Manchester Ship Canal Company
Manchester Ship Canal Company records: records of the Bridgewater Department 1888-1992, legal records 1884-1970, administrative and financial records 1861-1919, traffic charges and tolls 1915-1962, publicity 1912-late 20th century, plans of the canal 1883-1969, and Barton Aqueduct late 19th-mid 20th century.
These records are available immediately for research
The Manchester Ship Canal was promoted as early as 1824. That attempt failed, but Mancunians did not abandon the idea. Traders were anxious to avoid the expensive railway monopoly of the Liverpool-Manchester route and the high charges at Liverpool. In 1872 the Bridgewater Canal was brought under indirect railway control. Shortly after, it was pointed out that the River Mersey was in a very poor condition, but had the potential to be a useful waterway. This provided the impetus to again push for a ship canal. Reports were made and the improvements put before the Chamber of Commerce. Although not dismissive of the idea, the economic depression of the 1870s meant that there was little money available for the scheme. Daniel Adamson revived the idea again in 1882 and this time had greater success. Rightly or wrongly, the slump in Manchester was partly attributed to the high cost of transporting goods compared to other areas. Daniel Adamson's friend James Abernathy and Edward Leader Williams favoured a canal with locks, as opposed to a tidal canal, the members of the future canal committee agreed, and Edward Leader Williams was appointed engineer. Opposition from Liverpool and the railway companies caused the first two Bills to be lost, but the third passed in August 1885. Liverpool had forced the company to alter their plans considerably, and at great cost, for example moving the ship canal's entrance to Eastham, from Runcorn. The ship canal also needed to purchase the Bridgewater Canal to give them access to the Mersey and Irwell and the water they required. The Bridgewater Canal was purchased only a month before the powers granted under the Act expired. Despite the apparent enthusiasm for the project, there was reluctance from people to commit money to it. A committee had been set up specifically to investigate the viability of the ship canal and go over the estimates for it. People who were not particularly enthusiastic about the project were deliberately selected to ensure as impartial an enquiry as possible. The estimates, the committee concluded, were perfectly reasonable and the canal was likely to be a worthwhile venture. They were more critical of the Board of Directors than the canal itself. Consequently, Chairman Daniel Adamson resigned and was replaced by Lord Egerton. Perhaps the committee's endorsement of the ship canal inspired confidence, because money was subscribed more quickly and the required amount as specified in the Act was raised by the August 1887 deadline. Building the ship canal was a formidable task. Work started November 1887. Unfortunately the contractor died and arguments with his executors caused such a delay that in 1890 the company decided to build the canal itself. At one time there were 17,000 men employed, laying some 1,228 miles of railway track as well as building 36 miles of canal. The mouth of the River Weaver was sealed and sluices directed its water into the River Mersey. As it was a ship canal, all the bridges that were built had to be swing bridges or, as nearly all the railway-carrying bridges were, high enough to allow ships' masts and funnels to pass underneath. Five sets of locks were built; at Latchford, Irlam, Barton, Mode Wheel and the entrance locks at Eastham. Apart from the addition of an entrance lock to serve the Queen Elizabeth II Oil Dock Eastham, the locks have remained unchanged in location or size since they were originally constructed in the nineteenth century. The three Eastham locks were built side-by-side and are of different sizes. The largest is 600 feet by 80 feet; the smallest, 150 feet by 30 feet. The other locks are of uniform size, each consisting of two lock chambers measuring 600 feet by 65 feet and 350 feet by 45 feet. Construction did not always proceed smoothly. Floods in 1890 twice disrupted work and the following year there was a bank slip at Ince. Their luck did not change in 1892, either, as the Bridgewater Lock collapsed. There was not enough money to finish building the canal and port. Manchester Corporation lent the canal company money in 1891, and in return could nominate five directors. They lent more money in 1892 and, until the ship canal had repaid half of the five million pounds debt, the Corporation had the right to appoint a majority of the directors. James Brindley's Barton Aqueduct, the oldest large piece of engineering on a British canal, was demolished in 1892 and replaced a year later with the Barton Swing Bridge. This carried the Bridgewater Canal over the ship canal and was among the last of the works done on the new canal. Three docks were planned at Salford for ocean-going vessels, and four at Manchester for coasters. They are numbered, rather than named. Number 5 was started but never completed, but in 1905 a Number 9 was opened. A tenth got no further than the planning stage. Although opened to traffic as of New Year's Day 1894, the formal opening by the Queen did not take place until May 1894. Traffic climbed slowly, and it was an anxious first few years for all concerned until the possibility of closure was passed. Lack of co-operation with the railways meant that goods were handled slowly. However, it was cheaper to import goods to Manchester than Liverpool, which is the main reason tonnages on the ship canal rose. Manchester Liners, a company started by the ship Canal in 1891, started services to America and Canada. Traffic from other ports in the area (Ellesmere Port, Runcorn, etc) preferred to use the ship canal rather than the Mersey estuary because it was easier to navigate. Importing and exporting was much easier at Manchester because it was able to take ships, hence its attraction for manufacturing industries. Manchester grew ever prosperous and soon the canal was among the busiest and most successful in the country. In fact, industry thrived all along the route of the canal. There was the Trafford Park industrial estate, the Shell Chemicals Plant at Carrington and the Stanlow oil refineries. In 1922 and 1933, the ship canal built two oil docks and an oil tanker dock, the Queen Elizabeth II Dock, at Eastham in 1954. It was the largest oil dock in Britain at the time and helped boost 1964 annual tonnages on the ship canal to over 15 million tonnes, compared with twelve million a decade earlier and six million in 1926. In 2002 it handled nearly 887,000 tonnes. Tonnages on the canal peaked between the 1950s and 1970s. By the 1990s, traffic above Runcorn had dwindled and was confined to barges. Closing the upper part of the canal was suggested but not carried out. Over 8,000,000 tonnes were handled in 2001, an increase on the year before. For the Manchester Corporation and for Manchester itself, the ship canal proved an extremely worthwhile venture. Few of the original ordinary shareholders received the benefits directly in the form of dividends, as dividends on ordinary shares were not paid until 1915. For further information on the Manchester Ship Canal see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations', Charles Hadfield's 'British Canals' and the Manchester Ship Canal Company's website at http://www.shipcanal.co.uk/page1.html
The original company's system of arrangement could not be ascertained for the majority of records. It did have a Bridgewater Department. This department has been given a separate sub fonds and where possible records originally held within it have been arranged accordingly. The remainder of the collection has been arranged into series by subject and then placed in chronological order.
[See also: BW11 and BW12 for records of the Bridgewater Canal before it was taken over by the Manchester Ship Canal Company]