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This article presents new data on mill location in Manchester in 1850 to show that water-transport infrastructure played a key role in determining the intra-urban pattern of factory development. The shift from water to steam power introduced new patterns of industrial water use, rather than the relocation of factories away from waterways. Five new public canals and 23 private canal branches activated a major expansion of Manchester’s waterfront, providing the majority of the manufacturing sites that enabled the town to become the world’s foremost factory centre. Without effective municipal water supplies, canals were the best available water source for steam engines.