Tuesday 22 August 2017

Astley Green

Today's Canal - Bridgewater

Before setting off, Mike walked to the nearby Asda, principally because our milk stock was running low and we did not expect to pass near any other shops today. Although the store was near as the crow flies, it was a lot further on foot as he had to go through the first part of the Trafford Centre and then along the main road before turning back towards the canal and eventually to the store entrance! We were in no mood for a rushed start today - and it was around 10:30 before we actually cast off, by which time all the five other boats that had moored in the same place last night (all arriving after we did) had all long since gone on their ways.

Before long we arrived at the famous Barton Swing Aqueduct that carries the Bridgewater over the Ship Canal.

In the distance we could see the on-gong construction of the new giant lift bridge alongside the M60 viaduct. This will carry a diversion of the A57 to relieve local traffic congestion. It was in the news last year when construction was halted by the collapse of the bridge deck as it was being fitted into place. A recent news report suggests that the work is at last nearing completion.

We spotted alongside the canal a pub called the Packet House - a reminder of a former mode of transport and what will be a recurring theme today.

The speed meter said 28 mph - fortunately it was not us (that would have been some wash!) but a car on the road.

Everyone photographs the Monton Lighthouse so why should we be different? It was only completed around nine years ago and is a folly built by the house owner. A publicity item for a local history society meeting in June claimed that all would be revealed but so far we have not found anything other than speculation!

The wharf and dry dock at Worsley came into view- in the arm is a preserved Fly Boat that ran the packet service into Manchester.

We opted to take a short break at Worsley so that we could explore the short arm that was the start of the Bridgewater and its connection into the underground mine workings with canals that stretched for over 47 miles, new ones being built as new mine workings opened up.

At the junction there are several iconic buildings including the famous Packet House. It was originally constructed as a collection of several houses - passengers would board the packet boat from steps at the front. The half-timbering facade was added in 1850.

The former Oil Store was constructed with no wood or other flammable material as a deliberate safety feature. It has now been converted into a number of apartments.

The main loading area at the mine entrance is called The Delph but is now almost completely overgrown but home to much wildlife.

We set off once more and called at the Boothstown Marina to fill up our fuel tank. Price was good.

A little later we passed the Waterwomble in action - its hold full of some extraordinary stuff that people feel they can dispose of below the water surface of a canal.

The new Vicars Hall Bridge is nearing completion. At the end of last year there was controversy because the construction plan included closing the canal for an extended period. Although it was eventually reduced in length, the stoppage was particularly long. So far we have not been able to discover whether there is any new use for the bridge but certainly our photo from five years ago showed it in a poor state, exacerbated by subsidence. The Bridgewater Canal Company does make reference to needing to reach an agreement with the Coal Authority who, presumably, were having to make a financial contribution.

We stopped at Astley Green bridge for lunch, as we planned to visit the Lancashire Mining Museum. We did try to visit some years ago but it is only open three days a week - and Tuesday is one of them!

It is only a short walk from the canal to the site. This is not  fancy museum but a modest collection of old mining artefacts as well as the huge winding engine and pithead gear. It is free to enter although they do ask for donations - but it can sometimes be hard to find a means of leaving a donation!

There is a small museum. Once section sets out the history and importance of the development of the miners safety lamp.

Much more poignant was a set of displays that record the way in which children were employed in the mines. This picture illustrates the story of one girl from a report in 1842 into working conditions:

Betty Harris: "I work for Andrew Knowles of Little Bolton . . .  I have a belt round my waist, and a chain passing between my legs, and I go on my hands and feet. The road is very steep, and we have to hold by a rope; and when there is no rope, by anything we can catch hold of . . . I have drawn till I have had the skin off me; the belt and chain is worse when we are in the family way."

Elsewhere it was stated that men and boys working in these conditions did so stripped naked - not sure whether this applied to the girls as well.

The two cylinder steam engine is indeed enormous. Although it was, of course, originally steam powered, it is occasionally set in motion today (about once a month) by using air pressure. Its purpose was to drive the winding drum in the centre. The tapered ends were to give a gradual acceleration as it was either wound up or down.

Stopping the winding mechanism required very substantial brakes.

These were far to heavy to apply by hand and a special engine was installed to operate them, one either side.

Although mining remained an essentially hazardous activity, several important safety features were gradually introduced, such as the Ormerod Detaching Hook. Accidents happened if the winding operator was inattentive and failed to stop the lift when kit reached the surface. The engine would try to pull the cage or bucket right over the pithead pulley. This device detached the winding cable when it reached a certain height.

Big machines need big spanners.

The rail tracks in the mines used various gauges - these remaining examples are about half the width of a standard gauge.

And back to the packet boat once more with a poster in the museum dated 1847 advertising the trips into Manchester from Worsley. From the timings it suggests that the journey took around three hours - it must have felt incredibly fast at the time. It allowed people to commute - even if they were only occasionally taking goods to market. They would be back home in the evening after having completed their business in the city.

The museum site does have a lot of decaying items lying around, no doubt many of them of some significance in the history of mining, such as this set of carriages that once carried workers from the bottom of the pit shaft to the coal face. Originally they would have had to walk, perhaps bent double, which added considerably to their working day.

Back at the boat we continued only a short distance to find the nearest spot for mooring that was really out of the way!

6.8 Miles - 0 Locks

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