During our daily commute, many of us pass the former railway tracks that connected Trafford Park and the old docks of the Manchester Ship Canal. We quickly pass this relic, oblivious to the historic line. Once the centrepiece of Manchester’s industrial history, these tracks carried a total 2.5 million tonnes a year, now it’s an artefact of a past that we can often forget.
This history starts with the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal. Opened in 1894, it connects the Mersey Estuary to the Salford Quays. The Port of Manchester became the third largest port in Britain and this encouraged the development of Trafford Park, the world’s first planned industrial park. This attracted an influx of heavy industry through the 1890s. Large factories like the Trafford Brick Company, the Manchester Patent Fuel Company and W T Glover, a cable manufacturer who supplied all of Trafford Park with electricity, arrived in the early stages of the park’s development.
Through the rest of the 19th Century and into the early 20th century, more companies began to move to Trafford Park including the Ford Motor Company. Ford arrived in 1913 creating components for the Model T and other vehicles. However, they were to relocate to Dagenham, Essex in 1931.
Nevertheless, Ford returned to Trafford Park at the outbreak of World War II, under licence to manufacture Rolls Royce Merlin Engines used in the Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster planes. A total 34000 engines were constructed during the war effort and Trafford’s significance in the home front brought the looming threat of the Blitz. Many factories suffering structural damage due to the bombing raids.
Despite such damages, and Ford’s return to Dagenham, heavy industry continued to grow with an estimated 75000 working in Trafford Park once war ceased.
Sadly, this prosperity couldn’t be sustained. Employment in the park began to decline through the 1970s. The canal struggled with the recently launched wider container vessels and the docks closed. Materials for factories simply couldn’t arrive.
Employment fell to 15,000 in 1976. Much to the concern of the Trafford Park Industrial Council (TRAFIC), a group of companies based in Trafford established five years beforehand to combat the park’s decline. TRAFIC’s initiative efforts were futile. The fall of the park was inevitable. By the closing years of the 1980s, heavy industry in the area had vanished.
By 1987, the Trafford Park Development Corporation was established in order to attract private sector business to the park. Over the course of 12 years, a total £1.759 billion was invested generating 28,299 jobs by 1998. That same year saw the cease of operations on the railway between the docks and the park, marking the real end of an era. Heavy industry out, private sector in.
Nowadays a total of about 35,000 people work in Trafford Park. An Amazon distribution centre, logistics companies such as ourselves and the online financial advisors, Think Money reside here. The latter’s ‘Think Park’ is a five-building complex that includes on-site restaurant and gym. Think Money provide their entire operations out of these buildings and the absence of local branches is replaced with the internet. This modern industry is utterly juxtaposing to their neighbours Kellogg’s, whose cereal production is the only echo of Trafford Park’s manufacturing tradition, having been residents since 1938. Now Kellogg’s seem an intruder in Trafford Park, as the majority of business in the park is now office based.
The dramatic development of Trafford Park is remarkable. From the early industries to the efforts on the home front, to later decline and rebirth, all is worth remembering.
And for the future? With Peel Ports’ 2017 announcement of a £138 million regeneration of Salford’s Port, we may see a restoration of the Ship Canal’s former glory.

I doubt we’ll see any new trains on those old tracks anytime soon.

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