Friday, 18 August 2017

Of locks, and underground chambers, travelling the Rochdale Canal

Travelling along the Rochdale Canal by boat from Castlefied to Piccadilly is as you would expect totally different from walking the stretch along the towpath.

Now I have walked its length loads of times from the years when it was an overgrown neglected place to the popular walk of today.

Back then it seemed a bit of adventure.  Chances were you would be the only one on the canal and the loneliness was added to by the state of the buildings along the way.  Most were tall some derelict and all seemed to have turned their back on the canal, so that apart from a timber yard the rest had their entrances on the street side.  No one you thought wanted to know about this relic from the past.

And on a grey wet morning those same buildings made the place just that bit more desolate and not somewhere where even the adventurer in me choose to be as dusk came on.

The boat offered a totally different experience.  First you were with people all of whom knew  what they were doing which I suppose my contribution to the journey was limited to helping push the lock gates open and then close them.

And then there are the locks themselves which are a pretty neat way of getting a boat to go up and down hill.
We were going up from Castlefield to Dale Street and that meant I think eight sets of lock doors to open and close.

Once in the lock at the lowest level it is impressive how the water cascading into the chamber does its business and fairly quickly you reach the height of the towpath and you are on your way again.

More than anything it is the power of water that gets you.  It comes into the lock at some speed.

But it is also that even when the locks are closed there is a constant transference of water.  Some of it from side gullies from the lock above to the next one below, and in other cases just back falling over the lock behind..

I can’t remember how long the journey took but much longer than if I walked it.  But then that is the attraction of hiring a boat and doing the canals.  You can stop if you wish after the lock manoeuvre and wait the next one out for a while moored to the side of the towpath and reflecting on the amount of effort and the degree of progress on a lazy boating holiday.

But all of this would have been much romantic tosh to the people that worked the canals.  They carried everything from coal to fine bone china and lived on the water, often with large families.  And they endured those journeys come sun or snow, or heavy rain when the surface of the water seemed to boil to those bitter frozen moments when nothing on the canal could move.

I was reminded of this by the picture of the two boats entering the last stretch of the way along the Rochdale before entering the Dale Street Basin.  At the rear are two women busy themselves with what I take to be domestic chores and in one is a young girl, probably born on the barge and destined to grow up on it.  What is all the more remarkable is the date.  For it is 1955, and most of the Rochdale has been closed but these two families are still making a living, travelling the one bit of the canal still open and prosperous.

Their journey like ours would have taken them through the heart of the city, past timber yards, the rebuilt railway viaduct at Deansgate, under Oxford Road and on taking in a power station the park by the old school and via London Road into the Dale Street Basin.

What I am not sure of is the last part of the journey which today takes you underneath the modern office block now known as 111 on the corner of London Road and Ducie Street.

It is built over the canal and the massive concrete pillars which the building rests on are all around you.  It is an odd and a little disconcerting experience and reminds me of that part in The Third Man where the amoral criminal Harry Lime is pursued by the authorities through the sewers of Vienna.

It is another of those places that where once I would have boldly gone in my 30s armed only with an old Pentax K 100 camera today I judge it to be a place left well alone.

So that’s the end of the journey which began as a wish to share some of the photographs of the canal by Eileen Blake from 1974 and turned into an  extended ramble.

Pictures; from the collection of Eileen Blake and Andrew Simpson, “narrow boats passing under Aytoun Street,” L Kaye, 1955, m54251, Courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council 
and under 111 Piccadilly by courtesy of Pennine waterways,
And the other stories on the canal at

Eltham from the pen of Llwyd Roberts ....... nu 2 St Mary's School 1929

Now I am a great fan of the work of Mr Llwyd Roberts.

He was during the 1920s and 30s our artist in residence and during that time produced a heap of line drawings of Eltham and the surrounding area.

Some were reproduced from old photographs while others  were as he saw them at the time.

This is St Mary’s School which dates from 1928 in a building which was in its time both an academy  for young gentlemen and before that a private residence.

According to Mr Roberts, this was "the convent chapel and St Mary's Diocesan Orphanage garden are replaced by the pavement in the now widened High Street.  The nun's house on the left has gone.  St Mary's School in its present form was founded in 1928."

And if you want more I suggest you follow the link.*

Picture; Eltham Parish Church; drawn circa 1929, Llwyd Roberts

* St. Mary's (Eltham) Community Complex,

85 years a part ...... Beech Road then and now

What I really like about posting stories is the way friends help take a story that next step.

So I was pleased when my friend Adge sent me this picture of Beech Road.

It is still recognisable as the same place, although the old offi on the corner of Chequers Road has lost its chimney.

But the real change has been in the row of shops which now march to a different retailing theme.
Gone is the grocer, the butcher, and iron monger and in their place that mix of quirky traders which make the road so fun to live on.

And as Adge points out some things don’t change, so just as in 1932, there is someone sweeping the space in front of their shop and another business awaiting a new use.

Location; Chorlton

Pictures; from the Lloyd collection and the collection of Adge Lane

News of bus and transport changes to Chorlton ............ December 1938

Now I make no apologies for the story.

This goes out to Ron who I know will enjoy the story and for all those who have ever wondered about the demise of those Corporation trams which rattled through Chorlton in a time before now.

I have written about them many times on the blog and so today having dug out a picture of tram number 183 by Beech Road, I want instead to bring the news of changes to the bus and tram routes.

To be fair we are talking 1938 which pretty much means that no one will be over bothered this morning in the rush hour at the news.

And that as they say is about it.

But for those who want more.

Tram no. 138 was photographed almost opposite Beech Road.

I don't have a date but it will I think be around 1945, which is as ever a hostage to fortune, and leaves me open to Colin of Cranbourne Road will point out that the date is wrong with a long explanation of why based on the design of the box used for old tram tickets.

Others will want to make a comment on the shop behind.

Well, we shall see

Tomorrow; I will return with the changes to the Didsbury bus service.

Location; Chorlton

Pictures; Bus changes from the Manchester Guardian, December 23 1938 and tram no. 183 circ 1946 from the Lloyd Collection

If Mr Lowry came to Chorlton

Now I have no idea if the artist Lowry ever came to Chorlton.

But Peter Topping decided he would do a series of paintings in the style of Mr Lowry and this is Beech Road.

Location; Chorlton

Painting; If Mr Lowry came to Chorlton, Beech Road © Peter Topping, 2017


Facebook: Paintings from Pictures

A little bit of humour from the Great War ........ on getting tipsy

The card speaks for itself.

Location; The Great War

Picture; undated from the collection of David Harrop

When Tuck & Sons confused Salford for Manchester

Now here is one of those picture postcards guaranteed to upset someone.

It was produced by Tuck & Sons and marketed around 1905, although the actual image maybe older.

It is entitled the Technical School and was part of the series of twelve cards issued as YE ETCHED MANCHESTER.

And if that were not enough the description on the front of the card runs, Manchester, Technical School, Salford, with the added insult that the designer incorporated the coat of arms of Manchester rather than Salford.

This may I suppose  make it a collector’s curiosity and one that seems to have been corrected on later cards.

Picture; Manchester, Technical School Salford, Tuck & Sons, 1905, courtesy of Tuck DB,