It may be a long way from San Francisco, but Trafford’s swing bridge has been Manchester’s golden gate for more than 100 years.

A masterpiece of Victorian engineering, the iron bridge on Trafford Road has linked Salford Docks at Ordsall and White City, Old Trafford, since the Manchester Ship Canal was officially opened in 1894.

Designed by John Butler and Company, the bridge is the widest and heaviest of the swing bridges on the canal. It weighs 1,800 tonnes.

Trafford Swing Bridge, with Horse and Cart (left) and Tram (right)
Trafford Swing Bridge, with Horse and Cart (left) and Tram (right) – Source: The Changing Face of Manchester, iNostalgia Publishing / MirrorPix

Back in the 1890s, the bridge provided passage for trams and horse-drawn carts carrying goods to waiting ships.

Soon the carts gave way to cars and now the bridge carries droves of Manchester United fans to Old Trafford to watch their footballing idols.

The bridge was permanently opened to vehicles in 1992 – so long gone are the days of infuriating hold-ups as ships were let through at rush hour!

The bridge would swing open to allow ocean-going cargo ships to pass through on their way from Liverpool to the Manchester Docks and Pomona Docks.

There was no need for the bridge to open once the docks were closed, so it was fixed in place as part of the scheme to widen the road to a dual carriageway in 1998. Another bridge was built along its eastern side.

The hydraulic operating station was located next to the bridge on the north bank of the canal.

Trafford Road Swing Bridge
Trafford Road Swing Bridge – Source: The Changing Face of Manchester, iNostalgia Publishing / MirrorPix

Historians were up in arms when two large wicker baskets, which had been an eye-catching feature of the bridge, mysteriously went missing during restoration work.

The ‘lobster pots’ acted as traffic controls for the ships, indicating which vessel had right of way. They were also an effective early warning system, letting people know when the bridge was about to swing.

The mystery of the missing baskets was solved when the council admitted to removing them for safe-keeping. They were later returned.

Gleaming trams that used to cross the bridge have long since gone, but the next generation Metrolink station now stands proudly on the horizon just a stone’s throw away.

The volume of traffic across the bridge has increased hugely since our main image was taken. Trafford Road has been widened and the major junction with Chester Road improved.

The bridge now carries the busy A5063 Trafford Road linking the M602 and A56.

It was listed as a Grade II structure in July 1987.

Malcolm Pheby
Former daily newspaper editor and group editorial director for leading national media brands, Malcolm is a regular contributor to iNostalgia.

The Trams of Stockport Road, 1924

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