The Underground Canals at Worsley

Historical Profiles: NarrowBoat, Winter 2013

Mike Clarke

Mike Clarke explores some of the best known but least visited early canals

Coal mining around Worsley is mentioned as far back as 1376, when coal was probably obtained from seams exposed on the surface. By 1600, bell pits were used, and as mining developed, the pillar-and-stall system was introduced. A sough for drainage at Worsley had been built by 1729, water being raised by hand from the mine and then emptied into Worsley Brook via this sough. However, it was fairly close to the surface and needed constant repair, which proved expensive. Worsley Brook, from its junction with the River Irwell, was authorised to be made navigable (2 miles long, with a rise of 40ft) in 1737, though the navigation was never built. Scroop Edgerton, the first Duke of Bridgewater, and his agent, Massey, may have considered building locks from this proposed navigation to the mine drainage sough; in September 1735 they had examined the ground from the old sough mouth at Worsley Mill to Middlewood. Boats may have used the sough as it was suggested in 1743 that coal was being brough…

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