Tuesday, 13 June 2017

From timber yard to wine bar, the last 42 years of the Rochdale Canal

I have been writing about the Rochdale Canal recently because of a wonderful collection of photographs taken in 1974 by Eileen Blake. 

They perfectly capture the canal when it was still a neglected stretch of waterway. The towpaths were overgrown, there were half sunken barges in the water and the same shabby run down look characterised the buildings most of which most were either empty or seemed to have turned their back on the canal.

 Even the hospital on the corner of Oxford Road and Whitworth Street had become an empty place before being torn down for a not very pleasant car park. I often walked it at this time getting on at Princess Street and making my way past the power station whose pipes passed steam along the towpath to heat the surrounding buildings, and on under Oxford Road passing the railway arches and on into Castlefield.

It was a place to take school parties who dutifully recorded all I told them and never fell in. There was still plenty of working yards like the timber on in the picture but the impression you got was that this place had had it. A tired rather forgotten legacy of a time when the canal would have been busy and the area hummed with activity.

It closed in 1952, although our little stretch had a longer life given that it connected the Castlefield and Dale Street canal basins. Now of course after a lot of hard working and lots of money the whole canal is now open again, and it is possible to navigate from the centre of Manchester out across the Pennines to Yorkshire.

But for me it is this short section which reflects the change in our city. At Castlefield there is a new hotel, bar and Dukes 92, a little further along the old Deansgate arches are now Deansgate Lock with more bars and of course in the space between Princess Street and Aytoun Street hard by the canal is the Gay Village.

 I still walk the stretch and enjoy all that it has become but a little of me misses those pipes that ran from the power station past the hospital venting steam and water, as well as the old crumbling warehouses and the isolation for few ventured who along its bleak tow path.

 Pictures; from the collection of Eileen Blake and Andrew Simpson

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