Work starts on the Manchester Ship Canal
Towards the end of the Victorian era Manchester was one of the great industrial cities of the British Empire, rivalled only by Birmingham and Glasgow . Its population was well over a million, indeed by the start of the 20th century it would reach two million. Nicknamed ‘Cottonopolis,’ Manchester was at the heart of Lancashire’s cotton industry, and had also built great expertise in manufacturing machinery for it. Though the Bridgewater Canal and Mersey and Irwell Navigation had long existed, enabling small boats to reach the Irish Sea from Manchester, trade and technology had outgrown those waterways, and they were falling into disrepair, goods being sent to Liverpool for shipment overseas by train.
Rivalry between Manchester and Liverpool was intense, with little love lost between the cities and their business communities. Liverpool, Lancashire’s great window on the shipping world, had become content to overcharge for berths and the servicing of ships. The railways between the cities too exploited their quasi-monopoly. In 1882 Daniel Adamson, a Mancunian manufacturer, rebelled against this status quo, calling a meeting in June 1882 that would eventually lead to the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal. But only after many difficulties: the Liverpudlians lobbied hard to stop the necessary Parliamentary legislation; and it proved very hard to raise the £5M expected to be needed to build the thing (in the end it took £15M).
But on November 11 1887 Lord Egerton of Tatton cut the first sod at a ceremony at Eastham. Lord Egerton had succeeded Adamson as chairman of the canal company after the latter became disenchanted with financial changes. It took six years to complete the work, rather than the estimated four and a half, but on January 1 1894 it would finally open to traffic, at 36 miles long a magnificent civil engineering achievement.
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