This was Victorian Manchester’s domination of nature writ large. Here was the might of civil engineering bending river courses to its will.
As that 2 December 1893 report puts it, ‘Manchester took hold of the river…’ Even in its faded grandeur the Ship Canal remains magnificent. To see the lock gates and the mighty sluices at Irlam is stirring.
These are best appreciated from the east side of the canal on Irlam Road, Flixton. The Irlam High Level bridge is equally impressive here lifting the Manchester to Liverpool railway across the canal.
The lead engineer for the Ship Canal was Sir Edward Leader Williams.
Most of these ‘promiscuous’ bits have disappeared. But one longish stretch of the redundant River Irwell remains in Irlam and makes for an entertaining short walk given the fact you are walking by a river that isn’t a river on a riverbank that isn’t a riverbank. It’s a curious sensation.
Yet, this rump river is definitely not a 'great useless trench'.
The ongoing story of the ‘Old River’ is heart-warming.
The Salford Friendly Anglers Society wasn’t just about fishing when it began in 1817. It was about fishy friends with benefits. This is what the history says: ‘As a result of the passing of the Friendly Societies Act a group of like-minded anglers in Salford decided to institute a Friendly Society for the benefit of local anglers.
‘As well as offering fishing on the local River Irwell, society members as part of their subscriptions paid into monthly savings, sickness and death benefit policies. If an angler was unable to work through an accident or ill health they received an income of 5 shillings a month whilst unable to work. If a member died – then a levy of one shilling per member was paid out from club funds’. The Society had their own pub for many years at 10 Chapel Street. Unsurprisingly it was called the Fisherman’s Hut.
Recently the free to join Salford Friendly Anglers Society has done some remarkable things.
Let them blow their own trumpet.
‘In addition to securing fishing rights on 8 lakes, 13 miles of canal, and 6 miles of river… the committee has overseen the restocking of more than 50,000 fish into local venues in recent years to ensure that anglers can continue to enjoy great sport.’
This includes: ‘'7,000 tench, carp, roach, rudd and bream into The Old River in Irlam in partnership with the Hamilton Davies Trust.’
So, while the river might not be a river anymore it is certainly not that ‘useless trench’ described by The Manchester Guardian correspondent in 1893. This river, now a thin lake, lives on in active use both as a place of sport and recreation.
The Irlam 'old river' can be accessed from Fairhills Road, off the A57 in Irlam.
Many of these stories and hundreds and hundreds of others appear in my three books about Manchester.
Manchester: The Complete Guide - £11.99.
Lost & Imagined Manchester - £16.99.
Illusion & Change Manchester - £16.99.