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Company of Proprietors of the Canal Navigation from Manchester to or near Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham


Records of the Company of Proprietors of the Canal Navigation from Manchester to or near Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham: letter concerning locks 1795 and deeds of partition 1825 and 1834.



Reference code


Administrative /‚Äč Biographical history

At the end of August 1791 a Bill for the proposed Rochdale Canal appeared, with a branch to Oldham from Manchester. Within two weeks a parliamentary petition and meeting regarding an independent Manchester to Ashton-under-Lyne canal were publicised, and by November the preliminary company was set up and the money raised. Benjamin Outram's assistant, Thomas Brown, was commissioned to survey the route. It was to run from Manchester to Ashton-under-Lyne, with a branch towards Oldham. The Act passed in June 1792. It was at that time isolated, as the canal that had initiated it all, the Rochdale, was not authorised for another two years. Ashton and Oldfield were important coalfields and the Act allowed any mine owners to build branch canals up to four miles long. A further Act in 1793 allowed the company to extend the Oldham branch to Hollinwood, nearer the town, and sanctioned two further branches to Stockport and Denton. The Denton branch proved so difficult to cut that the plans were scrapped in 1798. There was no official engineer appointed, but construction began regardless. The company acknowledged the difficulties this situation caused, but they were apparently not insurmountable. Almost all the main line, and the Hollinwood branch were complete by 1796; the following year the Stockport line and the Fairbottom branch off the Hollinwood branch were open. The Werneth Colliery Company had extended the latter with its own mile-long private canal. Their surplus water would be available to the Ashton Canal, in return for drawbacks on tolls. This did not please the Rochdale Company, which had had its own plans for a Hollinwood branch. Unfortunately for them, the mine owners clause made the Werneth Canal perfectly legal, even if those mine owners were also Ashton Canal shareholders. The authorisation of the Peak Forest and Huddersfield canals improved Ashton Canal's prospects, but the company had few financial resources in the present. All three companies shared committeemen and shareholders, and were reliant on the others to complete their lines. By 1799 the main line had reached Manchester, Piccadilly, and in May 1800 the Rochdale Canal eventually met it at the Ducie Street junction, after a little persuasion by the Ashton Company. Both companies built wharves, warehouses and cranes at Piccadilly. That same year the Ashton Canal's junction with the Peak Forest Canal on the former's 40-yard Dukinfield branch was opened. Completed, the Ashton Canal main line was 6 3/4 miles long with 18 narrow locks. The level Stockport and Fairbottom branches were 4 7/8 miles and 1 1/8 miles respectively. The Hollinworth branch, without the Werneth Canal was 4 5/8 miles long with seven locks. At Islington, Manchester, there was another short branch and several arms. There were several major engineering features for such a relatively short canal. There were two aqueducts over the River Medlock, at Waterhouse and Beswick Street, an aqueduct over the River Tame at Dukinfield and another at Store Street in Ancoats. At Waterhouse there was also a 110-yard tunnel. Most was supplied by the Medlock and from the Huddersfield and Peak Forest canals. From 1810 a beam engine pumped water up to the Waterhouses locks to supply the Fairbottom branch. Very little water actually came from the Werneth Canal, and even less after the agreement between the companies was terminated in 1806. Despite being bound to transport all the coal by canal, the Werneth Colliery had been sending some by road. Passenger boat services began in 1797. From 1799 a passenger packet service operated between Stockport, Ashton and Manchester and also destinations on the Peak Forest and Huddersfield canals. It was not especially popular and probably did not run much later than 1802. Financial recovery was slow. There was not enough money to pay the clerk's legal bill in 1802. The situation had improved by 1806, the year the first dividend was paid. By that time, regular meetings were held with representatives from all three canal companies in attendance. They had a very close working relationship, sometimes sharing agents and solicitors as well as shareholders, and generally jointly opposing or supporting projects. For example, in 1806 the Ashton Canal dropped potentially advantageous plans to link their Hollinsworth branch to the Rochdale Canal because the Huddersfield Canal objected. Ashton Canal also followed the practice of the Huddersfield company, at the latter's request, of not charging empty boats in 1825. In 1824, the Ashton and Peak Forest canals' shared agent James Meadows resigned on health grounds. His son Thomas had been assisting for several years and took over, but he died in 1831. James Meadows junior was appointed agent to both canals. The Macclesfield Canal and the Cromford & High Peak Railway both opened in 1831 and brought more traffic onto the Ashton Canal. The dividends paid almost doubled between 1828 and 1838. In November 1841 the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne & Manchester Railway opened, followed four months later by the Manchester & Leeds Railway's Oldham branch. The former railway went to Guide Bridge near Dukinfield, and a horse-drawn passenger service on the canal from there to Ashton was quickly established. It folded shortly after December 1845 when the railway branch linked the same destinations. Dividends had fallen and clearly, even though the canal was not struggling yet, its prospects were not great. The railway, soon to be the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company, offered to buy the canal in 1846. It would be kept open and in good repair. The canal company's shareholders enthusiastically supported the suggestion. The Ashton Canal passed to the railway's control in 1848, although the canal company would remain to manage the railway's annual payments. Under railway control with two other canals, the Ashton Canal was not treated as a separate concern. Carrying ceased on all the canals in 1892, the explanation given much later was that traffic was one-way and all the boats had to return empty. A year later the Ashton Canal company was dissolved by an Act. Traffic continued to fall in the early twentieth century, but this was certainly not because the condition of the navigation had declined. The traders who still used it were satisfied with the management of the canal. It was road transport that took away most of the canal's trade. Colliery subsidence forced the Hollinwood branch to close in 1932, even though that branch had been fairly well used until 1928. It was officially abandoned in two parts, in 1955 and 1961. Traffic on the Stockport branch was negligible after the 1930s and was abandoned in 1962, by which point the Ashton Canal mainline was unnavigable. Work began clearing it in 1968 and by 1974 it had been restored and re-opened as part of the Cheshire Ring, although the branches are still mostly in-filled. For further information on the Ashton Canal see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations' and Charles Hadfield and Gordon Biddle's 'The Canals of North West England Volume 2'.

System of arrangement

It has not been possible to ascertain any original structure of record-keeping from the small number of records held for this company. The fonds has therefore been arranged in chronological order.