Like Runcorn, Worsley is another place I would never think to go but for the canals.  Also, like Runcorn, it is on a branch of the Bridgewater Canal although in this instance it ultimately leads somewhere – to Leigh and a branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

Despite its proximity to Manchester’s extensive motorways and the industrial centre of Trafford Park, Worsley is significantly more prosperous than Runcorn; it is almost prettified. The approach by canal requires a high level crossing of the Manchester Ship Canal, achieved by the remarkable Barton Swing Aqueduct – a waterborne route designed to swing open for the passage of ships beneath.  I don’t know if the aqueduct is still able to swing nor if it is ever necessary – large shipping into Manchester ceased many years ago. I last passed this way in 1980 when the bridge was still manned:

… crossing the Manchester Ship Canal by water.

… the Barton Swing Aqueduct – a view of the Manchester Ship Canal and Barton Road Bridge

The canal is at Worsley’s centre, overlooked by the magnificent Packet Housethis grade 2 listed building, and the Boat Steps directly in front of it, date back to 1760 and the half-timbering was added in c.1850 by the 1st Earl of Ellesmere. You would have purchased your ticket for the ‘packet boat’ at the Packet House and boarded at the Boat Steps.

To the right of the Packet House is the entrance to the Delph, a forty six mile underground canal system  which intersected with coal mines to the north.  It was built on four different levels and connected by a water powered inclined plane and lifts.  There is a neat symmetry to this engineering marvel.  The underground waterways provided a connection from the mines to the surface, transporting coal on narrow thin-ribbed boats nicknamed starvationers.  The canals provided an effective drainage system for the waterlogged pits and the water from the pits helped feed the canal.  The bright orange of the system around Worsley provides ongoing evidence that the supply system remains in place. The Delph and its tunnels are my idea of hell – the creepy 2926 yard Harecastle Tunnel is as subterranean as I am prepared to get.  The final image shows an inspector legging a starvationer in the 1960s (I assume the water levels have risen since the tunnels were last used commercially, that or working conditions were even worse than I imagined).

The Packet House

The Boat House

Filling the water tank

… heading back to the Bridgewater mainline.

This photograph was taken during an inspection of the Underground Canal in Worsley in the 1960s – sourced from: http://www.canalarchive.org.uk/Tpages/html/T1688.html


  1. Su Leslie · July 4, 2017

    These are lovely images; the Packet House is stunning. I didn’t know about the underground canals. That is truly my idea of hell.

    • northumbrianlight · July 5, 2017

      Thanks Su – it was a remarkable feat of engineering e.g. how do you tunnel that far and end up at the right place. I don’t know which would be worse – building them or working in them – probably the former.

  2. Cate Franklyn · July 4, 2017

    The history of these canals and your visual and narrative trips through them, never cease to amaze me. Gorgeous shots😊👍

    • northumbrianlight · July 4, 2017

      Many thanks Cate – given the technology available at the time, the construction of the canals and the associated infrastructure is remarkable. Fundamentally it was all done by hand.
      Sorry if I have missed any of your posts but I am tied to the tiller most of the day and internet connectivity is slow and intermittent.

      • Cate Franklyn · July 5, 2017

        No problem, my friend. Looking forward to another post😊

  3. restlessjo · July 4, 2017

    Great photos, Robin! Any time I can look at canals I’m happy and those boat house shots are great. 🙂 🙂

    • northumbrianlight · July 4, 2017

      Thanks Jo – recommend canal holidays – nothing like it for slowing down the pace of life but with the option to walk the towpath – at least for ‘the crew’. 😎

  4. J.D. Riso · July 4, 2017

    The orange color of the water is rather original. Did you go swimming? 😉Just thinking about venturing into those tunnels makes my hair stand up. But it’s an impressive engineering feat.

    • northumbrianlight · July 4, 2017

      I did once – on the Southern Oxford in the scorching summer of ’76 – never again since, it’s not nice when your feet touch bottom ☺ I understand the fish at Worsley come out of the canal ready smoked 😀

  5. sustainabilitea · July 4, 2017

    I love this post, Robin. I’ve read about the narrow boats in England and also spent a day on a barge in France a few years ago with English friends. It’s an interesting life. Beautiful shots.


  6. Leya · July 24, 2017


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