11 November 1887: work begins on the Manchester Ship Canal

On this day in 1887, work began on digging the 36-mile-long Manchester Ship Canal, which would enable the city’s exporters to bypass the expensive port of Liverpool.

These days, you're more likely to see a TV presenter than a docker at Salford Quays, but 100 years ago, the area was a flourishing new port. 

By the mid-19th century, Manchester was one of the empire's busiest industrial cities, and was at the heart of the cotton industry. But the high fees charged by both Liverpool docks and the railway companies were eating into the cotton barons' profits.

And so in 1882 industrialist Daniel Adamson proposed building a waterway that would enable the city to bypass Liverpool altogether and bring ships into the heart of Manchester. Plans were drawn up and a bill submitted to Parliament. The bill was, predictably, opposed, by Liverpool's Mersey Docks board, and failed. But after three readings, and a 200,000-strong petition from the people of Manchester, the Manchester Ship Canal Act was finally passed in 1885, and work began on this day in 1887.

The canal is 36 miles long and rises 18 metres from the coast to the centre of Manchester. Seven docks were built to take the ships. It opened for business on 1 January 1894. The estimated cost of construction was £5.16m. It would eventually cost £15m.

Soon Manchester was Britain's third-busiest port. The amount of goods handled increased year by year and peaked in 1958 at 18.2 million tonnes. But with the restricted size of vessels able to use it, and the growth of road transport, it began to decline, reaching a low point in 1984. The maximum length of vessels able to navigate the canal is 160m with a beam of 19m and a maximum draft of 7.3m. The 48-mile Panama Canal, by contrast, opened just 20 years later, can take ships up to 290m long and carries 300 million tonnes of shipping a year.

The canal is undergoing something of a renaissance, and currently handles some eight million tonnes of freight a year. It is owned and operated by the Peel Group, a privately held company that operates ports around the country, including Liverpool, and has extensive property interests.

Recommended

3 December 1984: BT is sold off in a gamble over privatisation
This day in history

3 December 1984: BT is sold off in a gamble over privatisation

In a landmark test of privatisation, the government sold off over half its stake in British Telecom, on this day in 1984.
3 Dec 2020
3 December 1992: the world’s first text message is sent
This day in history

3 December 1992: the world’s first text message is sent

Twenty two years ago, a developer working in Newbury, Berkshire, sent a two-word text message, marking the start of a whole new way of communicating.
3 Dec 2020
2 December 2001: Enron files for bankruptcy
This day in history

2 December 2001: Enron files for bankruptcy

US energy giant Enron became that country’s biggest corporate bankruptcy on this day in 2001, after America’s financial watchdog had uncovered huge fr…
2 Dec 2020
2 December 1943: ‘Bevin Boys’ conscripted into the mines
This day in history

2 December 1943: ‘Bevin Boys’ conscripted into the mines

With the coal industry desperately short of men, the Minster of Labour, Ernest Bevin, announced today in 1943 that thousands of conscripts would be se…
2 Dec 2020

Most Popular

Time for investors to be fearful, not greedy – and sell?
Investment strategy

Time for investors to be fearful, not greedy – and sell?

The Covid-19 crash proved a great investment opportunity. Does the vaccine mean it’s time to sell?
23 Nov 2020
How to avoid inheritance tax by giving your money away
Inheritance tax

How to avoid inheritance tax by giving your money away

Ruth Jackson Kirby explains how to avoid inheritance tax by passing money on to your family while you are still here.
24 Nov 2020
Once Covid-19 is over, we’re going to see an economic boom
Investment strategy

Once Covid-19 is over, we’re going to see an economic boom

After the dust from the pandemic has settled, we’re in for a consumer boom and a huge bout of government spending, says John Stepek. Here’s how to tak…
24 Nov 2020