Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Travel history, part II
Bridgewater Canal: AD 1759-1761
In 1759 a young self-taught engineer, James Brindley, is invited to visit the duke of Bridgewater. The duke is interested in improving the market for the coal from a local mine which he owns. He believes his coal will find customers if he can get it more cheaply into Manchester. He wants Brindley to build him a canal with a series of locks to get barges down to the river Irwell, about three miles from the mine.
Brindley proposes a much bolder scheme, declared by some to be impossible but accepted by the duke. He will construct a more level canal, with less need for time-wasting locks. He will carry it on an aqudeuct over the Irwell on a straight line to the heart of Manchester, ten miles away.
On 17 July 1761 the first bargeload of coal is pulled along the completed canal. Brindley's aqueduct (replaced in 1894 by the present swing aqueduct) crosses the Irwell at Barton. The strange sight of a barge floating in a gutter high up in the air becomes one of the first great tourist attractions of the Industrial Revolution. The investment in this private canal rapidly pays off. The price of the duke's coal is halved in the Manchester market.
The Bridgewater canal is the first in Britain to run its entire length independently of any river. It is the start of the country's inland waterway systerm, for which Brindley himself will construct another 300 miles of canals.