Then & Now

Henry Spencer

Evergreen - - Contents -

The Vic­to­rian pic­ture above is of a stag­nant dead wa­ter­way which, if shown in colour, would be as close to black as one can get. Why? Be­cause it de­picts the foul River Ir­well once de­scribed as “The hard­est worked river in the world”. Who can deny it?

Ris­ing in Rossendale the clear waters quickly be­came pol­luted and dis­coloured as cot­ton mills and dye works pumped in ef­flu­ents of all kinds, in­clud­ing soap residues which once caused the river to dis­ap­pear un­der sev­eral inches of foam which blew across the sur­round­ing coun­try­side like a snow­storm. The wa­ter also changed colour on a reg­u­lar ba­sis de­pend­ing on what dyes were be­ing dis­carded. Even worse, the river was used for the dis­posal

of raw hu­man waste which was com­mon enough in the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion when vir­tu­ally all ur­ban rivers dou­bled as sew­ers.

The older pic­ture is look­ing west to­wards Sal­ford Docks, and shows the soot­black­ened Vic­to­ria Bridge, con­structed in 1839 to re­place an older 14th- cen­tury bridge, con­nect­ing Sal­ford, on the right, to Manch­ester. In the dis­tance is Black­fri­ars Bridge com­pleted in 1820, which re­placed an 18th- cen­tury wooden struc­ture.

The river flows into the Manch­ester Ship Canal which, un­til Manch­ester Lin­ers and all as­so­ci­ated in­dus­tries ceased op­er­a­tion, and the area was trans­formed into its cur­rent leisure com­plex in­clud­ing BBC Me­dia City, Lowry Cen­tre and the Im­pe­rial War Mu­seum North, had up to ten feet of sewage sit­ting in its 30 feet cut. The sight and smell was ap­palling with no fish or any other liv­ing crea­tures pos­si­ble. Amaz­ingly, dur­ing the early 20th cen­tury there was a ferry from Vic­to­ria Bridge to the docks but it was quickly aban­doned be­cause of the pong from the wa­ter.

The re­verse look­ing mod­ern pic­ture was taken from Black­fri­ars Bridge and shows Manch­ester Cathe­dral and the cleaned- up light sand­stone Vic­to­ria Bridge, now Grade- II listed. The coarse red- brick of­fices have been re­placed by light con­crete build­ings and the wa­ter, now flow­ing freely, is full of fish through­out its whole course. Con­trast this hap­pier scene with the dis­mal and de­press­ing pic­ture op­po­site.



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