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Manchester & Salford Junction Canal Tunnel, Manchester

Description: Manchester & Salford Junction Canal Tunnel

Grade: II
Date Listed: 20 November 2012
Building ID: 1405199

OS Grid Reference: SJ8338197883
OS Grid Coordinates: 383381, 397883
Latitude/Longitude: 53.4774, -2.2519

Locality: Manchester
County: Manchester
Postcode: M3 4PF

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Listing Text


WWII deep tunnel air-raid shelter. Originally a canal tunnel, 1839, by the engineer John Gilbert Jr, constructed for the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal. Brick-vaulted tunnel with some lower sections constructed of red sandstone, towpath with deep sandstone copings.

Reason for Listing

The Manchester & Salford Junction Canal tunnel is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* WWII air-raid shelter use: it is a good surviving example of a deep tunnel air-raid shelter, having been converted in 1939/40 from an 1839 canal tunnel, and it survives as an evocative monument to civil defence during WWII

* Interior survival: it retains clear and tangible evidence of its wartime use as an air-raid shelter, including its internal 16-bay configuration formed by the use of reinforced-brick blast walls and brick bulkhead wall passageways with reinforced-concrete roofs, as well as key features relating to its adaptation, including reinforced stairs, painted signage, some lights, a gas-proof screen, brick skin walls inserted to prevent damp, and a series of underground buildings/structures comprising first-aid posts, chemical toilet blocks, and ARP warden's posts/look-outs

* Evidence of defence policy: it reflects the government's shift away from the pre-war policy of protecting the public through dispersal, which avoided concentrations of people in one place, to authorising a few local authorities to exploit and adapt existing features, such as tunnels and culverts into deep shelters

* Historic interest: it has significant historic interest in representing an important period in Manchester's history: the Manchester Blitz of December 1940, and in illustrating the threat posed throughout the war not only to the city's, but the nation's civilians as a result of aerial bombing, and the steps taken to protect them


The history of the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal is closely linked with that of the Mersey & Irwell Navigation and the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal. In the 1790s the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal proposed a link canal between the River Irwell and Rochdale Canal so that boats could navigate to Bolton, Bury and Warrington. In 1805 John Nightingale, engineer of the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal, was asked to draw up plans and estimates for a canal, including a tunnel, which would link the two waterways. The scheme was abandoned for nearly 30 years due to other developments, but in 1835 the proposal was revived by the Mersey & Irwell Navigation who went into joint negotiations with the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal to form an independent company; the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal Act was enacted on 4 July 1836.

The Manchester & Salford Junction Canal was opened in January 1839 and was designed by the engineer, John Gilbert Jr. It was 1100 yards (0.6 mile) long with 500 yards (0.28 mile) of gas-lit tunnel running underneath Manchester from near Atherton Street to just after Deansgate, where it came into the open with locks and a reservoir before joining the Rochdale Canal near Bridgewater Street. The open section of the canal, along with locks and reservoir, was also later covered over, and the section of the canal between Lower Mosley Street and Deansgate closed when construction of the Cheshire Lines Committee's Central Station commenced in 1875. The locks were dismantled and their stonework used to build a new lock on the Runcorn & Weston Canal. Consequently, through traffic on the canal ceased. Between 1885-1899 the Deansgate/Great Northern Goods Station & Warehouse (Grade II*) was built over the top of the canal and a wharf constructed with two lift shafts that transported goods up to every level of the warehouse.

In 1842 the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal, its properties, debts and liabilities etc were acquired by the Mersey & Irwell Navigation, which in turn was later acquired by the Bridgewater Trustees. As the trustees had no real use for the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal due to the greater success of their own canal link, the trade of the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal dwindled further and it continued in limited operation until the 1920s, mainly serving the Deansgate/Great Northern Goods Station & Warehouse and Central Station. The canal was finally abandoned for navigation under the Manchester Ship Canal Act of 1936.

In 1939/40 the canal was drained and the majority of the tunnel (between Brunswick Basin and Watson Street) was converted into an air-raid shelter by the Manchester Corporation, who eventually took ownership of it in 1941. Air raids on Manchester began in August 1940, but it was not until December 1940 that serious attacks began. During the Manchester ('Christmas') Blitz nearly 500 tons of high explosive and nearly 2000 incendiaries were dropped on Manchester, resulting in the deaths of nearly 700 people and destroying, or severely damaging, many buildings, including the Free Trade Hall, Town Hall, Royal Exchange and Manchester Cathedral. Further raids took place throughout the war with nearby centres, such as Salford and Stretford also suffering heavily. Prior to the blitz, and following attacks in other parts of the country, air-raid shelters were constructed across Manchester, including the shelter in the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal tunnel, as well as concrete surface shelters in Piccadilly Gardens (now removed) and Victoria Arches air-raid shelter.

The tunnel was divided into 16 bays separated by reinforced-brick, blast walls, and there were 5 entrance points: Grape Street, Lower Byrom Street, Byrom Street, Deansgate and Watson Street. The shelter was designed to accommodate up to 1350 people, although it was generally used by 300-700 people, and contained warden's posts and look-outs, two first-aid posts (one each for men and women), chemical toilets, gas pipe handrails on the stairs, and gas-proof screens. Benches were provided and people brought their own bedding. The floor of the canal was raised slightly and a brick skin wall inserted to some sections to try and prevent damp.


WWII deep tunnel air-raid shelter. Originally a canal tunnel, 1839, by the engineer John Gilbert Jr, constructed for the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal. Brick-vaulted tunnel with some lower sections constructed of red sandstone, towpath with deep sandstone copings.

PLAN: The canal tunnel has been in-filled at each end with a surviving central section, approximately 0.27 mile in length, accessible from two points: the former Deansgate/Great Northern Goods Station & Warehouse and Granada Studios. The tunnel runs mainly east - west, approximately between Watson Street and Lower Byrom Street, and then turns south-east - north-west at approximately Atherton Street where it turns towards the Irwell Navigation. The tunnel's section between approximately Lower Byrom Street and Deansgate is flooded and is not accessible on foot.

EXTERIOR: The canal tunnel is not visible above ground and the air-raid shelter entrances have all been blocked-up. The tunnel portal near Water Street has been altered and bricked-up.

INTERIOR: The canal tunnel is a brick-vaulted structure with some lower sections of walling constructed of red sandstone. The tunnel is 18' wide and 18' high with a 3'6" wide towpath set alongside the northern wall. Originally the canal was 8-10' deep, but poured concrete floors were inserted during its conversion to an air-raid shelter, raising the floor level. Following its conversion to an air-raid shelter the tunnel is divided into separate bays by reinforced-brick blast walls, inserted to prevent blasts travelling along the tunnel. The surviving section of the tunnel retains a series of reinforced-brick, arched stairwells and reinforced-concrete stairs, which were inserted to provide access to the shelter. The tunnel brickwork appears to have been painted white during its use as a shelter, presumably to create as light an environment as possible, and much of the paintwork survives. Brick skin walls inserted into the tunnel shelter to prevent damp largely survive, but gas-pipe handrails on the stairs have been removed, although some of their supports survive, along with some ceiling lights. The bay numbering starts with Bay 1 at Watson Street and ends with Bay 16 just beyond Atherton Street (this bay is now partly blocked-up).

Bays 1-5 lie underneath Deansgate and the former Deansgate/Great Northern Goods Station & Warehouse and retain their original, bay-to-bay air-raid shelter access, which consists of a passageway through each blast wall with brick bulkhead walls at either side with reinforced-concrete roofs. The bulkhead walls are annotated with arrows pointing the direction of travel and the bay numbers. This section of the tunnel is accessed via an 80ft-high stair well (formerly a c1900 lift shaft/hoist well used to transport goods up to the warehouse above) contained within the former Deansgate Goods Station & Warehouse, which leads down to a short, brick-vaulted passageway that provides access on to the towpath of Bay 2 (an identical passageway and lift shaft/hoist well leading off from Bay 3 to the west have been in-filled).

Bays 2 & 3 are wider than the rest of the tunnel, resulting from the extension of this part of the tunnel in c1900 to form a wharf that served the warehouse above. The former wharf is 31' wide and 23'6" high with a 8'6" wide towpath that retains an original, cast-iron mooring bollard in Bay 2. Steps have been inserted from the towpath down on to the raised canal floor. Bay 2 contains a reinforced-brick structure to the south-west corner, which is believed to have functioned as a toilet block during the tunnel's use as an air-raid shelter. Surviving on the north wall of the structure are painted instructions (now heavily faded) for users of the shelter. Further toilet blocks survive in Bays 1 & 4; that to bay 4 contains an original Elsan chemical toilet. A metal gas-proof screen survives to the western bulkhead wall and passageway in Bay 2, and Bay 1 retains the upper section of the canal tunnel's original west portal, including stone voussoirs.

Bay 5 has a split-level floor with a large, reinforced-brick, air-raid shelter structure (original reinforced-concrete roof now removed) set alongside the south wall of the tunnel and arranged on both floor levels. The eastern end of the structure, which is set upon the higher ground level, is formed by a warden's post, which has look-out window openings to the east and north sides, and a doorway (door removed) to the north side. A short flight of steps provides access down on to the original canal floor (now submerged under several feet of water), and to two (men's and women's) first-aid posts, which are separated internally by a brick dividing wall incorporating an access doorway. Entrance doorways and air vents exist to the north and west sides. Two stairs, forming this bay and the shelter's Deansgate entrance, have been inserted through the north wall of the tunnel. A warden's look-out with a corrugated metal roof also exists to Bay 1, along with a stair that served the Watson Street entrance.

Bays 6-12 lie underneath the area between approximately Deansgate and Lower Byrom Street and are flooded by several feet of water. However, photographs taken in 2010 show that they share the same level of survival as the rest of the tunnel, including a raised towpath, annotated bulkhead access walls, Byrom Street air-raid shelter entrance stairs, and some surviving air-raid shelter structures, including toilet blocks and a further warden's look-out. Bay 9 also contains a heavily degraded painted notice for shelter users adjacent to one of the bulkhead walls.

Bays 13-16 lie underneath the area between approximately Atherton Street and Lower Byrom Street and are accessed via a later inserted entrance contained within the Granada Studios building. Although the tunnel has been drained, groundwater seepage means that the canal is partly filled with water. Bay 16, located at the north-western end of the tunnel, has been truncated and sealed-off by a mid-late C20 concrete wall. The original air-raid shelter access from bay-to-bay, via a passageway through each blast wall with brick bulkhead walls at either side, has been blocked-up, although the bulkhead walls still survive and are annotated with painted lettering and arrows pointing the direction of travel and the bay numbers. Access between the bays is now via later doorways inserted through the blast walls at towpath level. Two air-raid shelter staircases, forming the Lower Byrom Street entrance, exist to Bay 13 and have been inserted through the northern wall of the tunnel. Set in between the stairs is a warden's look-out, which consists of a small, square, reinforced-brick structure built on the canal floor and against the towpath, with window openings to the east and west sides and a doorway (door removed) to the south side. The look-out's original reinforced-concrete roof has been removed.

A much-altered, additional chamber at the easternmost end of the tunnel section, beneath and beyond Watson Street, did not form part of the WWII air-raid shelter and incorporates an in-filled, formerly open-air reservoir and two truncated, brick, pump-engine housings (machinery now removed). It was also originally the site of the canal's open-air, upper locks. The chamber is not of special interest and is excluded from the listing.

Listed building text is © Crown Copyright. Reproduced under licence.