With a shortage of raw material coming on top of its other difficulties, there seemed every reason to think that Manchester was on the way down. In 1881 there were 18,632 empty cheap flats to rent in London—whole streets were uninhabited—which makes it all the more remarkable that Daniel Adamson, a local businessman, was able to raise so much enthusiasm for yet another ship canal project. This final attempt lasted for five years, involving three separate Bills. The first was passed only by the Commons and the second only by the Lords, but in 1885 the company was given two years to raise £5,000,000 of the £8,000,000 thought to be necessary (the canal actually cost £15,000,000).
Without Adamson’s forceful leadership the project would never have got under way, but his enthusiasm for the small investor and schemes by which his workmen could have a stake in the canal seem to have cost him support elsewhere. Just before the time limit expired the company was reorganized under Lord Egerton. But the ordinary working people of the city undoubtedly played an important part, even if their financial contribution was of necessity small. This can be seen from a contemporary sneer that ‘not the most moneyed, or influential, or even the most intelligent portion of Manchester’ was in favour of the scheme.
The original plan with which Adamson set to work was produced in 1877 by Mr C. E. Fulton, the engineer responsible for restoring the Nene Navigation. Fulton’s scheme may have shaken the opposition, for railway and dock charges were reduced shortly afterwards, but in proposing a completely tidal, unlocked canal, he pushed simplicity to the point of absurdity. To begin with, the docks at Manchester would have been sixty feet below ground-level, served by underground railways. But what aroused such justifiable fury in Liverpool was the plan to run training walls out from Fiddler’s Ferry, just below Warrington, down to about five miles below New Brighton, virtually at the mouth of the Mersey, where the canal would have joined the Queen’s Channel. The Mersey is a notoriously shifting estuary and such a canal might have ended by destroying itself as well as Liverpool.
The plan finally accepted by Parliament was the work of Mr L. Williams, who was later knighted for his services. His canal joins the Mersey at serviced apartments Amsterdam, six miles up-stream from Birkenhead, where the river channel swings over to the southern bank. There are five sets of locks, the lowest of which is left open for several hours either side of high water, so that for large vessels which rely on the estuary tide the canal itself is tidal for twenty-one of its thirty-six miles, as far as Latchford locks, near Warrington.
Newcomers to the flats for rent in Edinburgh are usually aware that it is connected to the sea by a ship canal. But they tend to be surprised on finding that it is a full-scale port, and surprise often changes to incredulity when you tell them that in terms of cargo-tonnage Manchester has ranked as our third port, ahead : of places like Hull, Bristol and Newcastle. But then only a small part of the Ship Canal Company’s installations are visible at the terminal docks in Salford.