back to article Avoiding Liverpool was the aim: All aboard the world's ONLY moving aqueduct

There are several fine examples of Victorian engineering still working in Blighty. Tower Bridge in London is one of my personal favourites. I was surprised to discover that another was on my doorstep. Well, 4.34km (2.7 miles) from my doorstep to be more accurate. The Grade II-listed Barton Swing Aqueduct in Salford was built …

  1. handle

    Excellent article

    Thank you. However, while it may be the world's only swinging aqueduct, it isn't the only moving one. There is the much more modern Falkirk Wheel which is just as mind-boggling as it rotates in a vertical plane, without tipping the water out! (I guess though that you could argue that this isn't an aqueduct as it doesn't carry water across something!)

    1. Whitter

      Re: Excellent article

      I thought similarly at first glance but the Falkirk wheel is really a super-duper lock rather than an super duper aqueduct. Super, duper regardless though!

      1. Marvin the Martian

        Re: Excellent article

        I see your Falkirk Wheel and I raise you a Ronquières Inclined Plane [ ].

        That's essentially a bit of aquaduct that doesn't swing, but it crawls up and down a hill. About once a week, as its business case was never justifiable, just built for political reasons.

    2. Notenoughnamespace

      Re: Excellent article

      El Reg went there in 2013, and much fun was had:

    3. Fuzz

      Re: Excellent article

      The Falkirk wheel is a boat lift, it moves boats between two canals on different levels. The Barton aqueduct is a different thing, it swings open to let boats that past that are too tall to pass under.

      Boat lifts are much more common, there is the Anderton boat lift (mentioned in this article) which is an older example of the same thing.

      Interesting article, I knew the Barton aqueduct was the only working example in the UK. I didn't realise that it was the only one ever in the world.

    4. Steven Jones

      Re: Excellent article

      The Falkirk Wheel is not an aqueduct. It's a boat lift and was long pre-dated by the one at Anderton, albeit of a different design. There have been many examples of boat lifts, with incline plane lifts probaby being the most popular. Possibly the most bizarre one of all was the cassion lock on the Somerset Coal Canal which involved boats being floated into a sealed box which was raised and lowered through a water-filled cassion. It never really got beyond a demonstration.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Somerset Coal Canal

        i was 50/50 wether to bother following that link . glad I did - that is one wierd lock!

        boats go underwater!

        surprised they get the box to sink actually

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Gosh, my home, I grew quite close to that, I've even been on the bridge when it was swinging, half a century & more ago, health & safety would have a fit now.

    God I suddenly feel old

    1. TRT Silver badge

      I could have written that!

      And a little way further is the bridge at Old Trafford which when crossing, as a 5 year old, I decided to shoulder barge the rotten wooden door at the base of the pier, as 5 year old idiot children are prone to do. The door swung open, taking me with it, opening onto nothing but rusty iron metalwork sticking up out of inky, oily depths of water far below. Hanging onto the door handle for all my life was worth I had no option but to swing out and back. I've been terrified of bridges crossing water ever since. Took all my nerve and several attempts before I could walk on the pier at Brighton.

      1. Dabooka Silver badge


        Have a pint old bean, I think you need it

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        And when I was older I'd drink in the Packet House at Patricroft Bridge, nip in the chinese next door, walk home through the park & try and get in the house without waking my mum

        Never once succeeded, so it's just as well I always got extra ribs

        The Bridge I never liked was Warburton Bridge, my aunt used to take me over it to go to Lymm, I always got told off for walking in the road but the path was just planks & I could see the drop through the gaps between them, still don't like that bridge, then there was the little toll bridge just after it that I never had any money for.

        Deary me that was a looong time ago now

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Oh Jesus! I'd forgotten Warburton Bridge. Been over it a few times, quite often on my bike, and once in the car when I was keeping off the motorway (I was running on a space saver after a blowout near Tabley).

          1. leaway2

            IIRC The toll is not to cross the canal, but the small bridge over the river Mersey, just in front of the toll gate. The river no longer flows under it though.

  3. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    fascinating read

    I simply love reading articles like this on The Register. Please, sir. May I have some more?

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: fascinating read

      Have you read all of these yet?

      1. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

        @phuzz - Re: fascinating read

        yes. Love them all. I am particularly delighted that actual location information and directions to the sites are given so that when I finally make it over there for a visit, I will be able to see some of these in person.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I aim to avoid Liverpool too, unfortunately sometimes I fail.

    Nice article, I live not too far from that bridge and have often wondered how it worked, might have to have a walk one day to explore.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ironbridge Gorge in England is worth a visit. The eponymous bridge over the Severn was built in 1779 from cast iron sections - like Lego. The first of its type in the world and still in use.

    There is a museum of Victorian houses, shops, and small industries that are often staffed and working. An old penny coin feels very heavy nowadays.

    The ceramic tile museum creates a Victorian atmosphere by adding a hissing sound to give the effect of gas lighting using naked flames rather than an incandescent mantle. The equivalent of PC or router fans in an office nowadays.

    The remains of an "inclined plane" indicate the primitive way to get barges between the river and the canal that is higher up the hill. Basically the barges were hauled sideways up or down the slope on rails.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      And don't forget the tar tunnel and clay pipe museum. Clay pipes are essential boffin material.

    2. Trigonoceps occipitalis Silver badge

      The fish and chip shop at the Blists Hill Victorian Museum cooks in beef fat. Worth a visit just for that.

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        The fish and chip shop at the Blists Hill Victorian Museum cooks in beef fat. Worth a visit just for that.

        Nice one :-) Little known fact: chips cooked in animal fat have a lower fat content than when cooked in vegetable oil. They also taste much nicer. Pork fat's my favourite.

        1. TRT Silver badge


          So THAT'S why they were so good. I never realised. #hungershutters

          1. Dabooka Silver badge

            Re: Chips

            Beamish Museum up north now has Davy's Chippy which does the same in coal fired friers. Can take a while (queues can easily be an hour) but if you keep tag teaming each otehr in and out of the quere, it sharp passes.

            Worth it every visit, lovely 'dab n chips'

      2. IJD

        Loads of fish and chip shops in the North use beef dripping...

        1. Oh Matron! Silver badge

          So strange to see the author recommend Five Guys, who cook their fries in peanut oil. Tastes just as rank as you'd expect too.

          There's nowt as tasty as an east lancs road burger van (nowt as deadly too!)

    3. John Hughes

      Ironbridge Gorge in England is worth a visit. The eponymous bridge over the Severn was built in 1779 from cast iron sections - like Lego.
      One of my brothers stuck his head between the railings on the iron bridge and got stuck. We told him that as it was a listed monument the fire brigade would probably chop his head of rather than cut the railings. Luckily he managed to pull his head back out.

      1. Vinyl-Junkie

        Re: One of my brothers...

        Thereby proving that few things are impossible given sufficient motivation!


  6. JaitcH
    Thumb Up

    Ontario, Canada Has Some Odd 'Bridges', Too

    There is the Burlington Canal Lift Bridge <>. Nothing too exciting.

    Peterborough Lift Lock on the Trent-Severn Waterway. It is a Hydraulic type built in 1904 and upgraded in the1980s. Length 43 metres (141 ft); Width 10 metres (33 ft); Fall19.8 metres (65 ft 0 in)

    Coordinates 44°18′27″N 78°18′03″W.

    The lock has two identical bathtub-like ship caissons in which vessels ascend and descend. Both caissons are enclosed at each end by pivoting gates, and there are pivoting gates at the upper and lower reaches of the canal at the junctions with the caissons. The gates on the caissons fit into slots on the gates on the reaches, so that they open in unison.

    Each caisson sits on a ram, the shafts for which are sunk into the ground, are filled with water, and are connected with a pipe that has a crossover control valve. The caissons are guided up and down on either side by rails affixed to concrete towers. See Wikipedia: <>

    Kirkfield Lift Lock, Trent-Severn Waterway. Operation-Hydraulic. First built 1907 and upgraded in 1969.

    Length 42.4 m; Width 10.1 m; Fall 14.9 m. Coordinates 44.58973°N 78.98981°W. See Wikipedia: <>


    Big Chute Marine Railway

    During WW1 the government decided improve the Trent-Severn river system. Located on south-east Georgian Bay there was a bloody great around which the river flowed. It had been decided to bypass the rick and they even built the beginnings of a canal and lock.

    Then the war concluded.

    So they ran railway lines over the rock. Boats were floated on to the carriages, which were submerged, and then inched up and the next boat was secured. Eventually the train was hauled over the rock and the baits released.

    Big Chute Marine Railway is a boat lift at lock 44 of the Trent-Severn Waterway in Ontario. It works on an inclined plane to carry boats in individual cradles over a rock of about 60 feet (18 m). See Wikipedia: <>.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Don't forget Anderton Canal Lift

      Not that far away from the Aqueduct.

      And finally,

      Port Sunlight

      Industrial Archaeology at its best.

      1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

        Re: Don't forget Anderton Canal Lift


        It used to be an elegant thing of counterweights, and before that the two caissons moved in opposition. By ensuring that the decending one was slightly fuller, the amount of motive effort required to operate the lift was minimal.

        After the "restoration", each caisson has a single, modern hydraulic cylinder. The two sides are independent, and the lifting is by having a sodding great electrically-powered oil pump lifting all those tons of water. It works, yes, but it's now rather a full-scale working model than a restoration

    2. You aint sin me, roit Silver badge

      Re: Ontario, Canada Has Some Odd 'Bridges', Too

      Peterborough? Trent-Severn?

      But Peterborough is on the Nene! Nowhere near the Trent or the Severn!

      Our colonialist ancestors must have been very confused...

      1. JaitcH

        Peterborough? Trent-Severn? Peterborough is on the Nene!

        The DP's (Delayed Pioneers) from the UK simply named villages/town/objects after places/things in the UK.

        Ontario has a City of London with the Thames River (in that order) flowing through it, too.

        Back in the day, the term "Taronto" referred to a channel of water between Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching, but in time the name passed southward, and was eventually applied to a new fort at the mouth of the Humber River. Simcoe was named after a British governor.

        My favourite town in Northern Ontario, Kapuskasing, is located on the Kapuskasing River, 493 km northwest of North Bay. The name derives from a CREE term meaning "branch" (the Kapuskasing R being a branch of the Mattagami) or "place where the river bends."

  7. earl grey

    A toast is in order

    To a fine bit of engineering and construction. Well done all around.

  8. Alistair

    Great stuff to read.

    Added to the stuff to do if I get over that side of pond one day.

    Perhaps Trevor and I could meet up in Peterborough. Not quite as old but pretty much just as impressive.

  9. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

    or the Big Ditch as it was fondly known

    That's not the name the locals I worked with used for it. Their name for it was inspired by:

    the River Irwell was little more than a toilet

    I'm sure you can guess.

  10. kurios

    Are there videos of this device in action? I looked briefly, didn't find any.

  11. kurios

    Never mind - found one:

  12. Yesnomaybe

    I went up in this beast once. (The "New Lift" that is.)

    Our little boat was rather dwarfed by the enormous barge we shared the space with. We basically tucked in under his stern. Was slightly scary when he fired up the turbines (yes, really) and the giant propeller started thrashing away right next to us.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Well worth a visit, and not just by boat. The old lift from 1899 still exists and has been converted into a museum. I went there last year, and it was amazing.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Rate this article: 5/5

    Maybe 6/5 if the article had included a link to moving pictures (as kindly provided by kurios).

    Anderton Boat Lift, anyone?

    Incidentally, one of the tourist trips up the Ship Canal to Salford managed to run aground a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately no casualties:

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Rate this article: 5/5

      Presumably some scousers had tried to nick the wheels…

  14. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Great Article

    I travelled up and down the Anderton shortly after it was fully restored - and have been going to reccie this one for years, but never quite got round to it.

  15. Stevie Silver badge


    Real engineering at last. Nunnuvyer "transistors" er "quantums", just good plain British cast iron an' steel showin' the world what's what.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      This enormous mass of bridge might well be only a quantum dot to the reality level above....

  16. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    I got the "Geek's Guide to Britain"

    It came in an El-Reg red-colored (antistatic?) bag, nice touch.

    So, will there eventually be a "Geek's Guide to Britain II: After Brexit"?

    (Also currently reading: How Not to Network a Nation:The uneasy history of the Soviet Internet. Great stuff, if someone is interested ...)

  17. Ozzard

    If you want a view of a working boat crossing it...

    ... try this video of a late-'30s Claytons tar boat with a Bolinder single-cylinder 2-stroke engine. Tom Kitching (usually at the back in the video) and Edwin Beasant (usually at the front) were 2/3 of Pilgrims' Way, had been nominated for a R2 Folk Award, and decided to get to the ceremony at Salford Quays on Spey. It was February. It was a bit icy...

    Some lovely photos there, Alun!

    (P.S. Wot no 'old fart' icon?)

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: If you want a view of a working boat crossing it...

      Thanks for that link.

      Ahhhh. The unmistakable Bolinder

  18. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    several hotels close to the Trafford Centre including two Premier Inns.

    several hotels close to the Trafford Centre including AND two Premier Inns.


  19. Pompous Git Silver badge

    Native Mancunians will assume it’s just the weather.

    I went on a day trip to Manchester once and it didn't rain!...

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Please accept our apologies: we hope you weren't too disappointed!

  20. ChrisLaarman


    In 1976 I sailed the MSC as a sailor on one of the three tankers that Shell Tankers (NL) had for bringing certain intermediate oil product from Curaçao to Barton. These 13,000 ton ships would just fit in the locks and could just turn around in Barton basin. They had an extra accomodation for the inland pilot who would stay aboard for the entire time on the canal (with at least one intermediate stop at Stanlow).

    If you should want to browse the Web for these 1955 ships: they were mv Cinulia, Crania and some other C.

  21. Martin Livingstone

    App to show when swing bridges are off

    There is a mobile phone app that alerts you an hour before the 3 bridged in Warrington are due to swing.

    Just extrapolate the times for Barton or see if there is an app for the higher reaches

  22. 2fast748

    The collapsing bearings story should be more famous as that is what rendered traffic on the nearby Thelwall Viaduct immobile for years at a time.

    Bloody ship canal, I often wonder if it generated any more money than it has cost in lost productivity for traffic sat burning time and fuel going nowhere fast.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      It's good question: the railways made it almost obsolete by the time it was built. But it did significantly improve the negotiating position of importers re. the Port of Liverpool. History is full of similar instances where a direct cost / benefit analysis would indicate fail but benefits to the overall economy were definitely positive.

      It also helped stabilise the water table in Manchester: floods in the basin in the city centre in what was called "Little Ireland" were not uncommon before the ship canal.

  23. KroSha


    "Strangely narrow boat users apparently sometimes complain at the delay.."

    Some boaters will moan about *anything*. (See, that's a meta-moan)

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Boaters

      I was under the impression that a "boater" was something you wear on your head?

      Anyway, have an upvote for the brilliant "meta-moan"!

  24. Paul Johnson


    ...great article, let down by only one reference to avoiding Liverpool (anon) and one oblique reference to car wheels being stolen (30 year old 'pun', I believe).

    Ho hum...

    1. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: Disappointed...

      @Paul_Johnson no need to be disappointed hun, just remember the three tunnels under a river estuary, an underground railway network and two, soon to be three, massive span bridges that Merseyside can boast.

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Disappointed...

        soon to be three, massive span bridges that Merseyside can boast

        Where's the latest one been nicked from then? ;-)

      2. Paul Johnson

        Re: Disappointed...

        Yup, I was expecting a deluge (pun intended) of 'avoiding Liverpool' banter.

        BTW, there are 4 tunnels under the Royal Blue Mersey. The road tunnel from the Welsh Island to Liddypool is two separate tunnels. Fact!

        Anyway, like I said, disappointed...

    2. Pedigree-Pete

      Re: Liverpool....

      ..when I lived up that way it was said if stuff went missing in Liverpool it must have been Mancies. PP

  25. hammarbtyp

    How has it come to thus?

    I had the same thought after reading this and recently visiting S.S. Britannia

    How has the same nation who took the financial and engineering risk to produce such technology marvels been reduced to a nation of nimby luddites who find themselves incapable of even creating one set of high speed train track or even a new power station?

    Maybe one way to solve our future power needs would be to strap generators onto the the bodies of Telford, Watt, Brunel et al who should be rotating in their graves at quite a clip at present

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: How has it come to thus?

      Concentration of power in London, and in particular Westminster, certainly didn't help.

      In its heyday Manchester was making more money than London but the City of London soon took steps to put an end to that. Once the power passed to the bankers then industrial decline was more or less inevitable. Politics went from trying to pick winners – the disastrous nationalisations of Labour in the 1960s – to Maggie's closing down sales of steel, coal, cars, etc. (because she worked out she didn't need the votes).

      Employers have also done their part by favouring deregulation and cheap labour over skilled labour. Cottonopolis even got its own form of capitalism: Manchester capitalism where pretty much anything except workers rights was possible. While the rest of Europe was skilling up, the UK was dumbing down, aiming to compete with China over wages on a level playing field. That could soon be mission accomplished.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: How has it come to thus?

        It would be interesting to lock a bunch of today's engineering students in a room with no internet access and told to come up with a solution to something like this.

        I doubt they'd come up with anything half as simple yet effective in a month of sundays.

  26. Francis Boyle Silver badge

    This is how it should be done

    Thanks for this. I was reading this painfully dumbed down and mostly cribbed from Wikipedia article* about the bridge a few days back and feeling frustrated at the lack of real information about the mechanics. This is how it should be done. More please.

    *The pictures are nice though.

  27. Rtbcomp

    As kids we used to try to ride on the road bridge when it was swinging open, we always got chased off though. In those days (late 1950s) there was Barton Power Station and an oil refinery next to the swing bridges, and the Bridgewater canal was covered in a film of oil.

  28. Richard Scratcher

    A wonderful piece of engineering.

    Contrast that with the new road bridge that's under construction a little way up the ship canal. When finished it will take some pressure off the old swing bridge and allow cyclists and pedestrians (and trams), from the towns of Irlam and Cadishead, to get over the water to the "Shopping Cathedral".

    The new bridge consists of four concrete pillars that lift up the road deck and allow boats to sail under it. Unfortunately it recently fell down and blocked the ship canal for several weeks. Luckily nobody was hurt in the accident.

    1. montyburns56

      Re: A wonderful piece of engineering.

      Yeah, I'm surprised that the article didn't mention it especially as one of the aforementioned scrap metal ships has been trapped by the closure for almost three months!

  29. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

    Not forgetting James Brindley

    It is the tri-centenary of his birth. Architect of the Bridgewater Canal and the Barton Aqueduct.

  30. anothercynic Silver badge

    This stuff is cool...

    See, this is old-fashioned ingenuity. I love this stuff!


  31. Michael Prior-Jones

    I once took my narrowboat up the Ship Canal from the junction with the Weaver to central Manchester. Cost me £200 in admin charges and a good deal of faffing about, but was well worth it. When we left Runcorn we called the Vessel Traffic Service (the marine equivalent of Air Traffic Control) at Eastham to confirm we were on our way. They asked us if we needed them to swing the bridges. I was tempted to say yes... but with an air draft of only two metres, I reckoned I'd get found out and bollocked pretty quick!

  32. Jim Birch


    These pioneering, creative Victorian engineers built a lot of great stuff making it up as they went.

  33. mt_head

    Native Mancunians will assume it’s just the weather.

    Obligatory song:

  34. pop_corn

    Cracking Article

    I recently took a canal boat holiday and one of the reasons I chose the Bridgewater canal was exactly to cross this Wonder of the Canal World.

    It was very exciting I can tell you! Well, as exciting as canal boats get that is, proving once and for all, the excitement is all about context. ;)

  35. nigel watkinson

    The only thing I'd add to this excellent article is that the aqueduct CAN get stuck in the open position on a sunny day due to expansion. Around 15 years ago I was on a trip along the Bridgewater from Castlefield to Boothstown and back, and we were held up for around an hour as the local fire brigade hosed down the ends so that it could swing back fully. Gave us plenty of time to admire the impressive engineering though....

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