A canal boat on the Rochdale Canal
A canal boat on the Rochdale Canal

North Manchester’s industrial heritage was admired from the stern of a narrowboat by a local Councillor during a cruise along the Rochdale Canal.

Pete Davis, who serves as a Councillor for the Failsworth West ward of Oldham Council, was asked to steer the narrowboat along the Newton Heath and Failsworth sections of the Rochdale Canal during its journey from Manchester to its new owners in Hebden Bridge. Despite being little more than a mile long this short section contained 5 locks that needed negotiating. This would be difficult even for experienced skippers and so was particularly challenging for narrowboating newbie Pete.

Pete said, “Sailing a narrowboat was something I have always wanted to do, and it was particularly special to get the chance to do it through Failsworth. Along the short route relics of Failsworth’s industrial heritage were on show including Marlborough Mill and Regent Mill, both of which are still in use today even if not for cotton spinning.”

Marlborough Mill No.1 was originally built in 1905 but ceased cotton spinning in 1955. It is still standing and is currently used by Studio Retail, a mail order company. A second Marlborough Mill No.2 was built in 1908. It too ceased cotton spinning in 1955 and became a Morrisons Supermarket before being demolished and rebuilt as a purpose-built store for Morrisons mimicking the style and appearance of the original mill.

Grade II listed Regent Mill was also built in 1905 and produced textiles until the 1960s. It now serves as the head offices of British household appliance manufacturer Russell Hobbs, though the company’s manufacturing operation is all abroad.

Pete added, “The canal itself is a fantastic asset to Failsworth, some of the heritage you see along the way is awe-inspiring and you don’t have to have a barge to enjoy it either. The towpath is a great traffic-free walking route all the way into Manchester and I’ve used it many times to get to City matches at the Etihad.”

The Rochdale Canal originally opened in 1804 providing a means of transporting goods and fuel to and from textile mills along its route. With the growth of the railways the canal fell out of use and was formally closed in 1952. Large sections of it became unnavigable, including the section through Failsworth which was filled in and on top of which a Discount Giant supermarket was built.

The canal was restored and fully reopened in 2002 with money from national regeneration agency English Partnerhips and the Councils of Oldham and Rochdale. It remains open with minor changes from its original route to negotiate the M60 and M62 motorways. It is now a popular leisure route rather than a working canal and has seen a resurgence in use by walkers and cyclists during the Coronavirus lockdowns.

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