Lord Grey de Wilton and the Manchester, Bury and Bolton Canal

If you take a walk down Prestwich Clough into Drinkwater Park, then walk across to the River Irwell and follow it upstream towards the motorway you will come to what the signposts describe as the ‘Thirteen Arches’. This is the viaduct of a railway, now disused, that went from Clifton Junction to Radcliffe. Peering through the arch that spans the river you will notice a smaller structure a short distance upstream. This is the aqueduct that carried the Manchester, Bury and Bolton Canal across the river, and this is our link to the history of Heaton Hall.

In 1791 a group of local businessmen and landowners met together to discuss the prospect of building a canal to link the towns of Bury and Bolton to Manchester. It was proposed that a company be set up and an Act of Parliament be sought in order to authorise the canal to be built. An initial sum of £47,000 pounds was soon raised, and the four largest shareholders in the new company were the landowners though whose lands the canal would be built; the Earl of Derby and Sir John Edensor Heathcote (owner of the Wet Earth Colliery at Clifton) subscribed £3,000 each, followed by Lord Grey de Wilton of Heaton House and Dr. James Bent who each subscribed £2,000.

The Act of Parliament was obtained in May 1791 and work soon proceeded on establishing a route and deciding how much each landowner would be paid for the land they gave up for the canal. Lord Wilton and the other landowners, along with some of the most prominent business men such as Robert Peel the elder, attended meetings along the proposed route, the meetings often being held in different inns along the way.

A generation earlier a distant relation of Lord Wilton, the Duke of Bridgewater, had made a fortune by building a canal to link his mines in Worsley to the growing town of Manchester. No doubt the landowners now hoped their investment in the new canal would give a similar boost to their own fortunes, since they all had lands containing coal mines, Lord Wilton’s mines being in Radcliffe.

The results of building the canal met their expectations. ‘In Radcliffe, following the pattern of other canals, mills, factories, coal mines and other enterprises were set up near the canal to take advantage of the improved transport facilities. Many had their own private warves for unloading, coal, cotton etc. ‘ (F. Sunderland;’The Book of Radcliffe’ 1995) The canal ran past Lord Wilton’s mill at Mount Sion, Radcliffe, and by his coal mines in Radcliffe. The Cockey Moor Sough was an underground sough linking his mines at Cockey Moor to the canal at Mount Sion. By the 19th century the the canal was also being used by the 2nd Earl of Wilton to transport stone. In 1830 the shareholders sought an Act of Parliament to convert the canal company into a railway company. After the railway was built the canal continued to be of importance as a coal-carrying operation up until the 1930s, though passengers and other freight used the railway. After the 1930s the canal gradually fell out of use and into a state of disrepair.

The River Irwell, the railway viaduct and, in the distance, the canal aqueduct

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