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Brief History of English Canals

Brief History of English Canals
17/12/2021

Did you know the UK has nearly 4000 miles of canals? The UK Canal & River Trust care for at least 3000 miles of canals across England and Wales. It is stated there are at least 34,000 licenced boats still floating these canals. World Famous canals: Suez Canal, Panama Canal, along with the Canal cities of Venice and Amsterdam. Did you know Birmingham has more canals than Venice!

The growth of the railway network caused the decline in use of canals from around the 1840s. Over the years we have seen many housing developments being constructed next to canals offering a water feature to people within Towns. It is said the UK was the first country to develop a nationwide canal network. Which played a vital role in the British industrial revolution by providing an economical way to transport goods and commodities in large quantities. Up until as late as the 1950s it was standard for commercial boats on the canal to be horse-drawn, with the path alongside the canal being used for a horse to walk alongside. One horse-drawn barge could carry around 3o tonnes and was faster than road transport at half the cost. Barge owners used horses even after the introduction of diesel power. Britain was not the pioneer of canals as China appears to have examples from as early as the 10th century. Interestingly common parts such as the Pound Lock was invented in China around 983, and the Mitre Gate design was attributed to Leonardo De Vinci!. Early examples of canals in the UK: The Exeter Ship Canal completed 1567, was also the first canal to use the Pound Lock. The Sankey (St Helens) Canal opened in 1757 and closed in 1963. The Bridgewater Canal opened in 1761. Between 1770 and 1830s is referred to as the Golden age, when most of the network was created, mostly by groups of private individuals who saw the opportunity to bring goods direct to factory doors. As you walk the canals you can see where many businesses have closed the access to canals. In many cases these entrances have been bricked up. The History of English Canals has been interlaced with slavery and the exploitation of people. Money acquired by the means of the transatlantic slave trade was invested in the construction of Canals. Along with carrying of cargoes produced by enslaved people including sugar, cotton and tobacco.

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