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Manchester and Salford Junction Canal

The Canal was built between 1836 and 1839 to provide a direct waterway between the Mersey and Irwell Navigation and the Rochdale Canal.  However, whilst the canal was being built, the Bridgewater Canal Company built Hulme Locks Branch Canal to provide a more convenient link from the Rochdale Canal to the River Irwell, and most of the planned trade for the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal failed to materialise.  It closed in 1922 and much of it now remains hidden underground.


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Facts & Stats

0.625 miles

(1 km)

The length of the Manchester and Salford Junction Canal, most of it underground.  The Canal was used as an air raid shelter in World War II

7 locks

Three sets of locks were paired – including a double lock staircase.  This was the only duplicated staircase lock ever built in the UK.  The locks were 71′ 11″ (21.9m) x 14′ 4″ (4.4m) and were built to accommodate Mersey Flats.


The Great Northern Warehouse was built on top of the line of the canal in 1885 and a dock constructed for the interchange of goods. There were four large bays below the warehouse with two lift shafts so that goods from the boats using the canal could be raised directly up to the warehouse for storage.

Why the Canal Failed and its Future

In 1842 the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal was acquired by the Mersey & Irwell Navigation, which in turn was later acquired by the Bridgewater Trustees. As the trustees had no real use for the Canal due to the greater success of their own Hulme Lock link, the trade of the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal dwindled, mostly just serving the Great Northern Warehouse and adjacent rail links.  The canal was last used in 1922 and then abandoned for navigation under the 1936 Manchester Ship Canal Act.

During 1939 to 1940 the canal was drained and the majority of the tunnel (between Brunswick Basin and Watson Street) was converted into an air-raid shelter by Manchester Corporation, who took ownership of it in 1941.  In December 1940, nearly 500 tons of high explosive and nearly 2000 incendiaries were dropped on Manchester, resulting in the deaths of nearly 700 people and destroying, or severely damaging, many buildings. Further raids took place throughout the war, with shelters such as the adapted Canal being an important refuge.


[photo by Ian Taylor cc-by-sa/2.0]

The tunnel was divided into 16 bays separated by reinforced-brick, blast walls.  There were five entrance points: Grape Street, Lower Byrom Street, Byrom Street, Deansgate and Watson Street. The shelter was designed to accommodate up to 1350 people, although it usually accommodated 300 to 700 people, and contained warden’s posts and look-outs, two first-aid posts, chemical toilets, gas pipe handrails on the stairs, and gas-proof screens. Benches were provided and people brought their own bedding. The floor of the canal was raised slightly and a brick skin wall inserted to some sections to try and prevent damp.  A much-altered, additional chamber at the easternmost end of the tunnel section, beneath and beyond Watson Street, did not form par of the WWII air-raid shelter and incorporates an in-filled, formerly open-air reservoir and two truncated, brick, pump-engine housings(machinery now removed). It was also originally the site of the canal’s open-air, upper locks.

Most of the Canal is protected as a Grade II listed building, principally for its historic interest as use as an air raid shelter, and lies under buildings, including the Granada TV studios.  IWA Manchester Branch has arranged underground tours into the Canal and a Restoration Scoping Study was produced in 2016 to review the potential to restore the Canal.


[photo © Stephen Broadhead]

Waterway notes

Waterway underfunding

Hundreds of miles of waterways – along with their unique heritage and habitats – are currently starved of funding and rely on constant lobbying by us to safeguard their future.

Sustainable Boating

We want boating on canals and rivers to be more sustainable and – even though the current overall contribution to UK carbon emissions is very small – we want to help reduce emissions on the waterways.

Waterways Heritage at Risk

Britain’s canals and rivers are a unique, living heritage. But that heritage is at risk – from urban development, lack of protection, loss of skills and knowledge and climate change.

You can help Save Waterways Heritage.

Waterway restoration

Restoring the UK’s blue infrastructure – our inherited network of navigable canals and rivers – is good for people and places.