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A Brief History of Manchester Transport Innovation

A Brief History of Manchester Transport Innovation

Manchester is a city of innovation. From facilitating new inventions and pioneering fresh ideas, it’s a city that is always adapting and evolving. Never one to rest on its laurels the city has been a major player in aspects of science, culture and industry for as long as there have been records.

One of the main ways Manchester has always been looking forward is in transport. Transport innovation is woven into the fabric of the city and is something that has helped define it to be the bustling hub of the north that it is today.


Here are just 5 examples of when Manchester set the standard for the rest of the UK.

  1. First Canal of the Industrial Revolution

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One of the earliest examples of Manchester leading the way in transport innovation is the Bridgewater Canal. Opened in 1761 it was debatably the first truly man-made canal, the first ‘true’ canal of the Industrial Revolution and the first canal in Britain to not follow the path of an existing river.

It was built by Francis Egerton III Duke of Bridgewater in order transport coal from his mines at Worsley to industrial areas of Manchester. Having been impressed by continental canal systems he saw around Europe in his youth he took it upon himself to take this innovation to England.

As if the feat itself wasn’t ambitious enough the construction of the canal also involved the construction of an aqueduct to cross the River Irwell, which was by far the biggest scale aqueduct to be developed at the time!

Opening officially on 17th July 1761 it was a roaring success. The design meant that a single horse could be used to pull roughly ten times the weight of product that it could compared to a cart. The workings of the canal were so effective the price of coal dropped by more than half in the first year of its opening!

Innovation is still stronger than ever in the North West - read about Swifty's time at Venturefest NW 2019!

At its peak popularity, the canal was moving over 3 million tonnes of cargo around adjoining towns and cities of the industrial revolution. In fact, the accomplishment was so great that it sparked a period of frenzied canal building around Britain that became known as ‘Canal Mania’.

Still in use today, Bridgewater Canal was opened to be used by pleasure craft in 1952 and it forms a key part of the Cheshire Ring canal cruising circuit.

  1. First UK Public Omnibus Service

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The first example of a UK public omnibus service was started in Manchester by John Greenwood in 1824. The service took passengers between Pendleton and Manchester.

While stagecoach services had already been around for some time Greenwood was the first person to offer a regular service where passengers would be picked up and dropped off anywhere along the route by request. It was also the first of its kind where you could be taken around without the need for booking ahead.

Greenwood himself was the owner of toll gates at Pendleton and noticed that there was a growing amount of ‘middle classes’ living in the suburbs. He realised that many were still needing to go to Manchester for work, so began a regular local service to keep the two areas connected.

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Described as ‘little more than a box on wheels’ it wasn’t the height of luxury! But the idea still found success and eventually grew into an enterprise creating a burgeoning network of omnibus services that eventually became the Manchester Carriage Company.

In turn, this idea has evolved into the complex bus network we have in Manchester today, with the Wilmslow Road area often being claimed to be the busiest bus corridor in Europe!

  1. First Steam Powered Railway and First Inter-city Railway in the World

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Opening 15th September 1830 the Liverpool and Manchester Railway became the first inter-city railway in the world. As if that wasn’t enough it was also the first railway to *deep breath* - carry mail, have a signalling system, be fully timetabled, be entirely double track throughout its length, rely purely on steam powered locomotives and not allow any horse-drawn traffic at any time!

The introduction of steam led commercial passenger and freight services was a huge step forward for railways as a whole. With Manchester’s mills getting through a huge amount of product, a more efficient way of getting raw cotton to and finished products from Manchester was desperately needed.

Transporting goods previously was limited to be by either canals or carriage. While they sufficed for a while, they were both extremely slow forms of transport that couldn’t keep up with the increase in demand. Not only were journeys on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway around half the price of stagecoaches making the same trip but they were also twice as fast and significantly more reliable!

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Near the completion date of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, a competition was held for locomotives in order for the railway to prove it could be reliably operated by steam locomotives. The competition was to disprove engineers who at the time claimed that stationary engines would be required. £500 prize money was offered to the winner which was given to Stephenson's now-infamous Rocket.

Rocket was the only locomotive to consistently and easily haul a carriage of over 20 persons up the Whiston incline at over 15 miles per hour compared to the competition. At the time it was the most advanced locomotive around and set the template for steam engines for the following 150 years.

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Stephenson's Rocket
  1. Introduction of Rolls Royce

Henry Royce was based in Manchester from 1884 when he started his business making domestic electric fittings in Hulme. This endeavour evolved into making electric cranes and dynamos (a type of electrical generator) however this was fairly short-lived as competition for the same products grew from the US and Germany.

Always having had an interest in automotive, in 1904 Royce developed his first car in Manchester. It was a two-cylinder ‘Royce 10’ of which two more were then made.

One of the Royce 10’s was sold to Henry Edmunds who had a friend in London that owned a car showroom - Charles Rolls. Edmunds showed Rolls the car and set up the now historic meeting between Royce and Rolls at the Midland Hotel, on 4 May 1904. The two got on, Rolls agreed to take everything Royce could make and the rest is history!

From these humble beginnings in Manchester Rolls-Royce have established themselves as the gold standard of luxury cars today. Though Royce left Manchester in 1906, the city played a crucial role in allowing him to entertain the idea of making automotive and allowing the historic meeting between two names that are seldom heard apart nowadays.

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  1. The First Premium Foldable Kick Scooter for Adults

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In 2011 Swifty came onto the scene to revolutionise the way we move on a personal level. Back when we started there wasn’t a folding big wheel scooter on the market, so we developed the SwiftyONE!

A growing amount of people want to avoid using cars where possible, but cycling is either not possible for them or just too unsafe on city roads! Taking the idea of a regular scooter and putting our spin on it we developed a scooter that looked stylish, would last for miles and was safe.

As a small company, we diverted from the already present form factor, not opting for a cheap product that could be mass made for profit. Rather we made a scooter that would last miles of use, could be serviced and would be suitable for tall and heavy riders that would struggle to ride anything else!

We chose to put a big wheel and small wheel scooter head to head in a Pothole Test to test safety - see the results

Look around today and there is a huge array of different scooters that now follow our form factor. Large, pneumatic tyres and componentry similar to that of a bicycle is now not uncommon to see on scooters for all ages, which we wholly welcome.

Ever-expanding and pushing the envelope, our range has since grown to accommodate riders that are looking to scoot for fitness purposes, off-road adventures and kids, no one has to be left out of the benefits!

As micromobility continues to grow (the most recent predictions expect the micromobility market to hit $9.8 Billion Revenue by 2025!) the scooter industry is set to go from strength to strength. With a Carbon Fibre model and a kick assisted electric model recently announced you can be sure that we’re working to remain at the pinnacle of scooter innovation.

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Manchester has clearly shown its grit over the years as a city that’s always looking forward at the next step we can take. Seeing opportunities early that are so effective the rest of the country has to follow suit.

We are living in what some dub as the ‘Third Industrial Revolution – The Digital Revolution’ and you can be sure that Manchester is going to remain at the forefront of UK innovations.

If you want to bet on who will be pushing the boundaries in the future, you best look to the North West... Watch this space!

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