By Matthew Rosier

An artwork recognising the role of the 17,000 navvies who dug the Manchester Ship Canal. From their labour flowed the city of Salford, Greater Manchester’s industrial success, and eventually: The Quays and Media City itself. It is estimated by the Navvies Union that up to 1,100 of these navvies died digging the Canal, with more injured. These were men who migrated from all areas of the UK, alongside thousands from Ireland, who in particular faced extreme prejudice.

The project will be formed around the action most synonymous with the navvy: digging. This will be a multi-strand project made with the Salford community comprising a series of workshops and events, a new co-created piece of orchestral music, the creation of a navvies community garden at MediaCity, and culminating in an audio visual installation in the Ship Canal itself.

Navvies Lightwaves Installation

In December 2022 dozens of anonymous individuals, endlessly digging under the water, will be projected into the Manchester Ship Canal – only their white spades and barrows moving. The role of the navvies here will be represented by the footage of members of the Salford community digging, connecting labour past and present. The projection into the canal will be accompanied by the new co-created navvies musical composition by Hayley Suviste, and performed by the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. The installation will launch as the headline project of Lightwaves Festival 2022 and will run from December 1st – 10th at Huron Basin in Salford Quays.

Navvies Garden

The Navvies Garden has been co-created by the artist and the community group from Salford Loaves & Fishes, who will manage it into the future. Its trees and plants will embody elements of the navvy experience, and its seasonal produce will be given to Salford Food Bank. Food poverty was a key driver in Irish migration in the navvy period, and the community group felt it important to address this through the garden. The digging of this garden by community participants will form the basis for the projection into the canal.


Artist: Matthew Rosier

Music: Composer; Hayley Suviste. Arranged by Daniel Whibley and recorded by the BBC Philharmonic.

Executive Producer: Mediale

Commissioned by Mediale, Quays Culture and MediaCity

Workshops & Consultation: Dr Jessica Symons

Community Group: Salford Loaves & Fishes

Supported by Arts Council England, Historic England and Greater Manchester Combined Authority