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British Industrial History

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Duke's Tunnel (Manchester)

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Entrance to the Duke's Tunnel, on the River Medlock near the site of the dyeworks of James and John M. Worrall

In the 19th and 20th centuries the River Medlock had become a foul stream snaking through canyons of decaying, blackened brickwork, beset by weirs, incompatible with the passage of laden boats. However, for a few years from the late 1780s, a stretch of the river had been used by boats, taking the Duke of Bridgewater’s coal from the mines at Worsley to a point below what is now the approach to Piccadilly Station.

Between April 1787 and April 1789 the 649-yard tunnel was cut from a point on the river near the Old Garratt dye works of James and John M. Worrall, heading east to a point near Shooter’s Brow. It was 8 ft 6" high and 6 ft wide. A horse-powered winch took coal up a shaft to Knowle & Son’s coal yard. However, by 1800 the River Medlock had risen at least 8 ft at the tunnel entrance, due to silting.[1] The entrance to the tunnel is just visible today (see photo).

It may seem odd that so much effort should have been applied to move coal just a mile further into Manchester from Castlefield Basin. Perhaps this emphasises the difficult in transporting freight on poor roads. Manchester is not notably hilly, but evidently there was great advantage in getting the coal to a high point before loading it on to carts, making the horses' delivery work much easier.

An early account (1827):-

'Perhaps a great proportion the present inhabitants have no idea of the state of London-Road, scarcely twenty years since. Two drums and windlasses, with geering, etc. for raising coal, then stood on the site of the present foot-path, on the north side, between Ducie-Street and Store-street. Coals were then raised from eyes or shafts, which had the appearance of two coal-pits. But the coals were not dug there, but brought in the Duke of Bridgewater's boats from Knott-Mill upon the river Medlock to Garratt, and from thence by a tunnel to this place. This unsightly machinery was taken down when the road was altered. The road was then considerably raised over Shooter’s-brook, which runs nearly under the new market house. The descent from Piccadilly to the brook was called Shooter-brow, on account of butts being erected there for the amusement of archers.'[2]

The entrance at the River Medlock is heavily skewed. In fact plans show that the line of the tunnel would have met the river almost at a tangent, but it was given a short kink at the junction to provide the masons with a manageable degree of skew.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Underground Manchester by Keith Warrender, Willow Publishing, 2007
  2. Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 13th October 1827