On the canals at Castlefield


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Until May 2011, when I had to go to a meeting in the city, I’d never been to Manchester. I’ve still spent barely any time there.

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With little time to devote to photography while there, I instinctively rode over to the part of the city centre that looked most interesting on the Ordnance Survey map: Castlefield.

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With the world’s first industrial canal and the world’s first passenger railway, the neighbourhood is a tangle of basins and viaducts and narrow cobbled pathways. The Bridgewater Canal arrived here from the Worsley coal field in 1761, and a second branch of the canal reached the Mersey estuary at Runcorn three years later. The opening of the Rochdale Canal through to West Yorkshire in 1804 put Castlefield on a through-route, and the basin was also connected to the nearby River Irwell — later to be turned into the Manchester Ship Canal.

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In 1830 the canals were joined by the railways, with the world’s first passenger line, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, terminating at Liverpool Road Station (now the Museum of Science and Industry) adjacent to but not crossing the basins. The first two railway viaducts over the water came in 1849 with the Manchester South Junction & Altrincham Railway lines which fork here as they head west from Piccadilly. These lines were in turn crossed by even higher viaducts with 1877’s Cheshire Lines into Manchester Central — victims of the Beeching Axe, but reused in the early 1990s for the trams — and the now disused turreted tubular steel Great Northern Railway viaduct of 1894.

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Now it’s in the half-done regeneration stage, with mixed decayed and preserved industry, warehouse conversions, empty plots and infill apartment blocks.

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I think the instincts probably did a reasonable job.

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