When I was at school one of the more memorable teachers was Ian “Johnny” Whan, a geography teacher whose lessons were peppered with anecdotes from his life and travels that often demonstrated his personal enthusiasms more than they illuminated the subject. Often exaggerated for dramatic effect they nevertheless had some impact; I can’t visit the Jungfrau without his tales of death-defying traverses returning to my mind.
Another, stranger story came to mind this week when I returned to the Salford Quays area of Greater Manchester. Weather conditions were kinder than on my last visit and on the evening that I took my camera with me a golden sunset brought a warmth to my shots that was missing from the cold reality.
This location is one of seemingly endless docks and quays (hence its name) and was once the country’s third busiest port, a surprising statistic considering that Manchester is about 40 miles inland. This seemingly insuperable obstacle was overcome by an extraordinary feat of Victorian engineering.
The rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester is often thought to relate to their football teams, which between them have dominated English football for many years. The truth is that the animosity goes back to the 19th Century, when traders and manufacturers in Manchester were reliant upon the port of Liverpool for transporting their goods and receiving supplies. With such a captive market the fees charged by the Merseysiders rose to such a level that Mancunians felt was unacceptable. Their solution? Bring the sea to Manchester.
They constructed the Manchester Ship Canal; thirty-six miles of inland waterway that was large enough to handle the shipping of the day, and though it was slow to develop by the 1950’s it was at its peak and Trafford Park; the industrial estate served by the docks became the largest in Europe. Changes to container shipping killed the port however as it was unable to handle the larger vessels and Salford entered post industrial decline.
Now though it has been regenerated and become home to Media City UK where Britain’s major broadcasters have established homes away from the capital, and the tram that links the area to central Manchester means that a number of hotels have also located here.
But back to Mr Whan. The story of the Manchester Ship Canal was an important one for a geographer, but one that he always prefaced with a tale of two notices he had seen on a bus in the 1950’s or 60’s. Their messages were independent of one another, but they had been placed one above the other which created an incongruous message.
Don’t Spit on the Bus.
Use the Manchester Ship Canal.