Francis Egerton Bridgewater, 3rd Duke of (1736-1803), the originator of British inland navigation, younger son of the 1st duke, was born on the 21st of May 1736. Scroop, 1st duke of Bridgewater (1681-1745), was the son of the 3rd earl of Bridgewater, and was created a duke in 1720; he was the great-grandson of John Egerton, 1st earl of Bridgewater (d. 1649; cr. 1617), whose name is associated with the production of Milton's Comus; and the latter was the son of Sir Thomas Egerton (1540-1617), Queen Elizabeth's lord keeper and James I.'s lord chancellor, who was created baron of Ellesmere in 1603, and in 1616 Viscount Brackley (q.v.).
Francis Egerton succeeded to the dukedom at the age of twelve on the death of his brother, the 2nd duke. As a child he was sickly and of such unpromising intellectual capacity that at one time the idea of cutting the entail was seriously entertained. Shortly after attaining his majority he became engaged to the beautiful duchess of Hamilton, but her refusal to give up the acquaintance of her sister, Lady Coventry, led to the breaking off of the match. Thereupon the duke broke up his London establishment, and retiring to his estate at Worsley, devoted himself to the making of canals. The navigable canal from Worsley to Manchester which he projected for the transport of the coal obtained on his estates was (with the exception of the Sankey canal) the first great undertaking of the kind executed in Great Britain in modern times. The construction of this remarkable work, with its famous aqueduct across the Irwell, was carried out by James Brindley, the celebrated engineer. The completion of this canal led the duke to undertake a still more ambitious work. In 1762 he obtained parliamentary powers to provide an improved waterway between Liverpool and Manchester by means of a canal.
The difficulties encountered in the execution of the latter work were still more formidable than those of the Worsley canal, involving, as they did, the carrying of the canal over Sale Moor Moss. But the genius of Brindley, his engineer, proved superior to all obstacles, and though at one period of the undertaking the financial resources of the duke were almost exhausted, the work was carried to a triumphant conclusion. The untiring perseverance displayed by the duke in surmounting the various difficulties that retarded the accomplishment of his projects, together with the pecuniary restrictions he imposed on himself in order to supply the necessary capital (at one time he reduced his personal expenses to £400 a year), affords an instructive example of that energy and self-denial on which the success of great undertakings so much depends. Both these canals were completed when the duke was only thirty-six years of age, and the remainder of his life was spent in extending them and in improving his estates; and during the latter years of his life he derived a princely income from the success of his enterprise.
Though a steady supporter of Pitt's administration, he never took any prominent part in politics.
He died unmarried on the 8th of March 1803, when the ducal title became extinct, but the earldom of Bridgewater passed to a cousin, John William Egerton, who became 7th earl. By his will he devised his canals and estates on trust, under which his nephew, the marquess of Stafford (afterwards first duke of Sutherland), became the first beneficiary, and next his son Francis Leveson Gower (afterwards first earl of Ellesmere) and his issue. In order that the trust should last as long as possible, an extraordinary use was made of the legal rule that property may be settled for the duration of lives in being and twenty-one years after, by choosing a great number of persons connected with the duke and their living issue and adding to them the peers who had taken their seats in the House of Lords on or before the duke's decease. Though the last of the peers died in 1857, one of the commoners survived till the 19th of October 1883, and consequently the trust did not expire till the 19th of October 1903, when the whole property passed under the undivided control of the earl of Ellesmere. The canals, however, had in 1872 been transferred to the Bridgewater Navigation Company, by whom they were sold in 1887 to the Manchester Ship Canal Company.