The Ashton Canal was proposed as the Manchester Ashton and Oldham Canal and opened in 1797. The canal included branches to Hollinwood and Stockport and a short spur to Dukinfield. Extensions included the Fairbottom Branch off the Hollinwood Branch and the uncompleted Beat Bank Branch off the Stockport Branch.
The opening of the Ashton Canal was followed two years later by that of the Peak Forest Canal, constructed mainly to carry Derbyshire limestone, joining the Ashton Canal at Dukinfield Junction. The Huddersfield Narrow Canal followed, giving a link across the Pennines from Manchester to Huddersfield.
The Hollinwood Branch ran for four and a half miles from Fairfield Locks, Droylsden, between Manchester and Ashton, through Waterhouses, the area now known as Daisy Nook, to Hollinwood. Tram roads brought coal from Werneth and Copster Hill to a loading basin at Butterworth Green, Top Hollinwood. A tramway led from the colliery at Wood Park, Bardsley to the canal near Crime Lake. A branch of the canal ran along the Medlock Valley to Fenny Field Bridge, Fairbottom, where it met a tramway bringing coal from Park Bridge and Rocher Vale to the east.
A privately built extension, known as the Werneth Canal, ran a further half mile from Top Hollinwood to Washbrook and Old Lane, Chadderton, where it met a tram road from the Copster Hill and Chamber Collieries.
The Hollinwood and Stockport branches fell into disuse for commercial traffic in the 1930s, followed by the main Ashton line in 1957.
Restoration work in the mid 1970s reopened the Ashton Canal from Manchester to Dukinfield Junction and today, with the restored Peak Forest Canal, forms part of the "Cheshire Ring" and, with the restored Rochdale Canal, forms part of the "South Pennine Ring".
The Hollinwood, Fairbottom and Stockport branches are all now derelict and partially infilled or built over.
In 2004, societies were formed promoting the idea of restoring both the Hollinwood and Stockport Branches.