The 3rd Duke of Bridgewater with his Estate Steward and Engineer, John Gilbert sought means of realising the potential of the estates mineral wealth. Getting the coal to the Manchester market posed the problem. After considerable preliminary work they obtained the Act of Parliament in March 1759, authorising the building of a canal from the Irwell in Salford, to Worsley Mill and thence to Hollin Ferry on the Mersey. Work began immediately under the supervision of John Gilbert.
After some two miles had been cut towards Manchester, a change of plan took place. The volume of work needed assistance so James Brindley, known to be surveying canal routes for other members of the Dukes family was engaged in July 1759. The new plan stated it to be for a canal "from Worsley Mill, over the River Irwell, to the town of Manchester and to Longford Bridge in Stretford." Brindley gave evidence to Parliament; his eloquence brought the assent to the Bill in March 1760. Brindley acted as Resident Engineer to the works. Incredibly the route over the aqueduct and to Stretford was opened to traffic in July 1761. Due to land acquisition problems, Castlefield, Manchester was not reached until 1765.
Such was the success of this canal in providing economic transport, halving the cost of fuel in Manchester; it was a seminal moment in the industrial revolution. Canal Mania produced the transport network of the 18th century; the Bridgewater Canal and those with connections to it established the pre-eminence of Manchester in the world of commerce. A second Wonder of the Waterways came with the replacement of the Duke's stone Barton aqueduct with the Swing Aqueduct on construction of the Manchester Ship Canal
Whilst this work was going on, survey work necessary to extend the canal to the Mersey was being undertaken by Gilbert and others. The third Bill submitted to Parliament declared the intention to make a "Canal from Longford Bridge in Stretford to the Mersey", Assent was gained in March 1762. The route led to engineering achievements perhaps greater than at Barton, such as the Mersey aqueduct, the great embankment near Sale and the Bollin aqueduct. A further engineer, Thomas Morris supervised this section, developing special purpose equipment to expedite the construction. After protracted land access disputes a through route to Runcorn on the Mersey was not achieved until March 1776. The only locks on the entire canal being the flight of ten giving access to the Mersey
In 1795 work commenced in extending the Bridgewater Canal from Worsley to the township of Leigh. It became linked to the Leeds and Liverpool canal when they promoted their Leigh branch in 1818, the connection being made in 1820.
Additional information can be found at www.bridgewatercanal.co.uk.
More information from SalfordOnline History 250 years of the Bridgewater Canal.