Francis Egerton, 'The Canal Duke'.
The Bridgewater Canal came about in response to the problem of the fuel shortage in the 18th century. By this time wood was not so plentiful, particularly near towns where forests had been cleared in the past . Coal was more plentiful but the cost of transporting it was high. Roads were often in a primitive state and loads that could be carried by horse and cart were very limited.

Industry was developing rapidly and furnaces, factories and mills needed fuel. Worsley had an abundant supply of coal and Manchester was the market that it would serve. A canal to connect the two would be the answer.
This was the conclusion of The Duke of Bridgewater and his agent, John Gilbert when they came to decide how best to exploit the Worsley estates.

In 1748, at just 12 years old, Francis Egerton became 3rd Duke of Bridgewater and inherited the Worsley estate.
He came to Worsley aged 22 in 1758. Together with his agent, John Gilbert, and then later the engineer, James Brindley, the Duke planned Britain’s first major true canal. Work began in 1759. In 1761 the canal opened over the Barton Aqueduct as far as Stretford and by 1765 it had reached Castlefield, Manchester.

The purpose of the canal was to carry coal from the mines at Worsley right into the heart of Manchester, where factories were to pay 50% or less than the then current rate for it, as canal transport would be much cheaper and quicker than the slow and expensive road transport of the time.
The coal was mined via an underground canal system that began at the Delph, Worsley. This network of tunnels, totalling over 50 miles in all, was a unique and remarkable feat of engineering which linked coal seams to the Bridgewater Canal.

The Canal was extended to Runcorn in 1773 where it would link with the River Mersey. This meant that goods could be transported from Liverpool to Manchester via the Mersey then via the Biridgewater Canal. , and to Leigh in 1795 where it would link with the Leeds-Liverpool Canal. Thus the Duke had created a network that would link Worsley east and west.

Not content with just carrying coal, the Duke of Bridgewater saw the commercial possibility of linking Liverpool and Manchester. When the canal opened to Runcorn in1776, it provided cheaper, more regular and reliable transport for goods and raw materials. With the expansion of the cotton industry, raw cotton from the Duke's Dock in Liverpool became an important cargo.

Locally the Canal attracted industry. For example, James Nasmyth chose to locate his Bridgewater Foundry (1836) alongside the Canal to take advantage of the excellent transport links in Patricroft.
In 1855 approximately two million tons moved along the canal. By 1862 competition from roads and rail, together with the decline of traditional
industries, had reduced this to half a million tons, 80% of which, was coal moving from local pits to power stations.
Other cargo included maize, wheat and rice from Italy and Australia, hardwood from the Gulf of Mexico, tea and coir fibre from Calcutta, lead from North America and paraffin wax from Burma.
The last commercial traffic ceased in March 1974. The last cargo consisted of four barges of maize from Salford Docks to Kellogg's in Trafford Park.

Although not the first canal in Britain (Newry 1742 and Sankey in 1757 preceeded it) it was the first ‘true canal’ in that it did not follow an existing waterway. More importantly, it was the first canal to have a major impact, and led the way to the vast network of canals that was to criss-cross Britain in the late 18th and early 19th centuries- the Canal Age.