Mersey and Irwell Navigation
by Alfred Hayman
This account represents a neat counterpoint to my last review covering the Aylsham Navigation.
Both were river navigations built in the mid 1700's, and both came to unusual conclusions, but there the similarities end. Whereas the Norfolk navigatation used an obscure river to reach an equally obscure town, the latter linked the mighty Mersey with the growing city of Manchester.
The booklet was written as a labour of love by Alfred Hayman in 1981, long before the introduction of computers. It's all hand typed and then reproduced, so the quality varies a bit here and there, but his passion for the message blazes through. As manager of the Bridgewater Department of the Ship Canal Company for 20 years he was well placed to pull together a detailed record of this unusual waterway, working from his home in Bridgewater House at the foot of the Runcorn Locks.
This was a navigation ahead of its time, developing the Mersey from a shallow tidal ditch into a viable communication route, and making the shareholders some serious money into the bargain.
Just consider this as an investment:
- Each of the 500 original £20 shares was fully called up between 1781 to 1799
- A series of further calls was made between 1800 and 1806 amounting to £80
- Total investment £100 per share
- Between 1810 and 1816 75% of the capital was returned to the shareholders
- Each share therefore had a paid up value of £25.
- From 1803 to 1807 a dividend of £3 (3%) was paid - not bad as a start
- By 1817 when the capital repayment programme had ended the dividends had reached over £30 pa - a return of 120% pa - bonanza time
- During the 40 year period 1803 to 1843 a total of £260 was paid out, plus £75 (75%) of the original investment.
- Its little wonder that these changed hands for many times the face value, peaking at £1,350 each, and represented one of the most keenly sought investments of its time.
- The canal shares really were the dot.com's of the 1700's - and many other less credible schemes suffered a similar fate.
The account trawls the minute books and local historical records of the navigation and charts its meteoric success, its competition with the later Bridgewater Canal, the railways and ultimately its demise as a bigger and better Navigation assumed its course. The Mersey and Irwell was ultimately overlaid by the Manchester Ship Canal which, during the first half of the 20th Century propelled Manchester onto the world trade stage and carried many millions of tons of product to and from its huge inland port.
The level of detail in this account is fascinating. The issues and problems associated with running a waterway are all there, faithfully laid out and awaiting analysis.
In the late 1800's the canal became part of the wider Duke of Bridgewater's interests and after much wrangling, the Manchester Ship Canal bill was passed in 1885 and the sum of £1,710,000 paid to the Bridgewater Navigation Company.
So, what of the line of the old navigation today? Much was absorbed into the MSC's 25 mile length, but some fragments remain in the shape of the bits bypassed as the line was straightened, plus the remnants of the associated Runcorn and Latchford Canal and a few olsd waterside warehouses.
Its strange to reflect on the rise and demise of such a successful waterway which rather than evolving in ever greater incarnations, was completely overridden by the UK's greatest ship canal which itself now stands largely idle awaiting a new lease of life.
I have no idea where you would get a copy of this limited print run item - mine was borrowed. But if you are interested in waterway history, and particularly that in and around Manchester, this is a must find item. Not necessarily an easy read, but like the waterway which preceded it, it pays a high dividend if you invest the time in it.