River Irwell

(The image above is shown with the generous permission of Chetham's Library)

The river Irwell rises in the hills above Manchester northeast of Bacup.  It flows for some 39 miles until it merges with the River Mersey at Irlam.  Along the way it flows through Manchester forming a natural barrier between Manchester and its twin city of Salford.  As a sarcastic reference to Manchester's climate, it has been referred to as the "Costa del Irwell".  The Irwell was a navigable river in the early years of the city's development and at the end of Quay Street there was indeed a quay for unloading goods, that had come upsteam to the city.

During the Industrial Revolution the banks of the Irwell became home to a wide variety of factories and mills and the effluent from those establishments transformed the river.  Whereas once people had fished in the vicinity of of New Bailey Bridge, in 1862 it was described as, "The hapless river—a pretty enough stream a few miles higher up, with trees overhanging its banks, and fringes of green sedge set thick along its edges—loses caste as it gets among the mills and the printworks. There are myriads of dirty things given it to wash, and whole waggon-loads of poisons from dye-houses and bleachyards thrown into it to carry away; steam-boilers discharge into it their seething contents, and drains and sewers their fetid impurities; till at length it rolls on—here between tall dingy walls, there under precipices of red sandstone—considerably less a river than a flood of liquid manure, in which all life dies, whether animal or vegetable, and which resembles nothing in nature, except, perhaps, the stream thrown out in eruption by some mud-volcano".  (First Impressions: The English People," by Hugh Miller)

In more recent times efforts to rehabilitate the river have born fruit and fish and other wildlife have gradually returned .  Today the river flows through a veritable canyon of apartments and hotels as it navigates the city centre.

The image above is shown here with the permission of David Dixon

Below we see the Irwell as it passes the Manchester Evening News Arena, Chetham's School and the Cathedral.  In Victorian times tour boats plied their trade from landings in this area.

Below you can see the bridge which carried the approach road to the former Exchange Station.

The river moves on westwards from this point passing first under the Victoria Bridge.

Looking back beyond the Victoria Bridge we see the Cathedral with Chetham's School of Music beyond.

On the Salford side of the river (left) The Edge apartment building stands with Blackfriars Bridge just beyond it.

At a slight bend in the river, the Trinity Bridge links the Lowry Hotel to the Manchester side of the river.

The Albert Bridge carries Manchester's Bridge Street across the Irwell where it becomes New Bailey Street.  The name is connected with the New Bailey Prison which once occupied a site on the Salford bank just beyond the bridge.  On the left beyond the bridge is the People's History Museum occupying the former hydraulic pumping station.

The Irwell Street Bridge sits at the end of New Quay Street on the Manchester side.  On the left of the image below are the relatively new Left Bank apartments.

Looking west from the Irwell Street Bridge you have the restored warehouses that are now the Victoria and Albert Hotel.  Crossing the river ahead is the Prince's Bridge, designed by Stephenson and built in 1830.  As the plaque on the bridge indicates it was "re-erected and re-opened to traffic" in 1905.

Just beyond the Victoria & Albert Hotel a canal lock opens into the river.  This is a remnant of the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal.  Today it is little more than a water feature in the hotel's car park.

Beyond the Prince's Bridge, as the Irwell begins to exit the city centre, it is crossed by a series of bridges that once carried railway lines into the Liverpool Street Station.  These were lines on the Liverpool - Manchester Railway and the first railway bridges carrying rails into the first railway passenger station in the world.

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