Fairbottom Branch Canal
off the Hollinwood Branch Canal,
Bardsley Colliery Company's Pit Disaster
& Park Bridge Tramway
On the 28 March 1793 the Second Bill of the Ashton Canal Company received the Royal Assent (32 George III. Cap. 21) and this authorised the extension of the
proposed Hollinwood Branch from Waterhouses to Stake Leach in Hollinwood rather than to New Mill near Oldham as shown on the plan accompanying the 1792 Bill and on a map drawn by Thomas Brown in 1793.
This amendment became the Hollinwood Branch Canal and it left the main line of the Ashton Canal at Fairfield Junction to follow the south side of the river Medlock upstream to cross the river at Waterhouses.
It then continued towards Hollinwood where it made a head-on junction with a private canal cut by the
Werneth Colliery Company (associated with the Chamber Colliery Company).
This branch was ultimately 4 miles and 52 chains long to its junction with the private canal and it was completed towards the end of 1796.
It climbed through four locks at Waterhouses (locks 19 to 22) and four locks at Hollinwood (locks 23 to 26).
The Fairbottom Branch Canal was 1 mile 11 chains long and it was constructed using powers that permitted the canal company to make collateral cuts,
so it was not specifically authorised. It left the Hollinwood Branch Canal at Waterhouses Junction, which was immediately above lock 22,
and access to its towpath was via a footbridge across the tail of lock 22. As built, the Fairbottom Branch Canal terminated at Fenny Field Bridge across the river Medlock and it was completed in 1797.
Route Description, with distances measured from Waterhouses Junction
1 chain = 22 yards
- Chamber Colliery Company Loading Stage
- 5 chains
At this point there was a deep delta-shaped basin and loading stage on the offside of the canal. Here, a single-track tramway, with one passing place, swept down the hillside in a shallow arc from beside Crime Lane to
terminate at the loading stage (or staithe) on the north facing side of the delta. This tramway connected Wood Park Colliery, on the corner of Oldham Road and Coal Pit Lane to the canal.
At the loading stage, waggons from the colliery ran onto wooden staging over the basin where coal was dropped into waiting boats via a chute.
The tramway opened in 1836, when the colliery opened, and it continued in use until the early 1930s but the colliery remained open until 1955.
- Waterhouses Pumping Engine
- 8 chains
This was on the towpath side and its purpose was to pump water from the pound below lock 19 and discharge it into the pound above lock 22 by way of the Fairbottom Branch Canal.
- Taylor's Stop Place
- 25 chains
At this point the canal narrowed so that stop planks could be inserted across the canal for maintenance purposes.
- Valley Aqueduct over Lane
- 35 chains
This stone-built aqueduct is deeply arched in plan, with battered sides to enable it to withstand water pressure in the canal.
- Junction of Bardsley Colliery Company's Private Branch
- 42 chains
This short private branch accommodated a loading stage for coal and a boat dock. Coal was brought to it from the Diamond and Victoria Pits
of the Bardsley Colliery Company situated on the west side of Oldham Road in Bardsley. By 1933, the tramway had been dismantled and the branch was abandoned.
In 1858, Bardsley Colliery Company's Diamond Pit was the scene of a disaster. Details here » Disaster
- Valley Stop Place
- 43 chains
At this point the canal narrowed so that stop planks could be inserted across the canal for maintenance purposes.
Valley Stop Place, early 20th century.
This stop place is situated 176 yards beyond Valley Aqueduct and here the canal narrows to enable stop planks to be inserted across the canal for maintenance purposes.
On the left, 22 yards before the stop place, there is a cutting which is the site of the former Bardsley Colliery Company’s Private Branch.
Coal from their Diamond and Victoria Pits was transported down a tramway to a loading staithe at this branch to be loaded into boats.
The head of this branch was extended to create a drydock for boat maintenance.
Bardsley House can just be seen in the background among the trees.
- Bardsley Bridge
- 57 chains
This bridge carries Oldham Road, between Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham, over the canal. On both sides of the bridge there were wharfs.
The one on the nearside of the bridge was Bardsley Wharf and this was on the towpath side with access from Oldham Road.
The wharf on the far side of the bridge was on the offside and it was for loading coal from Bridge Pit at the back of the wharf.
It was rebuilt by the Ashton Canal Department of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company in 1862.
This was recorded on the nearside cast-iron lintel, which bore the lettering, 'M. S. & L. Ry. Co. A. C. DEPT. 1862.'
In 1881 the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Co applied to Parliament for powers to stop up and discontinue the Fairbottom Branch Canal as a
navigation from Bardsley Bridge to the termination of the canal at Fenney Field Bridge. Due to mining subsidence, it was recorded that the headroom below this bridge was reduced to 4 feet.
Bardsley Bridge, 1910.
The effect of mining subsidence can be clearly seen.
- Junction of Jonah Harrop & Company's Private Branch
- 59 chains
This private branch was associated with Bardsley Vale Mills and it was on the towpath side of the canal. These mills were built by Jonah Harrop, a local coal owner (Bardsley Colliery - Diamond and Victoria Pits).
The first mill, known as Bardsley Mill, was built
in 1835 and a second mill was built alongside it in 1857, the name then being changed to Bardsley Vale Mills. By 1888 the mills were associated with Dodgson & Grundy and by 1896 they were associated with
Kerfoot's Pharmaceuticals, operated by Thomas Kerfoot. Here, lozenges, various tablets and other pharmaceutical products were produced. In 1906, Thomas Kerfoot moved into Springwood Hall, which stood on the south side of the
river Medlock, opposite the mills. By 1933, there was no trace of this private branch.
Park Bridge Tramway
& Dock Pit Private Branch
- Junction of Dock Pit Private Branch and start of Park Bridge Tramway
- 1 mile 3 chains
This short private branch was on the towpath side and it accommodated a loading stage for coal. It was associated with Dock Pit, on the south side of the river Medlock. It is likely that this pit was owned by
Lees, Jones & Booth of the Fairbottom Coal and Cannel Company. It was abandoned in c.1870 and by 1881 the bridge across the river had collapsed.
Rather than crossing over the entrance to this branch, the towpath circumvented it by passing close to the river.
- Park Bridge Tramway
Dock Pit Private Branch marked the location of the original beginning of the Park Bridge Tramway on the north side of the
Fairbottom Branch Canal and the transhipment facility between canal and tramway was sited here. The terminus of the tramway was at Rocher Colliery in Rocher Vale on the east side of Park Bridge Iron Works.
The origins of Rocher Colliery can be traced back to the 18th century and in 1873 the Rocher Colliery Company Ltd was incorporated (Company No. 7050). National Archive Ref. BT 31/1821/7050. 'BT' refers to
records of the Board of Trade and of its successor.
The tramway had a gauge of 3 feet 6 inches and initially, waggons were horse hauled along it. Because the engineer, Benjamin Outram, was associated with the construction of the Ashton Canal it is likely that when the
track was first laid that the rails were L-shaped, each one being one yard long and made of cast iron.
However, its chief claim to fame is that early in the 1840s a locally made steam locomotive, 'The Ashtonian' was introduced. Towards the end of the tramway at Rocher Vale there was a small-bore tunnel
(about 5 feet wide by 6 feet high) and before the locomotive could pass through this its hinged funnel had to be lowered and the driver had to kneel down. Contemporary sources record that the driver was a man of
short stature. It is understood that steam haulage was discontinued in the 1880s. At some point there was a second change in the mode of moving waggons when rope haulage was introduced. There is no mention of the tramway in the
Distance Tables of 1888.
The tramway crossed the river Medlock on Fenny Field Bridge and the area between the Dock Private Branch and Fenny Field Bridge was very busy in its heyday. There were wharfs where coal brought down the tramway from
Rocher Colliery and other pits was loaded into boats and pig iron brought up the canal was loaded into tramway waggons to be hauled to the iron works. Additionally, there was a drydock where boats could be
repaired, a smithy and sawing sheds where timber for boat repairs could be cut and pit props manufactured.
- Fenny Field Bridge, terminus of the Fairbottom Branch Canal
- 1 mile 11 chains
This is where the water supply from the river Medlock entered the canal. To facilitate this, a weir was constructed across the river in Rocher Vale and a water channel was cut alongside the river to Fenny Field Bridge.
The river is some 10 to 12 feet higher at Park Bridge than it is at Fenny Field Bridge. The weir is still extant but there is now no trace of the water channel.
- Fairbottom Colliery
- 1 mile 24 chains
This was the location of the famous Fairbottom Bobs, a Newcomen steam engine used for mine drainage, which is believed to have been built between 1730 and 1750. It is likely that this colliery was owned by
Lees, Jones & Booth of the Fairbottom Coal and Cannel Company.
A branch from the tramway crossed the river Medlock to access the colliery, which was on the north bank of the river. The colliery was owned by John Lees. In 1933 the bridge was still extant but the tramway branch into the
colliery had been dismantled.
- Park Bridge Iron Works
- 1 mile 43 chains
Shortly before reaching the iron works, the tramway turned sharply eastwards where it divided into four branches. The three northernmost branches entered the iron works while the southernmost one, the main line, entered the
small-bore tunnel that ran alongside the iron works at Rocher Vale. The estimated overall length of this tunnel is 250 yards but near its centre it opened out for a distance of about 40 yards where there was a small yard in
the iron works. At the far end of the tunnel the tramway continued along the south side of the river Medlock to the far end of the iron works complex. Here, a branch turned sharply northwards to cross the river where there
were several sidings that served the iron works. The main line continued ahead for a short distance until it reached Rocher Colliery where it ended.
Park Bridge Iron Works was founded by Samuel Lees in 1786 on the site of a cotton mill by the river Medlock and following his death his widow, Hannah Lees nee Buckley expanded the business.
The company began by manufacturing rollers and spindles for cotton mills and it was expanded by four successive generations of the family. At its zenith it employed around 800 men and boys engaged in
making bars, rollers, spindles, shafting, gear wheels and rivets. Tradition has it that the rivets used in the construction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris were made here.
The Lees family lived close by at Dean House in Park Bridge. The iron works began to decline in the 1920s, as the cotton industry began to decline, but it did not close until 1963 and it was under the control of the
Lees family throughout its existence.
- Rocher Colliery, terminus of the Park Bridge Tramway
- 2 miles 1 chain
Rocher Colliery was owned by the Lees family and it opened in the 18th century and closed in 1891. This distance is estimated so the overall length of the Park Bridge Tramway was about 78 chains.