Bridgewater Canal


AINA Representative: Mike Webb - Bridgewater Canal Manager

The Bridgewater Canal Company Limited
Peel Dome
The Trafford Centre
M17 8PL

Telephone: 0161 629 8266
Fax: 0161 629 8334


Constitutional status 

Navigation Authority, wholly owned subsidiary of Peel Land & Property Plc.

Description of navigation

65km contour canal, broad beam navigation.

A brief history of the Bridgewater Canal

The first Bridgewater Canal Act was passed on 23rd March 1759 and the canal was completed as far as Barton in 1761. It was carried across the River Irwell by a unique stone aqueduct over which the fist boat sailed on the canal on 17th July 1761.

In the commercial sphere it contributed greatly to the industrial growth and prosperity of Lancashire and it helped to establish Manchester as a major commercial centre. The canal was the forerunner of the network of canals which later spread over the whole English countryside.

The story of the canal revolves around the great figures of Francis, third Duke of Bridgwater, James Brindley and John Gilbert. The Duke of Bridgwater has gone down in history as the ‘canal duke’ and the ‘father of Britain’s inland waterways’.

The Bridgewater Canal has a special place in history as the first canal that struck out boldly across country following the contours of the land rather than following an existing river course.

Although the Bridgewater Canal is no longer used for the carriage of commercial traffic, it is however worth reflecting that 100 years ago over 3 million tonnes of traffic was recorded as passing over the Bridgewater Canal and although a decline set in after the First World War, the canal continued as an active commercial waterway until 1974.

Current situation and use

The Bridgewater Canal is part of the ‘Cheshire Ring of Canals’ and is an important cruising link between the Northern and Southern inland network of canals in the North West of England.  The Bridgewater is a broad beamed 65km contour canal which means that it follows the ground contour of 25.26 metres above ordnance datum.

Pleasure craft in small numbers started to use the Bridgewater Canal in the early 1059’s. The company now issue around 1,000 licences each year to pleasure craft.

Because of its history and strategic position a large number of visiting pleasure craft from other connecting waterways visit and transit the Bridgewater Canal each year.

The canal towpath is continuous and is widely used by local and long-distance walkers. The canal travels through rural and urban areas linking historic and modern tourist destinations, and industrial sites including Trafford Park, the world’s first industrial estate. Many urban areas, for example, Castleford in Manchester have been redeveloped, breathing new life into the canal.

Navigation statistics


Bridgewater Canal

Length/area of navigable waterway


Number of locks





21.34m (70ft)


4.5m (14ft 9ins)


0.91m (3ft)


2.6m (8ft 6ins)

Requirements for boating

Boat Safety Scheme


Third Party Insurance