The history of this area is full of fascinating surprises which local people delight in discovering and investigating. One such surprise is that the Bridgewater Canal may have had the first steam powered boat. Steam boats are often associated with America where their development went on to create the famous paddle steamers of the Mississippi. Local resident Norman Scott has always been fascinated by the history of the area. While volunteering at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester his attention was drawn to the nearby Bridgewater Canal and its early days. He read about experiments with a steam powered tug developed for the Duke of Bridgewater.
As a retired electrical engineer Norman is fascinated by the ingenuity and imagination of the people who created the Industrial Revolution. They formed the basis of the modern world we take for granted. In the late 18th century the materials and tools needed had to be developed and invented on the job. Steam power had been known about for generations but the ability to harness and use it in a controlled and (relatively) safe way was a question of trial and error. Simple steam engines like Newcomens could only lift water from mines. The early engineers had cast iron held together with rivets. Gradually materials were refined and ways were found to harness more power from steam. Later generations would create machinery like Nasmyths steam hammer to work large scale projects, Joseph Whitworth would create techniques to make precise shapes and to standardise screw threads so that accuracy could be assured. None of this was available to the steam tug pioneers of Worsley in 1799, they beat the metal into shape by hand and eye and created joints with hand-made rivets hammered home and sealed with urine!
Mr Scott has created a model from technical drawings of the steam tug and written an article about the steam tug which you can read here and in a future edition of Lifetimes Link Magazine, available from Salford Museum and Art Gallery. He has also presented talks on the subject, look forward to the next at Eccles and District History Society