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About The Quays

Visit to find out more about The Quays now, including Imperial War Museum North, Lowry Outlet Mall and Vue cinema, and much more.

To understand the scale of the problem and the achievement at Salford, it is necessary to go right back to the beginnings of the site - and the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal by Queen Victoria in 1894. This was a feat of engineering, running from Eastham on the Mersey Estuary to Salford - a length of 35.5 miles. It enabled sea-going vessels of up to 12,500 tonnes to sail right into Greater Manchester and the industrial heartlands of the north-west, and was built at a time of great national confidence when Britain was the workshop of the world. Significantly, the Manchester Ship Canal opened just five years before Queen Victoria laid the foundation stone of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, so setting the seal on an era of unprecedented industrial prosperity.

With its new canalside docks, the city of Salford, a prominent site of the Industrial Revolution in the early 19th century, was destined to grow rapidly. In 1896, Trafford Park Industrial Estate was opened for the manufacture and export of textiles and machinery and the whole area boomed. At its mid-20th century peak, Trafford Park employed 75,000 workers. Salford veterans recall thousands upon thousands of men and women streaming into its factories every day. Salford had experienced a major increase in population, from 7,000 to 220,000 by the early years of the 20th century, but even amid enormous wealth creation and with a massive labour force in work, social and economic conditions were often appalling.

In common with the area's other traditional industries such as engineering and steel-making, Salford's docks suffered terrible decline at the end of the 1960s. The advent of containerisation, shifts in trade patterns and the increase in the size of ships all affected Salford badly. The glory days were over and worsening economic conditions, precipitated by the oil crisis of 1973 and subsequent industrial unrest in Britain, speeded up the rate of decline. By the late 1970s, the loss of trade and jobs in the north of England was alarming and the once-proud docks of inner Salford, by now squalid and polluted, qualified to receive derelict land funding under the British Government's Urban Programme.

Salford docks closed forever in 1982. Jobs at Trafford Park nose-dived towards an all-time low of 24,500 by 1985, as unemployment in the north-west soared above 30 per cent in some places. Salford City Council chief executive John Willis, who had joined the council in 1966, recalled how bad things were at the time: "All the traditional industries were shutting and we faced this urban wasteland right in the middle of the city. Unlike Liverpool or London, the docks didn't have good warehouse buildings that could in time be renovated. They were rotting wooden grain stores. The challenge was what to do with the docks and the Council took the view that it had to do something. And that meant partnership with the private sector."

The City Council had already been brave in selling off Salford's worst tenement blocks to private housebuilders for nominal sums to redevelop as owner-occupier flats. Now it persuaded the Department of the Environment to allow it to purchase the docks and engage private entrepreneurs and developers in a phased programme of dockland regeneration. In late 1983 it acquired the majority of the docks (about 37 hectares) from the Manchester Ship Canal Company for a reputed £1.5 million. It then reached agreement with private developer Ted Hagen's Urban Waterside company to transfer land around Dock 6 to its ownership on condition that at least £4.5 million of private sector development be secured. Meanwhile, derelict land funding from the Urban Programme enabled work to start on reclamation as well as new services, landscaping and roads.

Hagen's vision was for a cinema and hotel to occupy the site. Salford was about to begin the long march back from the brink. "At the City Council, we had sleepless nights over the guarantees we had to give but they were never called on," said Willis. "Investment from the Government's Urban Programme, from the European Regional Fund and our own budget meant we were eventually able to start sorting out the infrastructure."

Extracts from Making the Lowry, Jeremy Myerson, Lowry Press, 2000

Support was received from The National Lottery, through The Arts Council of England, The Millennium Commission, and Heritage Lottery Fund. Other funders include the European Regional Development Fund, English Partnerships, Salford City Council, Trafford Park Development Corporation and the private sector.

The total cost of the project was £106 million. The project includes The Lowry building, the large Plaza, the terraced areas down to the canal and the Lifting Footbridge leading to Trafford Wharfside and the Imperial War Museum North. Also included in The Lowry project is the Digital World Centre (DWC) - a high-tech business centre providing quality, serviced premises. It will be home to the Digital World Society (DWS), a new think tank that will generate innovative projects in digital technologies opened in Autumn 2003.

Time Line

1894 Queen Victoria opened the Manchester Ship Canal
1905 King Edward VII opened No 9 dock
1922 Grain Elevator constructed at the head of No 9 Dock
1952-74 Over 16 million tons and 5000 ships entered the Ship Canal annually
1972 National dock strike
1980 Furness Withy Shipping Company sold
1981 Salford/Trafford Park Enterprise Zone set up
1982 Salford docks closed
1983 Salford City Council acquired majority of the docks from the Manchester Ship Canal Company
1984 Shepheard Epstein & Hunter prepare regeneration plan; Ove Arup & Partners appointed consulting engineers
1985 Salford Quays Development Plan published
1986 Road building started
1988 Water cleaned, fish restocked
1988 First mention of a Salford Quays Centre for the Performing Arts
1990 Publication of promotional brochure for The Salford Centre
1991 James Stirling Michael Wilford and Associates appointed as masterplanners
1992 Death of Sir James Stirling; Michael Wilford & Partners confirmed as architects
1994 First meeting of The Lowry Centre steering group; Albert Finney, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Harold Riley, Ben Kingsley and Robert Powell become founder patrons
1995 Stephen Hetherington appointed to develop project and create business & operational plans
1995 Wilford concept design presented
1996 Planning approval granted
1996 22 February National Lottery award announced; first meeting of The Lowry Centre Trust
1997 Building work started on site; Ground breaking ceremony; Footbridge work started on site
1998 Topping out ceremony; Substructure works completed
1999 Bridge works completed; Building works completed; Lowry car park started; Metrolink extension opened
2000 28 April The Lowry opens
2000 12 October Queen opens The Lowry
2001 Lowry Outlet Mall opens
2002 Imperial War Museum North opens
2003 Digital World Centre opens
2012 Queen officially opens MediaCityUK on Fri 28 March 
The Lowry is a private limited company registered in England and Wales (no. 3255905) and a registered charity (no. 1053962).