Skip to content

Manchester Ship Canal celebrates 125 years

21 May 2019

ICE North West has looked at the impact, past and present, of what was the world's largest river navigation canal when it opened in 1894.

Manchester Ship Canal celebrates 125 years

This year marks the 125th anniversary of The Manchester Ship Canal, one of the most important civil engineering projects of the late Victorian period.

Built to cut the time and cost of transporting goods between Manchester and Liverpool by road and rail, it turned a landlocked city into a port by allowing ocean-going cargo ships to sail from the Mersey estuary into the centre of Manchester.

The canal, which is 36 miles long, was a response to Liverpool port authorities increasing charges for handling goods. Manchester businesses backed the scheme because they wanted to cut their costs.

A shining example of Victorian engineering, it spearheaded deep sea shipping to the heart of Manchester, bringing commodities from all over the world.

The Manchester Ship Canal today

Today, the canal is still very much in use, forming part of an innovative ‘green highway’ and as a trading hub for bulk liquids and dry bulk cargo with 7.5 million tonnes passing through its waters each year.

Emma Antrobus, Director ICE North West, said: “In terms of contribution to society, the Manchester Ship canal is right up there as being an incredibly significant civil engineering project.

"The undertaking was massive, costing £15 million, £1.5 billion by today's standards, and taking 1,600 people to build. Projects of that scale are few and far between these days and are usually publicly funded.

"But this was the brainchild of a group of businesses in Manchester, using their nous to innovate and create an exceptional solution to their problem, and which changed Manchester forever.”

She added: "It’s good for us to reflect how projects such as this helped pave the way to modern life and how civil engineers continue to tackle the problems of today, safeguarding the future for generations to come.”

Members can view the Manchester Ship Canal Past and Present with guest speakers Alexandra Mitchell (Peel Group Archivist) and James Cordiner (former Deputy Chief Engineer) here.

  • Lynn Caddy, communications lead at Institution of Civil Engineers