18th March 2021, 9:00am


On Wednesday 24th March, the Spring 2021 programme officially comes to an end. James Cordiner will be delivering the final lecture of the semester: 'The Past, Present and Future of the Manchester Ship Canal'.

For further information about the event itself - and information on how to register - click here

We had a chance to ask Jim a few questions about the history of the Manchester Ship Canal. His answers are very detailed and touch on everything from the inception of the waterway, to the origins of the Manchester-Liverpool rivalry, and Jim's documentary work. We also gave Jim a chance to plug his book, too.

As always, after Jim's talk, there will be a Q&A session. If there's a question you feel we may have missed, then you can ask him on Wednesday.

Q: What were some of the main objections to the constructions of the Manchester Ship Canal (MSC) – both politically and socially?

A: The main objections to the construction of the Ship Canal were driven by financial considerations. The main objectors were the Mersey Dock & Harbour Board, the Liverpool Council, the Bridgewater Navigation Company and the Railway companies. All of these had been benefitting from the trade destined to or from the Manchester region.

It also sparked the rivalry between Manchester and Liverpool. There is a 30 minute televised film available on YouTube, ‘A Tale of Two Rival Cities’ which describes the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester. I assisted in the production and took part in a brief interview towards the end of the film. You can watch the documentary on Youtube by clicking here.

Q: By the time construction of the MSC was completed, Manchester was already referred to as ‘Cottonpolis’. However, what goods did the construction of the MSC allow for the North West to import and export?

A: In the nineteenth century Manchester and neighbouring towns were prominent in the production of cotton goods. The American Civil War (1861 - 65) affected the imports of cotton and this was followed by the world wide Long Depression (1873 - 79). Manchester district was in economic decline and traders complained bitterly about the expensive rates demanded by Liverpool. Shipowners using Liverpool had to pay dock charges and dues were levied on all merchandise passing through the port. If it were possible for ocean-going ships to sail directly to Manchester, these costs would be avoided. A secondary source of irritation for Manchester’s civic leaders was the belief that only a small proportion of Liverpool’s port dues was spent on providing dock facilities. The rest was spent on improving the city. 

Liverpool was charging high rates for importing raw cotton and the railway companies were taking advantage of their monopoly to charge high rates for the transport of goods to and from the cotton towns. Oldham spinners could buy cotton in Germany or France, pay the costs of importing via Hull, add the railway charges for transport across the Pennines, and still make a saving on the price paid for the same cotton through Liverpool. On the export side, over half the cost of sending cotton goods to India was absorbed in railway and dock charges at Liverpool. Oil and later chemical imports became a major traffic for the Ship Canal. At Stanlow by 1922, no.1 Oil Dock had been constructed followed by no.2 Oil Dock opened in 1933.

The Oil Docks are connected to the oil refineries by pipelines through subways under the Canal. Petrochemical products have been a major traffic for the past century and today liquid cargo tonnages represent the largest type of commodity handled in the Port. In the year 2019 the tonnage handled at Stanlow was more than 3.5 million tonnes.  

Q: When did the MSC reach its peak in terms of traffic? What benefits did this bring to the North West and Manchester?

A: Traffic on the Ship Canal peaked in between 1955 (18,563,376 tonnes) and 1959 (18,558,210 tonnes). This before the decline in traffic due to containerization and changes in world shipping, such as supertankers for liquid traffic.

The construction of the QE2 Dock, officially opened in January 1954, was another major engineering project. The entrance Lock gives direct access to the Dock from the River Mersey and was constructed to accommodate larger oil tankers than could enter the Ship Canal. The Suez crisis in 1956 and closure of the Suez Canal led to the building of supertankers.  There is an on-going project including the purchase of a new caisson and replacement upgraded hauling machinery. In 2019 the tonnage handled in QE2 Dock (including the Sheerlegs Berth which is on the Ship Canal) was 2.06 million tonnes.

Total tonnages for the Ship Canal in 2019 was 7,477,497 tonnes.

Warehousing and silo storage has been provided at Ellesmere Port, Runcorn and Salford over the decades, along with the provision of mechanical handling equipment such as quayside and shed overhead cranes, straddle carriers, Roll-on/Roll-off tractors and trailers and forklift trucks. The first British owned/operated deep-sea container service was launched from Salford Docks (to Montreal) in November 1968.  Container operations continue at the Irlam Container Terminal, the restored former steelworks wharf.

Using the synergy now available through Peel Ports incorporating MSC as part of Mersey Ports, this includes Liverpool and Birkenhead Docks, there are plans for potentially developing cargo handling facilities at Ellesmere Port, Port Ince, Port Warrington at Acton Grange and Port Salford at Barton.

Transporting cargo by ship helps to reduce our carbon footprint. This method of transport is thriving on the continent of Europe and it is foreseen that climate change pressures will ultimately bring about changes in policy and taxation that will encourage businesses to use water borne transport.

Q: You recently released a book entitled My Journey From Bengal. Did your travel abroad inform your career in mechanical engineering?

A: After serving an engineering apprenticeship (1961 - 66) I wanted to widen my experience and applied to Voluntary Services Overseas for an engineering post in a developing country.

My voluntary service in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) was as an engineering adviser to a Co-operative run workshop producing agricultural equipment, maintaining tractors and irrigation pumps. At the end of my term of service (1966 - 68) I travelled back to the UK overland. My journey home took three months and the self-published book, My Journey Home From Bengal is mainly about this once in a lifetime experience and has many photographs and illustrations. Chapter 22 is dedicated to recollections of my term of VSO.

Thanks again to Jim for joining us. You can purchase a copy of My Journey Home From Bengal here