It’s often forgotten that when James Brindley (1716-1772) surveyed his canal to carry coal from the Duke of Bridgewater’s mines at Worsley, he originally planned to build its terminus in Salford.
This was the route authorised by the first Bridgewater Canal Act of 1759.
Almost immediately, Brindley made the radical decision to take the canal across the River Irwell so that it could terminate at Castlefield in Manchester.
This scheme made it practical to build an extension, longer than the original main line, to run parallel to the Mersey & Irwell Navigation towards Liverpool, but it depended on bridging the River Irwell with an aqueduct, carrying canal barges above an existing waterway, at Barton-upon-Irwell.
Despite the scepticism of other engineers and parliamentarians, and even though the first ingress of water nearly caused the collapse of one of the three arches, Brindley’s Barton Aqueduct proved to be practical when it opened in 1761, and it became the wonder of the age.
All the great aqueducts the canal age stem from this modest-looking structure.
It was so solidly built that when it was demolished in 1893 to make way for the Manchester Ship Canal, it had to be dynamited: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barton_Aqueduct#/media/File:Barton_aqueduct.jpg.
Its replacement, the hydraulic Barton Swing Aqueduct (1894), is remarkable in its own way.
It was designed by the Ship Canal’s engineer, Edward Leader Williams (1828-1910), the designer of the Anderton Boat Lift (1875), and was constructed by the ironfounders Andrew Handyside & Co of Derby.
Watertight gates block the canal and the tank that carries boats, as the bridge swings to lie parallel with the Ship Canal so that ocean-going vessels can pass.
The adjacent Barton Road Swing Bridge works in tandem with the aqueduct, and both are controlled from the four-storey brick valve house on the man-made island in the middle of the Ship Canal.
At one time the single-carriageway Barton road bridge was practically part of the Manchester ring road, and the traffic delays became notorious after the Second World War.
The traffic jams were relieved but not eliminated by the construction of the M60 Barton High Level Bridge (1960) to the west of the swing bridges.
Standing on the canal bank or the swing road bridge at Barton is a reminder of how far engineering has developed since the uneducated millwright James Brindley ventured to bridge the river with a canal in the middle of the eighteenth century.