The Ashton Canal was authorised by an Act of Parliament obtained in 1792, to connect the coal mining area around Oldham and the textile mills of Ashton-under-Lyne to Manchester. It was heavily-locked, with 18 locks in 6.5 miles (10.5 km). During construction, the company obtained a second Act to allow them to build the Hollinwood Branch Canal, the Stockport Canal and the Beat Bank Branch Canal. The line to Ashton and the branch to Hollinwood were both opened in December 1796, and the Stockport Branch opened in January 1797, but the Beat Bank Branch was never completed. The Peak Forest Canal was authorised two years after the Ashton Canal, to access limestone reserves at Doveholes, near Whaley Bridge. The final 6.5 miles (10.5 km) were built as a tramway, as the quarries were too high to make access by canal economic, and the limestone was transhipped to barges at Bugsworth Basin. The canal is on two levels separated by a flight of locks at Marple which had not been completed when most of the canal opened in 1800. A temporary tramway bypassed the locks until they were completed four years later. The Ashton Canal built a short section of canal southwards from the junction, which included an aqueduct over the River Tame, and the Peak Forest Canal officially started at the southern end of the aqueduct. The Huddersfield Narrow Canal was also authorised in 1794, and is one of three which cross the Pennines. It was a huge undertaking, with 74 locks and the longest canal tunnel in Britain at Standedge. Sections were opened at both ends as they were completed, with that from Ashton to Greenfield opening in 1798. The canal was not fully opened until 1811, with the completion of the tunnel. It joins the Ashton Canal end-on at the junction.
The Ashton Canal Warehouse was built at the Portland Basin in 1834 by the canal company replacing the early warehouse to the east. It is a three storey warehouse 200 feet (61 m) by 72 feet (22 m), brick built in English garden wall bond. The wooden floors are supported by cast iron columns. The southern elevation which opened to the canal was 3 storeys high and it had three shipping holes. The northern elevation which opens to the road is two storeys high, trap doors allowed split loading and unloading between the road and the 3 canal arms. The roof was flat allowing increased storage. The building we see today is the result of a 1998 restoration. The internal hoist system was powered by an external waterwheel. The head race was taken from the canal, and the tailrace fed down to the River Tame 33 feet (10 m) below. The high breastshot waterwheel was constructed in 1841 to a suspension design introduced by Thomas Hewes and William Fairburn and had rim gearing. It cost ₤1078. It was 24 feet (7.3 m) in diameter and 3 feet (0.9 m) in width and produced 15 hp (11 kW). Power was transmitted by a line shaft. Using a suspension system, akin to the spokes on a bicycle, allowed the wheel to be lighter than the wooden one it replaced. Taking the power train off the rim rather than from axle reduces the stress and gears up the line-shaft leading to less power loss. This is now the home of the Portland Basin Museum.
The museum interprets aspects of local history, industry and trades. Exhibits include a wonderful 1920s period street with shops, period room displays and historic machines. Thjis is truly like stepping back in time. In addition the Portland Basin hosts the Wooden Canal Boat Society which has restored and works six traditional narrowboats. They welcome trained assistance dogs. A water bowl is available for assistance dogs on request. Fully wheelchair accessible. There are no steps between the main entrance to the museum and the first floor of the museum shop, reception, first floor exhibitions, toilets and baby changing facility. The flooring on the ground floor is both grey short pile carpet and paving stones which are largely even and navigable by wheelchair users. The carpeted area of the main reception area declines gradually over a paving stoned street with horizontal handrails down each side. Some of the period 'sets', at the bottom of the street, have a wooden floor. The lower ground floor is paved throughout with a paving stone design but is largely even and navigable by wheelchair users with metal safety barriers around much of the industrial machinery on display. There are interactive touch screens located in the main foyer of the museum on the ground floor which can be accessed from a sitting or standing position. Interpretation boards are all in large text, and have pictorial representation where applicable. All are at a maximum top height of 190cm/75 ins from the ground.
Location : Portland Basin Museum, Portland Place, Ashton-under-Lyne Tameside OL7-0QA.
Transport: Ashton-Under-Lyne (National Rail) - 1 mile. Ashton-Under-Lyne (Metrolink) - 3/4 mile. Bus routes 41, 330 and 345 stop nearby (via towpath).
Opening Times: Tuesday to Sunday 10:00 to 16:00 (summer until 17:00)
Tickets: Free (Donations welcomed)
Tel: 0161 343 2878