The following details about trade on the Ashton Canal were obtained from original canal tally sheets, the whereabouts of which, or even if they still exist, being unknown. The main carrier was James Hall* and others were T Hassall, J Roscoe & Co Ltd (Note 1Roscoe's Coal Yard and Wharf was situated on Meadow Street Wharfs, Piccadilly, Manchester, on the Lower Branch of the Ashton Canal.), West Leigh Carrying Company, Manchester Ship Canal Company, E J Schofield and Simpson Davies & Son. Cargoes of coal, shale, soda ash, lime ash, acid, cullet, cotton, wheat, tea and timber were mainly short hauled from the Rochdale Canal in Manchester to various wharfs on the Ashton Canal as well as to Marple and New Mills on the Peak Forest Canal.
By far, the major traffic was coal, which accounted for around 25% of the total weight. This was mainly carried from Bradford Colliery to unidentified locations on the Rochdale Canal, although considerable quantities were also carried to Piercy Street (Note 2Piercy Street was situated in Ancoats, Manchester, between Mill Street and the Ashton Canal. The only cotton mill actually on Piercy Street was Phoenix Mill but there were numerous mills, including a silk mill, and engineering works in the vicinity.), Edge Lane (Note 3Edge Lane forms the boundary between Openshaw and Droylsden, which was a heavily industrialised area.) and Hollins Mill at Marple (Note 4Hollins Mill was situated on a private branch of the Peak Forest Canal at Marple, between locks 12 and 13.). Over the period, Hollins Mill also took delivery of 1,200 tons of raw cotton from Manchester Docks via the Rochdale Canal.
Edge Lane also took delivery of large quantities of soda ash, shale and lime ash. The soda ash would be destined for some of the many chemical works in the Clayton area and it is likely that the shale and lime ash went to a road-stone works. In 1934, 4,390 tons of coal out of a total of 5,508 tons was consigned to Edge Lane and, curiously, most of this came by way of the Rochdale Canal and not, as might be expected, from the nearby Bradford Colliery.
Timber was mainly delivered to Southern's Timber Yard (Note 5Southern's Timber Yard and Wharf was adjacent to Store Street Aqueduct, Piccadilly, Manchester.) at Piccadilly, Manchester, although in 1932, 10 tons was delivered to an unidentified location at Reddish on the Stockport Branch Canal.
In 1934, T Hassall carried some 1,634 tons of salt to an unidentified destination simply recorded as a warehouse, while cargo described as shale and dirt (Note 6Shale and dirt from the Bradford Private Branch was waste from Bradford Colliery produced as new underground galleries were being dug to provide access to coal seams. This may also have been augmented by furnace waste from the adjacent wire works of Richard Johnson and Nephew. The absence of large spoil heaps around Bradford Colliery indicates that waste produced there was constantly being removed from the area.) was sent from the Bradford Private Branch to an unidentified location on the Stockport Branch Canal. Lastly, 297 tons of cullet (Note 7Cullet is broken or waste glass for recycling. It was delivered to J E Dalton & Co at Albion Mill, Newtown, New Mills, where it was used in the manufacture of emery and glass cloth, etc.) was carried from Whittles Croft Wharf (Note 8Whittles Croft Wharf was in a triangle of land bounded by the Ashton and Rochdale Canals and Great Ancoats Street. In the 19th century, this wharf included a canal warehouse and Store Street Mills, both of which had an associations with the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway Company.), Piccadilly, Manchester, to New Mills.
These glimpses of traffic on the Ashton Canal and its branches, at a time when its commercial life was rapidly drawing to a close are tantalisingly brief but, nevertheless, they do provide an insight into what it must have been like in more halcyon days.
The maximum weight carried on the Ashton Canal, including its branches, was 514,241 tons and this occurred in 1838. By 1905 this had dwindled by around 53% to 241,176 tons. The inexorable reduction in traffic on the branches of the Ashton Canal was echoed on the comparatively short main line. Worsening maintenance standards, the ever-widening railway network, the development of road transport and the payment of uneconomical wages all had an effect. Unfortunately, there is a gap in the records between 1905 and 1930 to show the pattern of decline over that tumultuous period.
Decline of trade on the Western Canal, 1933-1957
Western Canal was the collective name for the Ashton, Peak Forest and Macclesfield Canals. Weights carried were no longer provided separately, possibly in an attempt to mask the difficult situation that any one canal was actually in. The combined weights carried on the three canals for the period 1933-1957 are shown below: