Ashton Canal

An Overview

Construction of the Manchester, Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham Canal, to give it its full name, was authorised by five Acts of Parliament.

  1. 32 George III. Cap. 84, Royal Assent 11 June 1792
  2. 33 George III. Cap. 21, Royal Assent 28 March 1793
  3. 38 George III. Cap. 32, Royal Assent 26 May 1798
  4. 40 George III. Cap. 24, Royal Assent 16 May 1800
  5. 45 George III. Cap. 11, Royal Assent 18 March 1805

The Preamble to the first Act is as follows:

AN
A  C  T
FOR

Making a Navigable Canal from Manchester, to
or near Ashton-underlyne, and Oldham, in the
County Palatine of Lancaster.

Whereas the making and maintaining a canal for the Navigation of Boats, Barges, and other Vessels, from the Town of Manchester, at or near the Easterly End of a certain Highway or Street there, called Piccadilly, to or near a Place called Fairfield, in the Parish of Manchester, and from thence by One Branch to a certain Highway in the Town of Ashton-underlyne, near and leading to a Bridge called Dukinfield Bridge, and from or nearly from Fairfield aforesaid, by another Branch, to or near to the Town of Oldham, all in the County Palatine of Lancaster, will afford a short and expeditious Communication between the said respective Towns, and open a cheap and easy Introduction to many valuable Mines of Coal, and other Minerals, in the adjacent Countries (sic), and be the Means of carrying and conveying Coals and other Minerals, Goods, Wares, Merchandizes, and other Articles, to and from the said respective Towns, and the Neighbourhood thereof, at a small Expence (sic), and be in many other Respects of great Advantage to the Public:

The Second Bill authorised the construction of a branch from Clayton to the Three Boars Heads Inn at Heaton Norris, with another branch off this, along the side of the Tame Valley to Beat Bank in Denton. It also permitted the extension of the Hollinwood Branch from Waterhouses to Stake Leach at Hollinwood. Afterwards, the Werneth Colliery Company made a private extension to this, known as the Werneth Canal. This Bill was presented to Parliament on the 1 February 1793. By the 11 February, Thomas Brown had given evidence that the proposed extension (Hollinwood Branch) would provide a means of carrying coal. The names of Samuel Oldknow and Robert Peel (father of Prime Minister, Robert Peel) appear in this Bill. At this juncture, Thomas Brown was the Surveyor assisting Benjamin Outram but, curiously, Outram was not formally appointed as the Consulting Engineer until 1798.

The Third Bill was concerned with raising further funds and with paying compensation to land and property owners along the line of the Beat Bank Branch for loss and damage caused by the canal company. The decision to abandon the Beat Bank Branch before completion was brought about once the canal company was assured of long-term coal carrying on the extended Hollinwood Branch. Only a very short section of the Beat Bank Branch was actually put in water at Reddish.

The Fourth and Fifth Bills were mainly concerned with the raising of still more funds.

The opening dates of the Ashton Canal and its branches were not recorded. The Doncaster Journal and Yorkshire Advertiser makes reference to the Ashton Canal and Stockport Branch on the 4 February 1797. 'A canal conveyance was opened a few days ago between Stockport and Manchester, there has been one to Ashton for some months.' This suggests that the Stockport Branch opened in January 1797 and that the Ashton Canal opened in, say, October 1796 depending upon what is meant by the phrase, 'open for some months'.

The Ashton Canal is a narrow canal and it commences at a junction with the broad Rochdale Canal (not open when the Ashton Canal opened) at Ducie Street, Piccadilly, Manchester and it proceeds via Ancoats, Beswick, Bradford, Clayton, Openshaw, Droylsden and Audenshaw to Ashton-under-Lyne where it makes a head-on junction with the Huddersfield Narrow Canal at Whitelands.

At Ancoats on the Ashton Canal there were a number of branches and arms of which the Islington Branch was the most important. The Stockport Branch commenced at Clayton (or Stockport) Junction on the Ashton Canal and passed through Openshaw, Gorton, Reddish and Heaton Norris to Stockport. The Hollinwood Branch commenced at Fairfield on the Ashton Canal and passed through Droylsden and Waterhouses (Daisy Nook) to Hollinwood. The Fairbottom Branch commenced at Waterhouses on the Hollinwood Branch to Bardsley (Fenny Field Bridge). At Ashton (Portland Basin) there is a short arm over the river Tame on an aqueduct, which makes a head-on connection with the Peak Forest Canal.

The two most important private branches on the Ashton Canal were the Bradford Private Branch between locks 6 and 7 and the Clayton Private Branch between locks 7 and 8.

Ashton Canal and its Branches
NameLength (Miles and Furlongs)
Ashton Canal 6 5½
Islington Branch 0 2
Stockport Branch 4 7
Beat Bank Branch† 2 4½
Hollinwood Branch 4 5
Fairbottom Branch 1 1

†The Beat Bank Branch Canal was cut from the Stockport Branch Canal at Taylor's Barn, Reddish, to Burton Nook, Denton, via Beat Bank, also in Denton and its length of 2 miles 4½ furlongs given in the table is only approximate. When the cutting of this lock-free branch was moderately advanced all work on it was suspended and the Ashton Canal Company introduced a Bill to allow them to legally abandon it after paying compensation to landowners for damage done. This Act was passed in 1798 (38 George III Cap. 32).

Jeremy Brook Footbridge at the bottom of Pottinger Street, Ashton-under-Lyne, looking towards Guide Bridge, 4 February 2006.

The buildings on the right are part of Oxford Mills.
Prince's Dock, Ashton-under-Lyne, looking towards Guide Bridge, 4 February 2006.

This was used for transhipping goods from and to the adjacent railway.

The buildings on the right are part of Oxford Mills.

Photographs: Author's Collection