The Bridgewater is famous for being England’s first canal – or perhaps more accurately, Britain’s first industrial canal.
The canal, 39 miles in length, stretches from Runcorn to Leigh in the north west of England and was built to carry coal into the heart of Manchester.
The canal is also a strategic link between the north and south canal network and features one to the Seven Wonders of the Waterways, the Barton Swing Aqueduct, which passes over the Manchester Ship Canal.
A brief history of the Bridgewater Canal
Frances Egerton, the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, first came across canals whilst on his ‘grand tour’ of Europe as a young man. On his return, at just 23 years old and in conjunction with the surveyor and engineer John Gilbert, the Duke proposed a new canal route from Worsley to Salford as a new solution to transporting coal to Manchester.
Opened on 17th July, 1761, the Bridgewater was the first canal in Britain to be built without following an existing watercourse. It halved the price of coal in Manchester, allowing the city to take a leading role in the industrial revolution and it marked the beginning of the golden canal era between 1760 and 1830.
In 1795 the Duke extended the Bridgewater to Leigh further west, to link up with the Wigan branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
As with other canals, the Bridgewater suffered at the arrival of the railways and went through many different ownerships until it was acquired by the Peel Group in 1984, who work in conjunction with the Bridgewater Canal Trust.
The Bridgewater is now a popular leisure spot for narrowboat holidays in Cheshire, walking and cycling.
Top Bridgewater Canal Facts
The Bridgewater Canal runs from Castlefield Junction in Manchester, in the north west of England, to its terminus in Runcorn in Cheshire, with two arms: the Leigh Arm and the Preston Brook Branch.
The Leigh Arm is 10.8 miles and runs from Waters Meeting in Stretford to where it meets the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in Leigh. The Preston Brook Branch is just 0.8 miles and connects to Trent & Mersey Canal.
You can find out more about our cruise guides and waterways maps on our canal boat holiday base information pages for canal boat holidays in Cheshire.
Feats of Engineering on the Bridgewater
Barton Swing Aqueduct
The Barton Swing Aqueduct is an impressive moveable navigable aqueduct that carries the Bridgewater Canal across the Manchester Ship Canal. Designed by James Brindley it was the first navigable aqueduct to be built in England and is now known as ‘one of the seven wonders of the canal age’.
The Bridgewater Canal is one of the few canals that has no locks over its 39 miles, as it follows the contours of the relatively flat land across Cheshire and into Greater Manchester.
Did You Know?
Black Prince Cruising Routes
You can cruise on the Bridgewater Canal starting from our narrowboat hire base at Acton Bridge in Cheshire. Check out our canal maps and cruise guides on our base page for more information for your canal holiday.