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Castlefield Guide

(£) Castlefield For Free
 by Jonathan Schofield

Merchant's Bridge Now proceed to the gleaming white sickle bridge that leaps energetically across the main canal basin opposite Barca Bar. This is the Merchant's Bridge and was designed by Whitby and Bird in 1995. This example of innovative modern engineering captures the Castlefield mood perfectly: it cost £400,000. Stand in the middle of this bridge and count the others. You should see 12 - none more than 200 metres away. Be wary of the bridge's bounce it can give you an uncomfortable surprise.

Beneath you lies the Bridgewater Canal. Many historians measure the start of the Industrial Revolution from the time in the early 1760's when the canal was built between the Duke of Bridgewater's mines at Worsley to this point, thus enabling the price of coal to halve and allowing manufacturers to increase productivity. The canal engineers were John Gilbert and James Brindley: the Duke financed the project which cost in total £200,000 but was soon returning profits of £80,000 a year. As well as coal, the canal transported foodstuffs, cotton, salt, timber and stone.

Through the sickle support of the bridge you can also see the last lock on the Rochdale Canal - the first efficient industrial trans-pennine link. This canal was finished in 1805. At one of its busiest times the canal was carrying up to 50 fully laden boats per day. You can also see the charming Lock Keeper's Cottage which looks as though it belongs in some dream of rural England rather than in this powerful landscape.

The building next to this is the Merchant's Warehouse. This dates from 1823. In a fine twist of fate, one of the oldest buildings of the industrial age plays host to Ocean Software one of the most progressive companies of the technological age. The marvellous conversion was completed by local architects Ian Simpson Associates. The pub behind Merchant's Warehouse is Duke's 92 and used to be its stable block.

View over Canal with the Chapel Walk over the bridge towards Jackson's Wharf pub. Straight ahead the huge old warehouse now housing a commercial radio station and appartments is Castle Quay, built just after the Merchant's Warehouse. Further round you get a fine view of Edward Walter's Congregational Chapel of 1856 with its lovely Romanesque tower. The church is now home to Pete Waterman's recording studio in the basement and will shortly, in the most predictable of changes, be converted upstairs into a pub. The remarkable white plaster, brick, steel and glass building by the towpath is the Quay Bar dating from 1998 by another fine local architect Roger Stephenson. There is a good view of the area from the upstairs terrace.

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