A Queen, A Plan, A Canal – Manchester!

August 6, 1885

Queen Victoria of England gave her royal assent to a bill passed by both houses of parliament authorizing the creation of a canal to link the city of Manchester to the Irish Sea. The Queen’s formal approval was the final legislative hurdle that had to be overcome to make the Manchester Ship Canal Act a new law and bring into existence an inland waterway that many hoped would result in major economic benefits for that section of northwestern England.

The enactment of the law led to what one newspaper characterized as “great rejoicing at Manchester,” complete with fireworks and torchlight processions. As far back as 1660, serious consideration was given to the idea that the Rivers Mersey and Irwell in the region could be made navigable between Manchester in the east to the Irish Sea in the west via the Mersey Estuary near Liverpool. One attempted solution to this logistical challenge was the Mersey and Irwell Navigation, which was completed in 1734 and sought to improve travel along those rivers through a system of locks and other modifications. The Mersey and Irwell Navigation, however, proved to be inadequate to local shipping demands and often unusable.

The push for a larger and better water transportation route gained momentum with the onset of severe and prolonged economic hardships during the 1870s, and the result was the Manchester Ship Canal Act. About two years after Queen Victoria granted her royal assent to the act, construction on the canal began.

There were several other individuals who played significant roles in making the canal a reality. One was Edward Leader Williams, who served as the project’s designer, general manager, and chief engineer. Another key individual was Thomas A. Walker, who was appointed the contractor for the project. Under his guidance, construction of the canal was on schedule and generally incident-free. Walker died in 1891 while work on the canal was still underway, however, and his duties as the contractor were taken over by his executors. Unfortunately, their tenure was marked by delays and other setbacks caused by harsh weather and major floods in the region.

The Manchester Ship Canal was finally opened to traffic on New Year’s Day in 1894. That spring, Queen Victoria presided over the official opening of the canal. The waterway – covering 36 miles (58 kilometers) between Manchester and the Mersey Estuary – is the longest river navigation canal in the world and has transformed the Port of Manchester into one of England’s busiest ports. The waterway also has the distinction of being the eighth-longest ship canal.

For additional information on the Manchester Ship Canal, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester_Ship_Canal.

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