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Canal Archive: Bridging the Years

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Digging the Big Ditch

The construction of the Manchester Ship Canal was a huge undertaking. The cutting of such a significant waterway required the removal of millions of tons of soil and rock.
Various machines were employed to speed up the process. However the majority of the work was still done by manpower alone.


The contractor employed by the Manchester Ship Canal Company to carry out the work was Thomas Walker. He believed in making the best of new technology to help his men.
He also had a reputation for being a good employer, caring about his men's physical and spiritual well being.

The thirty-six mile long stretch was originally divided into nine sections. Walker put his own agents in charge of different parts of the route. Each section had its own particular problems to overcome, and each had varying conditions in which the work had to be completed.

The large volumes of soil removed during the work had to be transported off site. Walker dealt with this problem by setting up a temporary railway network to move men and materials around the sections.

Using both men and machines the Manchester Ship Canal was completed in six years, an amazing achievement.

This is the introduction to Digging the Big Ditch.
View the complete story contents.

Transporter discharging into wagons

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