How successful was the Manchester Ship Canal before 1914

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How successful was the Manchester Ship Canal before 1914?

To understand why The Manchester Ship Canal could be considered successful before 1914, it must first be understood why Manchester needed another canal in the first place. The ship canal could be called a financial failure up to 1914 due to the escalating costs and rivalries between the Liverpool Docks and railway companies with Manchester itself. This essay will highlight the major points that led to the Manchester Ship canal becoming a success by 1914.

During the 1800’s there were several canals connecting Manchester to the surrounding area. From the Bridgwater canal, this was the first to be built to the Macclesfield canal one of the last to be built. They all connected Manchester to trade routes all over the country. Crucial to Manchester’s success in the cotton trade was the import and export of cotton. The canals and later the railways that served Manchester and the surrounding area were crucial, bringing and taking goods by barge, to the docks at Liverpool. It was during the Great Depression in the late 1870s that things came to a head.

During this worldwide depression, Manchester was going in to economic decline. Industries were failing, with factories and shops closing and a steady migration of people away from Manchester. Like the Duke of Bridgwater before them, the local business men realised that the only way for Manchester to survive was to gain cheaper transport costs. It was felt at the time that Liverpool and the railway companies were parasitical on the Lancashire cotton industry by charging high transport rates. Oldham spinners for example, could buy French or German cotton, import it via Hull, and transport it via the railway over the Pennines and still save money instead of importing through Liverpool. Infact over half the cost of exporting a ton of cotton through Liverpool was carriage and dock charges.  Manchester business men realised that they needed to transform Manchester in to an international port, able to receive ocean going ships. The success of the Suez Canal and the profit that it brought to its shareholders gave rise to the idea that the sea could be brought to Manchester by the building of a large canal.

The engineering complexities of building a water way from the Mersey estuary to Manchester were enormous. Coupled with the fierce opposition from Liverpool and the railways, it was doubtful whether the scheme would ever become reality. Daniel Adamson in 1882 seized the initiative. He organised a meeting with the civic leaders and business men of the area and managed to present a bill before Parliament seeking approval for the canal by the end of that year. Enthusiasm grew around Manchester, meetings and support for the scheme grew. Liverpool and the railways bitterly fought the proposal, frightened of losing their monopolies on the transport of Mancunian goods. After three attempts the bill finally was passed by Parliament in 1895. However, the main opponents of the bill had managed to get some clauses inserted hoping to make the task of building the canal impossible. The Manchester Ship Canal Company (M.S.C.C.) had to raise at least five million pounds within two years before work would be allowed to commence. They also had to buy the Bridgwater Canal which lay in the path of the proposed route. Adamson was hoping to raise the capital that was needed locally, but failed. He resigned and was replaced by Lord Egerton as chairman of the company. Egerton turned to London to try and raise the money. By the summer of 1887 he has managed to raise the required amount, three and a half million locally and the rest from the city. The Bridgwater Canal and the surrounding river systems were purchased with the presentation of a cheque, the biggest ever written at that time, £1,710,000. 

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It had taken five years from the first meeting with Daniel Adamson to the start of work on the Manchester Ship Canal itself. The first sod was turned by the chairman of the M.S.C.C. Lord Egerton on 11th November 1887.  The original estimate for the canal to be built was seven million pounds and four years construction. It actually took seven years to build at a cost of fifteen million pounds. The M.S.C.C. ran out of money in 1891, due to unforeseen mishaps with the weather, flooding parts of the canal floor before it was ready and doing untold damage ...

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