painted and has many colour photographs of work by the best, well-known professional painters.

    The lock gates are being opened using the boatman's rope trick. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    During the twentieth century, as industrial processes changed, many of the core cargoes, like coal, were no longer widely required. London docks closed and the end of carrying, which had been predicted for some time, in the event happened quite quickly. Even before this, the boatman’s way of life had become an anachronism and as more and more families moved ashore, it had become difficult to maintain staff levels and recruit new people. Perhaps it is surprising that despite the coming of the motorways, the narrow boat survived so far into the 20th century.

    The castle is an original, painted in 1950. (Narrow Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    Fortunately, in the 1960s, even the smallest load was enough to prevent the Government from shutting a canal on which there was a right of navigation and we have to be thankful to a few dedicated carriers, who despite obstructive authorities, persisted and successfully saved some of our favourite waterways. Unfortunately, the idea persists that our waterways are inappropriate for modern commercial traffic. Yet a boat will reduce carbon emissions by 80% compared to lorries. Heavy loads, like aggregates or building materials, could avoid motorway gridlocks and delays, while their removal from our roads would reduce accidents. However, it seems unlikely that the heavy investment needed for this will be forthcoming.

    A recent programme in the current BBC series, Britain Afloat featured narrow boats: this book will help to answer the many questions raised in the film.

    Tom Chaplin's new book Narrow Boats is available for purchase now.

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