First Sod from the MSC

Canal Curios: NarrowBoat, Summer 2019

Sarah Henshaw

Sarah Henshaw celebrates the men – and machines – who dug the 36-mile ‘ditch’

What makes a 130-year-old pile of mud museumworthy? Certainly this one doesn’t contain gold dust, nor has it preserved the exoskeleton of a woolly mammoth over millennia. There’s no moon rock under there – nor even a mini worm farm to amuse the kids. It’ll bring zero benefit as top soil on your veg patch. Yet it’s for good reason that this trowel-full stands the test of time. It was lifted from the route of the proposed Manchester Ship Canal in 1887 and currently resides, incongruously alongside six commemorative spoons, inside a glass cabinet at the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port. I urge you to go and see it. Certainly there are bigger, brighter, bolder exhibits in that museum, but none, I suspect, with quite as much symbolic weight as this sod. It formed part of the 54 million cubic yards of material that were excavated from the site over the six years it was built – half as much as the Suez Canal, but that waterway was more than thr…

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