Greater Manchester’s forgotten bridges revealed

EYEWITNESS 2015 blog by Aidan O'Rourke

Partially uncovered Hanging Bridge next to Manchester Cathedral

Partially uncovered Hanging Bridge next to Manchester Cathedral


 Here’s my feature on forgotten bridges which have been uncovered and restored or will soon be. I’ve always been fascinated by bridges. They have an aesthetic quality, they’re also historic and tell us so much about geography. Many bridges are buried under layers of development. A few have been uncovered and will see the light of day again.

We take old bridges for granted. Often we don’t even notice we are crossing them. Many lie buried and forgotten, but a few are being rediscovered. In Stockport, the 19th century Lancashire Bridge reappeared after many years. A section of the covering was cut away to reveal the bridge and river below. A similar project is in progress in Rochdale. The bridge remained out of sight from 1824 until last year. As part of the ‘Revealing the Roch’ project, the surface layer has been removed to reveal the river Roch and bridge underneath. I find it fascinating as it transforms the town by going back in time. In Manchester city centre, part of the medieval Hanging Bridge was revealed in the late 90s. It’s part of the Cathedral visitors centre. And down on the Irwell, one of Manchester’s oldest and most significant bridges has been partially hidden for over a century. It’s the Stephenson Bridge built in 1830 for the Manchester to Liverpool railway. The Ordsall Chord will have an impact on the Grade 1 listed bridge on the Manchester side but the works will also cause part of it to be exposed, a ‘consolation prize’ or ‘extra benefit’ depending on your viewpoint. Discover Manchester city centre on one of my photographic walking tours, £25 for MEN readers. More info on www.aidan.co.uk

Lancashire Bridge, Stockport, uncovered in 2014.

Lancashire Bridge, Stockport, uncovered in 2014.


 
Rochdale Bridge and River Roch

Rochdale Bridge was uncovered in 2015 as part of the ‘Revealing the Roch’ project


 
Princes Bridge and Stephenson Bridge

Princes Bridge (left) and hidden in shadow, the 1830 Stephenson Bridge.

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The River Irwell through Salford and Manchester – from my MEN feature

The Lowry Hotel Edge Apartments and River Irwell. Blackfriars Bridge and Manchester Cathedral can be seen straight ahead.

The Lowry Hotel Edge Apartments and River Irwell. Blackfriars Bridge

This article, accompanied by photos from my archive, was featured in the Manchester Evening News in late March 2015.

The Rhine, the Rhone, the Danube, the Amazon, the Irwell. It doesn’t sound quite right but today at least the river that flows through “regional centre”, as it’s officially called, is cleaner and more attractive than it has ever been over the past couple of centuries.

The Irwell rises to the north east of Bacup in Lancashire, and meanders south through Bury turning west, then east and on to the city centre where it forms the boundary between the City of Manchester and the City of Salford. Just half a mile further on, the River Irwell becomes the Manchester Ship Canal. The Mersey flows into the canal near Irlam to the west of Manchester.

View along the River Irwell with Blackfriars Bridge. The Edge Apartments are on the right in Salford.

River Irwell and Blackfriars Bridge in the city centre

Like many rivers, the origin of the name is not certain, but I’ve read that the name Irwell has Germanic roots – ‘irre’ meaning crazy or meandering and ‘welle’ wave or stream. Some learners of English have a problem pronouncing it, making the first syllable rhyme with ‘ear’. But it should be ‘er’, as in dirty, a good word to describe how the Irwell used to be.

During the Industrial Revolution, the Irwell became murky, badly polluted and lifeless due to the poisons and waste that were emptied into the river. In the centre of the town the squalid buildings and factories faced away from the river. In the 19th century, a local resident saved over 50 people from drowning. He is commemorated in the name of a city centre pub on the Salford of the Irwell – the Mark Addy.

Black and white image of Quay Street Bridge, River Irwell with reflections in the water.

Black and white image of Quay Street Bridge, River Irwell with reflections in the water.

It’s important to note that sailing ships used the River Irwell long before the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894. That’s why there’s a sailing ship in the City of Manchester’a coat of arms. The three stripes represent the three rivers that help to define the shape of the city – the Medlock, the Irk and the Irwell.

In the late 19th century the Manchester Ship Canal transformed the Irwell and the Mersey into a deep channel, allowing ocean-going ships to make their way from the mouth of the Mersey near Liverpool to the Manchester Docks around 35 miles inland. The Docks – actually located in Salford – were once one of the busiest ports in the UK.

The River Irwell with footbridge, Kersal

The River Irwell with footbridge, Kersal

Upstream, flooding used to be a problem but in the post war years, the situation improved thanks to the construction of flood defences including raised banks. Near Strangeways, close to the city centre, a sharp elbow in the river was straightened out. The project was called the Anaconda Cut. It’s one of the most remarkable but least known engineering achievements in northern England.

In recent years, the river has been cleaned up, newly built hotels and apartments now face onto the river and three new footbridges link both both sides. There’s a walkway, part of it on the Salford side and part of it on the Manchester side. It wasn’t possible to create quays on both sides of the river, as in Dublin or Paris, but the look of the river is much improved.

Now we can take visitors to the Irwell rather than keeping them away from it. The river is now photogenic in a way it never used to be. There are interesting views up the river towards the Cathedral or down towards the the Ship Canal. A tour boat has operated in the summer months between the city centre and Salford Quays but unfortunately few boats use the river, unlike the Thames in London.

View of the Ship Canal and Manchester city centre

View of the Ship Canal and Manchester city centre. The former Pomona Docks are on the right.

At least there are plenty of fish, geese and other wildlife on the Irwell and they can be seen right in the heart of the city.

We may never be able to use the adjectives ‘magnificent’, ‘spellbinding’ or ‘romantic’ about the River Irwell, but at least we can say that it’s ‘presentable’!

Dusk view down the Manchester Ship Canal

Dusk view down the Manchester Ship Canal with silhouetted Exchange Quay office buildings

 

View along the River Irwell Manchester city centre. The Calatrava bridge crosses in the foreground. Next to the Cathedral is the modernist style New Century Hall.

View along the River Irwell Manchester city centre. The Calatrava bridge crosses in the foreground. Next to the Cathedral is the modernist style New Century Hall.

 

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