Ashton Canal
The Ashton Canal at Droylsden
Length6 miles (9.7 km)
Maximum boat length70 ft 0 in (21.34 m)
Maximum boat beam7 ft 0 in (2.13 m)
Navigation authorityCanal & River Trust
Principal engineerBenjamin Outram
Date of act1792
Date of first use1796
Date completed1797
Date closed1961
Date restored1974
Start pointAshton-under-Lyne
End pointDucie St Jn, Manchester
Branch(es)Hollinwood Branch Canal, Stockport Branch, Islington Branch Canal
Connects toHuddersfield Narrow Canal, Peak Forest Canal, Rochdale Canal
Ashton Canal
-- Huddersfield Narrow Canal
Dukinfield Jn
-- Peak Forest Canal
Hollinwood Branch Canal
Fairfield locks
Clockhouse swing bridge
Grimshaws swing bridge
Clayton locks
Crabtree swing bridge
Clayton locks
Clayton Jn
Stockport Branch
(5 miles)
Clayton locks
Beswick lock
Beswick locks
Ancoats locks
Islington Branch Canal
Ancoats locks
Thomas Telford basin
Store Street Aqueduct
-- Rochdale Canal
Ducie St Jn
-- Rochdale Canal

The Ashton Canal is a canal in Greater Manchester, England, linking Manchester with Ashton-under-Lyne.


Map of Ashton Canal and its branches

The Ashton leaves the Rochdale Canal at Ducie St. Junction in central Manchester, and climbs for 6 miles (9.7 km) through 18 locks,[1] passing through Ancoats, Holt Town, Bradford, Clayton, Openshaw, Droylsden, Fairfield and Audenshaw to make a head-on junction with the Huddersfield Narrow Canal (formerly the Huddersfield Canal) at Whitelands Basin in the centre of Ashton-under-Lyne. At Bradford, the canal passes very close to the City of Manchester Stadium (currently known as the Etihad Stadium for sponsorship reasons), which was originally built to host the 2002 Commonwealth Games.

Apart from the Rochdale and Huddersfield Narrow canals, the Ashton Canal only currently connects with one other canal. Just short of Whitelands, at Dukinfield Junction/Portland Basin a short arm crosses the river Tame on the Tame Aqueduct, and makes a head-on junction with the Peak Forest Canal.[2]

There used to be four other important connections to branch canals: the Islington Branch Canal in Ancoats; the Stockport Branch Canal from Clayton to Stockport (Heaton Norris); the Hollinwood Branch Canal from Fairfield to Hollinwood; and the Fairbottom Branch Canal (itself a branch of the Hollinwood Branch Canal) from Waterhouses to Fairbottom. There was to have been a fifth branch, namely the Beat Bank Branch Canal (itself a branch of Stockport Branch Canal) from Reddish to Beat Bank in Denton, but this was abandoned before completion.

Many of the canal locks are now listed buildings.[3]


Manchester and Oldham Canal Act 1792
Act of Parliament
Long titleAn Act for making a Navigable Canal from Manchester, to or near Ashton-under-Lyne and Oldham, in the County Palatine of Lancaster.
Citation32 Geo. 3. c. 84
Royal assent11 June 1792

The canal received its Act of Parliament in 1792. It was built to supply coal from Oldham and Ashton under Lyne to Manchester.[4] The first section between Ancoats Lane to Ashton-under-Lyne and Hollinwood was completed in 1796, followed by the lines to Heaton Norris and Fairbottom in 1797. Although there were plans to link it to the Rochdale Canal, it opened as an isolated waterway.

Benjamin Outram was retained to complete the final section between Ancoats Lane and the Rochdale Canal including the Piccadilly Basin. It included the unique Store Street Aqueduct, built on a 45 degree skew and believed to be the first major such structure in Britain and the oldest still in use today.

The section was completed by 1798, but the necessary extension by the Rochdale proprietors to the Bridgewater Canal was not built until 1800. Although the Huddersfield Narrow Canal was open as far as Woolroad by 1798, neither it, nor the Peak Forest Canal were complete. In fact it was another ten years before the former connected to Yorkshire and the east coast.

With little but local trade in its early years, the canal struggled financially and a dividend was not paid until 1806.

It then prospered until competition from railways, and later road transport, greatly diminished traffic, and through traffic had ended by 1945. Traffic on the branches ended in the 1930s. Following nationalisation in 1947–48, traffic did not revive, and all traffic had ceased by 1958, after which maintenance was run down. By 1961, combined with vandalism, the canal had become unnavigable, and its retention for pleasure use seemed unlikely.

The Ashton Canal was one of seven stretches of canal, formerly designated as remainder waterways, that were re-classified by the British Waterways Act of 8 February 1983. Under the act, a total of 82 miles (132 km) of canal were upgraded to Cruising Waterway Standard.[5]

In October 2021, lock numbers 13 and 15 were one of 142 sites across England to receive part of a £35-million injection into the government's Culture Recovery Fund.[6]

Leisure use

Pressure from the Inland Waterways Association, combined with the formation of the Peak Forest Canal Society, led to a campaign to reopen the Ashton, with the major organised volunteer clearance of the section though Droylsden in September 1968, known as Operation Ashton. Further campaigning, and the growth of local authority support, led to its restoration, along with the adjacent lower Peak Forest Canal, and reopening on 1 April 1974.[1]

The restoration of these two canals opened up the Cheshire Ring, an immediately (and still) popular one-week leisure cruise circling much of east Cheshire. With the opening of the Southern Pennine canals, the Ashton is now also part of the South Pennine Ring (Rochdale and Huddersfield Narrow) and the longest Pennine Ring of all (Outer Pennine Ring - Leeds & Liverpool and Huddersfield Narrow).

It used to be common to hear reports of unfortunate incidents along the Ashton, such as thefts from boats and intimidating, or at least unnerving, behaviour on the part of some local youths and children. This, for a time, caused boats to go through in convoys.[7][8][9] Today the Ashton Canal is increasingly valued by the communities through which it passes, and although many boaters still advise others to cover the Ashton during early hours, and not in school holidays, reports of problems often turn out to be the repeated telling of old stories. However, incidents do still occur, as in August 2014 when a number of boats were attacked by hooded youths.[10]

The locks are renowned for debris (shopping trolleys, wheely bins, rocks etc.) which can result in blocked lock gates, but Canal & River Trust workers are soon on site to clear any reported incidents. Portland Basin is a good overnight mooring after ascending the Ashton locks, for those who do not wish to proceed beyond Romiley.

There are current campaigns to restore the Hollinwood Branch and Stockport Branches.

Listed structures

The following structures along the canal are Grade II listed:[11]

Image gallery

Points of interest

Map all coordinates using: OpenStreetMap Download coordinates as: KML GPX (all coordinates) GPX (primary coordinates) GPX (secondary coordinates)

See also


  • Cumberlidge, Jane (2009). Inland Waterways of Great Britain (8th Ed.). Imray Laurie Norie and Wilson. ISBN 978-1-84623-010-3.
  • Dean, Richard (2001). Historical Map 3:Canals of Manchester. M & M Baldwin. ISBN 0-947712-43-7.
  • Edwards, Lewis A. (1985). Inland Waterways of Great Britain (6th ed.). Imray Laurie Norie and Wilson. ISBN 0-85288-081-2.
  • Keaveney, E.; Brown, D. L. (1974). The Ashton Canal: A History Of The Manchester To Ashton-under-Lyne Canal.
  • Schofield, Reginald B. (2000). Benjamin Outram. Cardiff: Merton Priory Press. ISBN 978-1-898937-42-5.


  1. ^ a b Cumberlidge 2009, pp. 61–62
  2. ^ Dean 2001
  3. ^ "Listed Buildings in Manchester". Manchester UK. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 22 June 2011.
  4. ^ Ashton Canal, Engineering Timelines, archived from the original on 19 May 2012, retrieved 11 December 2011
  5. ^ Edwards 1985, p. 33
  6. ^ "Heritage and Craft Workers Across England Given a Helping Hand"Historic England, 22 October 2021
  7. ^ "Cops Ahoy in new canal cruiser". Manchester Evening News. 13 July 1996.
  8. ^ "Bicentenary of Ashton Canal may help to return it to its former glory". Manchester Evening News. 17 March 1997.
  9. ^ "Pirates ahoy on urban waterway". Manchester Evening News. 2 November 2004. Retrieved 23 October 2006.
  10. ^ "Boats attacked in wrecking spree". Narrowboat World. 10 August 2014. Retrieved 11 August 2014.
  11. ^ Good Stuff IT Services. "Search: +Ashton +Canal - British Listed Buildings". British Listed Buildings.

Media related to Ashton Canal at Wikimedia Commons

53°28′58″N 2°06′00″W / 53.4828°N 2.0999°W / 53.4828; -2.0999