Bridgewater Canal's Barton Aqueduct embankment and retaining walls


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Location Description:
Forms the south west bank of the current Bridgewater Canal, extending between Barton Lane and the Manchester Ship Canal.
Statutory Address:
Barton Aqueduct Embankment, Barton Road, Barton upon Irwell, Salford, M30 7AE


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Statutory Address:
Barton Aqueduct Embankment, Barton Road, Barton upon Irwell, Salford, M30 7AE

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Location Description:
Forms the south west bank of the current Bridgewater Canal, extending between Barton Lane and the Manchester Ship Canal.
Salford (Metropolitan Authority)
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:


The surviving section of James Brindley’s Barton Aqueduct (1760-1761), consisting of the raised, embanked section of the Bridgewater Canal that extended between the bridging sections across Barton Lane and the River Irwell. This includes the later strengthening work which enlarged the embankment in 1822-1824, as well as the section of the original canal that was infilled in 1894 when the canal was realigned eastwards as part of the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal.

Reasons for Designation

The Bridgewater Canal’s Barton Aqueduct embankment and retaining walls, including an infilled section of James Brindley’s original canal opened 1761, is included on the Schedule for the following principal reasons:

* Period: as a sample section of the Bridgewater Canal that is illustrative of the pioneering engineering approach taken by James Brindley, being a key development at the start of England’s Canal Age and which accelerated the Industrial Revolution, contributing to the rapid growth of Manchester;

* Potential: considered to retain important evidence of Brindley’s engineering of what can be seen as the most significant and innovative surviving section of the canal, this consisting of the engineering of the embankment, later strengthening works, and what is believed to be the only infilled section of Brindley’s canal that has been left effectively undisturbed since 1893;

* Documentation: the understanding of the monument is considerably heightened by a wide variety of documents, drawings and paintings held in both private and national collections;

* Group value: with the other listed and scheduled parts of the Bridgewater Canal, most closely with the adjacent replacement Barton Aqueduct built 1893 and the Barton Lane Aqueduct Portal, moved and re-erected as a monument to the original aqueduct in 1894. Also with the adjacent Manchester Ship Canal which profoundly illustrates the significant development of canals in the 130 years after Brindley.


Inland navigation using rivers originated in Britain in the prehistoric period and continues in use to the present day. The true Canal Age is generally considered to be heralded by the seven mile-long Duke of Bridgewater’s Canal of 1759-1761, linking Worsley and Manchester, and by 1830 there were 4,000 miles of canals. The great age of canals lasted until about the 1840s, when their utility was eroded by the huge expansion of railways; however, during their relatively brief period of use, canals became the most important method of industrial transportation. Canal construction brought about major technological innovation in the design and construction of features such as aqueducts by eminent engineers including James Brindley (1716-1772), Thomas Telford (1757-1834), and John Rennie (1761-1821).

The Bridgwater Canal was conceived by Francis Egerton, the 3rd Duke of Bridgwater (1736–1803), an aristocratic entrepreneur with extensive estates and mines, and his Estate Manager John Gilbert. It was constructed between September 1760 and its opening on 17 July 1761. It was designed by James Brindley to carry coal seven miles to Manchester from the Duke of Bridgewater's mines at Worsley. Brindley is considered to be the pioneering engineer of the English canal system, and went on to be the principal engineer on numerous other canals, including the Trent and Mersey Canal, the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, and the Oxford Canal. The Bridgewater Canal was preceded by a number of river navigations and transitional canals such as the Sankey Canal (1759) which paralleled a natural watercourse; however, what sets the Bridgewater Canal apart as the progenitor of the English canal system is that it was designed from the outset to follow a route independent of natural watercourses, achieved by means of contouring and the use of aqueducts to cross obstacles. Apart from periods of repair and re-construction, the canal has been in continuous use since its opening in 1761, its importance gradually declining through the C19 and C20, until it gained a leisure use in the late C20. Numerous canal structures have been designated along its length.

The Barton aqueduct consisted of three component parts: a single-arched bridging section carrying the canal over Barton Lane, a three-arched bridging section carrying the canal over the River Irwell and a linking section of embanked and stone revetted canal, this embanked section being the part that still survives, forming the monument. The embanked section of the aqueduct used a novel design of a walled channel, water-proofed with puddled-clay to maintain water-tight integrity, supported by substantial stone retaining walls. Many doubted the feasibility of canal barges sailing over another navigable waterway and it is recorded that an eminent engineer (possibly John Smeaton, 1724-1792) was reputed to have muttered: 'I have often heard of castles in the air, but never before saw where any of them was to be erected'. The canal embankment was reinforced several times and it was substantially strengthened between 1822 and 1824, by widening and the addition of a battered retaining wall. In 1893 all three components were superseded by the realignment of the Bridgewater Canal to cross the newly-constructed Barton hydraulic swing aqueduct, just to the east of the original aqueduct. Both of the bridging sections of the original aqueduct were demolished, although part of a wing wall of the bridging that crossed the River Irwell, and a portal from that over Barton Lane (re-erected in 1894, as a memorial) was retained. The embankment on the eastern side of the abandoned section was widened to allow for the newly-constructed canal channel, and the north-western end of the abandoned section was blanked-off by a brick retaining wall.


PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS: a raised, embanked section of canal aqueduct (1760-1761) including an abandoned and in-filled section of the Bridgewater Canal with associated buried features and outer retaining walls (1760-1761, 1822-1824, and 1894).

DESCRIPTION: the canal embankment is sub-rectangular in plan, with a long axis of about 103m and a maximum width of 27m. The north-west end terminates in a retaining wall of blue engineering brick, capped by ashlar parallel coping blocks (1894). The massive 94m long battered stone retaining wall is of large ashlar blocks of Sherwood Sandstone, which exhibit a wide range of well-defined masons' marks. The wall displays two date stones, the one at the southern end reads: 1822 I V and a worn oval panel towards the northern end is thought to read: W R B, 1824; WRB is considered to be the initials of the engineer William Rigby Bradshaw. The wall is canted at approximately 15 degrees and is strengthened at intervals by five rusticated vee-jointed buttresses, with flared bases; it has an ovolo moulded cornice, forming the base of a parapet of large parallel coping stones. The northern 17.5m of the retaining wall deflects towards the north and the left panel curves up to a rectangular stone pier; this length is finished with finer saddleback coping stones.

The southern end of the retaining wall abuts an upstanding section of what has been identified as a wing wall, part of Brindley’s three-arched aqueduct (1760-1761) that formerly carried the canal across the River Irwell. The wing wall projects 3.5m from the line of the retaining wall and comprises 15 courses of canted graduated masonry, the top edge of each course is chamfered and the upper courses have been denuded. The inclined profile of the upper surface is nevertheless visible when viewed from the north-west. The south-eastern side of the wing wall has been re-built in random rubble and it slopes down for a distance of 17m, to a height of 1.5m. Beyond this point, a 5.10m length of wall is built of coursed roughly tooled sandstone, with a recessed stone platform housing a stone mooring bollard, which is protected by a low wall with steeply feathered capping.

The south-eastern end of the earth embankment has been scarped to prevent slippage. The upper surface of the embankment has been landscaped and abuts the south-western edge of the canal path of the re-aligned canal channel. The embankment contains an abandoned and in-filled length of Brindley’s original Bridgewater Canal (1760-1761), and it is also considered that undisturbed features and deposits associated with its construction, such as early retaining walls and buttresses, are likely to remain beneath the widened embankment to both sides of the in-filled canal channel.

EXTENT OF SCHEDULING: this extends to the full extent of the abandoned section of the Bridgewater Canal embankment, including all associated buried features, retaining walls, and the remains of the aqueduct wing wall. The boundary of the north-eastern side of the scheduled area abuts, but does not include the towpath of the active Bridgewater Canal.

EXCLUSIONS: all parts of the timber staircase that gives access from the Manchester Ship Canal path to the towpath of the Bridgewater Canal are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath is included.


Books and journals
Corble, N (Author), James Brindley, the First Canal Builder, (2005)
Cossons, N, BP Book of Industrial Archaeology, (1993), 343-345
De Mare, Eric (Author), The Canals of England, (1956), 13, 16, 22, 35, 37-39, 61-62, 119
Glinert, E (Author), The Manchester Compendium: A Street-by-Street History of England's Greatest Industrial City, (2008), 102-103
Owen, D, Canals to Manchester, (1977)
Smiles, S (Author), Lives of the Engineers, With an Account of Their Principal Works, Vol.1, (1862)
Wood, C J (Author), The Duke's Cut: The Bridgewater Canal, (2002)
Yorke, S (Author), English Canals Explained, (2017), 16, 81-87
Historic England Research Report 28-2017 Keith Falconer 'Canal and River Navigations National Overview' (2017), accessed 22/12/2020 from
National Portrait Gallery - Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, accessed 15 May 2019 from
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - Egerton, Francis, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, accessed 27 March 2020 from
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography - James Brindley, accessed 27 March 2020 from
Researchgate - Arthur Young's drawing of the Barton Aqueduct around 1769, accessed 19 June 2020 from
The Bridgewater Canal - History - A Proud Heritage, accessed 20 March 2020 from
Manchester Guardian, Civic Centenary Number, Page 23, May 16 1938
Tab.VIII, Castlefields Map, Figs 3,4, & 5, elevation, plan and section of Barton Aqueduct. 952/0456 Canal & Rivers Trust


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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