Contaminated sediments deposited within urban water bodies commonly exert a significant negative effect on overlying water quality. However, our understanding of the processes operating within such anthropogenic sediments is currently poor. This paper describes the nature of the sediment and early diagenetic reactions in a highly polluted major urban water body (the Salford Quays of the Manchester Ship Canal) that has undergone remediation focused on the water column. The style of sedimentation within Salford Quays has been significantly changed as a result of remediation of the water column. Pre-remediation sediments are composed of a range of natural detrital grains, predominantly quartz and clay, and anthropogenic detrital material dominated by industrial furnace-derived metal-rich slag grains. Post-remediation sediments are composed of predominantly autochthonous material, including siliceous algal remains and clays. At the top of the pre-remediation sediments and immediately beneath the post-remediation sediments is a layer significantly enriched in furnace-derived slag grains, input into the basin as a result of site clearance prior to water-column remediation. These grains contain a high level of metals, resulting in a significantly enhanced metal concentration in the sediments at this depth. Porewater analysis reveals the importance of both bacterial organic matter oxidation reactions and the dissolution of industrial grains upon the mobility of nutrient and chemical species within Salford Quays. Minor release of iron and manganese at shallow depths is likely to be taking place as a result of bacterial Fe(III) and Mn(IV) reduction. Petrographic analysis reveals that the abundant authigenic mineral within the sediment is manganese-rich vivianite, and thus Fe(II) and Mn(II) released by bacterial reactions may be being taken up through the precipitation of this mineral. Significant porewater peaks in iron, manganese and silicon deeper in the sediment column are most probably the result of dissolution of furnace-derived grains in the sediments. These species have subsequently diffused into porewater above and below the metal-enriched layer. This study illustrates that the remediation of water quality in anthropogenic water bodies can significantly impact upon the physical and chemical nature of sedimentation. Additionally, it also highlights how diagenetic processes in sediments derived from anthropogenic grains can be markedly different from those in sediments derived from natural detrital material. © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.