One of the most exciting aspects of putting together this year’s Dig Greater Manchester Archaeology Festival has been seeing the great variety of activities and periods available to explore across the city region. The Manchester Region Industrial Archaeology Society (https://www.mrias.co.uk/), for instance, are offering a detailed tour of one of the cradles of the British Industrial Revolution: the Castlefield Canal Basin.
This is a chance to walk in the footsteps of that revolution, for the area is home to a series of world firsts. Catslefield is the Manchester terminus of the world’s first industrial arterial canal, the Bridgewater, opened in 1762. It also houses the world’s first canal warehouse, the Grocer’s built around 1770. Liverpool Road is the terminus of world’s first intercity passenger railway, the Liverpool & Manchester Railway opened in 1830, whilst the world’s first purpose-built suburban railway, the Manchester South Junction & Altrincham Railway (opened in 1849), strides across the canal basin on talk brick arches. It is also the site of Britain’s first urban heritage park, opened as part of the area’s regeneration in 1982. Innovation continues and at the end of this year a new railway line will connect Manchester and Salford across the River Irwell, completing a plan to link the two cities first suggested in the 1850s. The Ordsall Chord line, with its distinctive Corten-style suspension steel bridge, will undoubtedly become a fresh attraction to the engineering interest of the area.
The Castlefield landscape is one now dominated by canals, railway arches in brick and steel, and restored 19th century warehouses. However, before the arrival of industry in the 1760s it was a quiet rural backwater on the northern bank of the River Medlock. Go back further and from the 70s AD to the c 410AD Castlefield was the location of the first Manchester, indeed the settlement that has given the city its name: the Roman fort and town of Mamucium. The breast-shaped hill after which the Roman’s named the hillock at the junction of the rivers Medlock and Irwell can still be glimpsed in amongst the viaducts and water, as a stretch of sandstone carved into a cliff to make way for the Bridgewater.
The free walk on Saturday 24th June will be in two parts from 10.30am to 3.30pm, breaking for lunch. So, if you can’t spare a whole day just come along for the first half. The tour begins by the side of the Castlefield Hotel on Liverpool Rd, at the top of the steps overlooking the canal arm and the Castlefield Open Air Arena, formerly the site of the Staffordshire Canal Warehouse. After lunch it continues from the wooden lift-up bridge over the canal arm, diagonally opposite the Merchants Warehouse of 1825, finishing in the Museum of Science and Industry Manchester with a look at the 1830 Liverpool Road station complex. Booking is through here: