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Canal Archive: Bridging the Years

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Dealing with Danger

The contractor for the Manchester Ship Canal, Thomas Walker, cared greatly for the welfare of his men. He appreciated the dangerous nature of the work undertaken by the navvies, working alongside huge machines and open railway tracks.

Walker established a series of first aid stations along the length of the Canal and provided medical staff to treat the injured. His concern for his injured men did not end with their treatment. Workers who were left with disabilities as a result of accidents on the site were, where possible, offered lighter duties. They became known as 'Walker's Fragments'. Figures issued in 1892 showed that over one thousand men had been injured working on the Canal, with one hundred and sixty-five of those being left with a permanent disability. One hundred and thirty men had lost their lives.

Navvies also had to contend with the presence of explosives on site. Explosives were used to clear areas of rock that proved too difficult for other means, with blasting operations being quite common. Gun Powder was stored at various isolated locations, but was brought in on the train network when needed, with some workers and visitors finding themselves seated on a box of gunpowder, while travelling across the site by train.

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This is page 4 of Digging the Big Ditch.
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Men working alongside a steam navvy

Men working alongside a steam navvy
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A one-armed navvy

A one-armed navvy
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An explosives handler outside a powder magazine

An explosives handler outside a powder magazine
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