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Proposed Canals

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There are times when those who suggested canal improvement may have made a significant improvement to the UK canal and river network, yet through a variety of factors have failed to materialise. Perhaps the most ambitious was the MacFarlane report of 1965 for the IWA. In 1963 the IWA looked for an improved waterway network for the remainder of the 20th century and extending into the 21st Century, suggested in 2 phases one conclusion was the revival of a canal across England at the 300ft contour. Despite the engineering challenges, such as scheme may well have improved traffic by boat and reduced the amount of heavy goods by road.

 

But then canal and river improvement had been on going since 1906. What was accomplished was far less and only the Trent, Grand Union, Aire & Calder and Sheffield & South Yorkshire has seen improvements for trade.

 

The Leisure Trade has encouraged canal restoration with new lengths made to enable continued navigation, but what chance is there for the future. A flagship plan to build a canal link from the Ouse to the Milton Keynes has been hampered by a new road project. If built will this waterway be of use for just the boaters, or will there be a trade aspect as well? 

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Simple economics dictate that with a very few exceptions the inland waterways of the UK are no longer a viable method of commercial transport. Dreaming does not alter the hard facts. 

  • Greenie 1

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I believe that dreaming was not the point of all these suggestions. There were genuine reasons for the proposals and those that invested in such schemes had the hope of adoption. Yet all working canals today came about through those willing to risk capital for the canal to be built. The IWA report of 1965 mentions that canals came about in a haphazard process. I do not agree with that statement as finance for schemes was often dictated by the demands of industry and commerce. Canals reduced transport costs as did tramroads and railways. All originally had limited horizons. With Canals those horizons expanded with the linking up to form a network of navigations. For railways they might have remained small operations, but mergers and the Railway Clearing House helped create that network.

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Connecting the Slough Arm through to the Thames would be a viable commercial waterway for refuse, non-time dependant goods and Leisure. 

Unfortunately, due to the weed and shopping bags, you cant even get to the end of the Slough arm these days

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HS2 will wreck the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union at Stanthorne, but CRT have managed to close the canal already for an indefinite period.

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12 hours ago, Heartland said:

I believe that dreaming was not the point of all these suggestions. There were genuine reasons for the proposals

Yes - 50 years ago. The world has moved on.

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A world moving on happens often in an short period of time, 50 years, a year, a day even a minute could have that significant moment of change. But moving on for the good or the bad is often a topic for discussion, debate or even argument. It could be said that the IWA proposals had no chance of success because of the road lobby in British Parliament at that time. Modern canals have many supporters and it is plausible to expect future positive changes to the canal network. 

 

But Macpoint 005 is right that the world has moved on in one respect, many canals in England & Wales are managed by the CRT and their lies a question to be answered. How effective are CRT in managing change, managing repairs and in effect anything else?

 

In Manchester, I understand there is a proposal to restore the Manchester & Salford Junction Canal. With much of the structures being in place, a report has been prepared recommending this move. 

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A couple of points

 

Improvements have been proposed but not forthcoming almost as long as there have been canals being built - I'm very familiar with the Dorset and Somerset which was authorised but construction hardly started, most of it was never built and the bit that was never took a toll. However, I was until recently unaware of schemes that would have linked Chippenham to Bristol avoiding the K&A and Chippenham to Sharpness - had these come to fruition the South West Network would look very different today.

 

The world has moved on because investment decisions were made - the relationship between where we are and earlier decisions needs to be understood. IF a government decision to back the Grand Contour Canal had been made and at the same time not to allow longer, heavier trucks then we would probably have a fair amount of freight shifted by water: we have now had 70 years of pursuing a policy of accommodating road freight whilst under-investing in other modes, at least as far as government expenditure is concerned. Road provision has largely been on a "predict and provide" basis whilst rail and canal have required a return on investment. 

 

Our smaller waterways (up to and including Grand Union size) can't offer much by way of modal shift. One lane of a motorway can carry more tonnage in an hour than a narrow canal can in a day. We have never had the political will to provide high capacity canals, and as a result even our larger ones are small by continental standards

 

And finally, there are encouraging developments on the continent with self-loading barges (i.e. don't need a crane at the wharf) that carry palletised goods - watch for this happening over here.

 

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15 hours ago, magpie patrick said:

One lane of a motorway can carry more tonnage in an hour than a narrow canal can in a day

And our shopping / delivery habits have changed.

 

(Cue Hovis music...)

When I were a lad the local corner shop would have two, maybe three big blocks of cheese which they would cut to order. They had a regular delivery from their supplier which could be predicted days if not weeks in advance. If it took three / four days for the delivery to get there, so be it, even for relatively perishable items.

 

The local corner supermarket now has over thirty varieties of cheese, each available grated, sliced, thick sliced and by the kilo in separate sealed pouches. the till reports to HQ "We've just sold one of our two packets of grated welsh goats cheese, send more" and the whole system relies on "just in time" ordering. Even if canals had the capacity to carry, they don't have the speed for our modern lifestyle.

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Once the railways had improved signalling and there was a will to co-operate through the Railway Clearing House, the battle of speed was won by the railways in a railway canal contest. Carriers moved on to the bulk market. Those blocks of salt the corner shop sold were sometimes carried by boat, as the demand became not time critical. There were many uses for canal and river traffic for that trade that was not time critical and this even true today for bulk rubbish and gravel. 

 

The 1965 IWA interim report advocated some 250 ton barge links in the North East:

(1) Improvement to the River Aire from the Ouse with a new link to the Aire & Calder Canal east of the junction with the Selby Canal and a branch canal from that to Eggborough Power Station

(2) The reinstatement of the River Don from Goole to Stainforth & Keady Canal with a branch to Thorne Moorend Colliery

(3) A branch from the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation to Thorpe Marsh, Bentley, Carcroft and Askern

(4) A branch from the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation, at Mexborough, to Manvers Main Colliery, Darfield and Barnsley

(5) Reinstatement of the Barnsley Canal to Wakefield, but not the Aqueduct

(6) A new canal from Long Sandall, Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation, to Rossington, Harworth Colliery to meet up with the River Idle

(7) River Idle improvement from the Trent to East Retford

(8) Reinstatement of the Dearne & Dove Canal to Barnsley

 

These were massive changes....

 

 

 

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Interesting to note that some improvements were carried out in the SSYN area - I was puzzled over the length of Bramwith Lock, which is much longer than Thorne (and possibly wider) until the penny dropped that a colliery sent it's coal to Goole this way rather than towards the River Trent

 

Elsewhere, Fussells of Mells kept petitioning the GWR for a branch to serve the Mells Valley as they were struggling to compete (their nearest railway siding was Frome) but the GWR wasn't interested as the industry was too small - half a century earlier Fussells had been lukewarm about the Dorset and Somerset as they hadn't the need for bulk transport. Had that canal been built and survived into the second half of the 19th century it would have been busy with Fussells trade, it's absence helped finished them off

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The Railway ClearingHouse wasn't much use when it came to operating a service. In the 1930s, the wooden boats of the flour millers Applebys were coming to the end of their life. The firm had several mills on the side of the L&LC in East Lancashire, and looked at delivery times from Birkenhead Docks, where the grain arrived, to Blackburn and East Lancs. The canal was faster than the railway because of the poor connections from Birkenhead to East Lancs, resulting in wagons probably having to be marshalled into new trains three times on the journey. The more successful canals tended to serve local or regional needs, and were well able to compete with railways on delivery times. It was the post 1st WW decline in trade and the demise of traditional industries and the working-out of canalside collieries which led to the end of traffic on those canals.

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The Railway Clearing House was not an operator, but a means of distributing moneys between railway companies. So that goods traffic and passengers and parcels that were sent over different railway operators routes could have the charges and costs appropriately distributed. Canals charged tolls for their routes and whilst some through tolls existed, or came to exist, there was no organisation for the canal traders, as far as I can see. Please correct me if that was the case for the Leed/Liverpool/ Bridgewater-MSC/ Aire and

Calder etc.

 

Now with the railway owned canals, it would be an interesting exercise if railway interchange or canal traffic was dealt with in any way by the RCH.

Edited by Heartland

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There were agreements for specific traffics onto and off the L&LC, and I suspect other northern canals also had similar agreements regarding traffics, particularly those to and from the docks. Canal traffics were not considered by the RCH, even when operated by railways, and that caused particular difficulties for the three main railway companies who leased the general cargo traffic on the L&LC, as they were unsure about how some through traffics had their costs divided up, and how competition between the three affected canal carrying finances. I did include some detail in my revised history of the L&LC, and there are several volumes covering the lease in the National Archives in both canal and railway sections. Interestingly, I noted in reading one of John Armstrong's publications recently that towards the end on the 19th century, the average goods train load was around 50 tons, so no greater than the load carried by one short boat on the L&LC. Prior to the computer control of goods wagons, the railways' goods services were very inefficient.

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Time to relaunch the Birmingham & Liverpool ship canal scheme

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29 minutes ago, RLWP said:

Time to relaunch the Birmingham & Liverpool ship canal scheme

That sounds good.

Am I the only one who does not want the Bedford Link? There's something magical about getting to remote parts of the system, and the Nene, Middle Level and Gt Ouse to Bedford is about as good as it gets (we only got as far as St Ives). The Bedford Link will just fill the whole area up with London Liveaboard widebeams.

 

.............Dave

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On 24/06/2018 at 12:00, magpie patrick said:

Interesting to note that some improvements were carried out in the SSYN area - I was puzzled over the length of Bramwith Lock, which is much longer than Thorne (and possibly wider) until the penny dropped that a colliery sent it's coal to Goole this way rather than towards the River Trent

 

The colliery was Hatfield, just to the east of Stainforth. You can still see the winding hole for the large boats, the wider section of canal where the loading area was and the rough ground alongside. I don't know the destination of most of the coal sent from there, but it may have been direct to one or more local power stations as well as, or rather than to Goole. Hatfield also had railway access for sending out coal, so the water transport was just for specific destinations with direct offloading.

 

On 13/06/2018 at 21:12, Heartland said:

I believe that dreaming was not the point of all these suggestions. There were genuine reasons for the proposals and those that invested in such schemes had the hope of adoption. Yet all working canals today came about through those willing to risk capital for the canal to be built. The IWA report of 1965 mentions that canals came about in a haphazard process. I do not agree with that statement as finance for schemes was often dictated by the demands of industry and commerce. Canals reduced transport costs as did tramroads and railways. All originally had limited horizons. With Canals those horizons expanded with the linking up to form a network of navigations. For railways they might have remained small operations, but mergers and the Railway Clearing House helped create that network.

Big dreams for integrated and long distance canals were around early. Brindley set out the idea for the Grand Cross, linking the rivers Thames, Trent,  Mersey and Severn and it was built, partly by him and after his death. Trent and Mersey, Staffs and Worcs, Coventry and Oxford canals. The investors in each specific scheme had their own concerns, like getting pottery from Stoke to a nearby port without breaking most of it, but could also see the advantages of a wider network. Wedgewood sold a lot of pottery to London society, even having a showroom there and a direct canal link would have been obvious to him.

 

Jen

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Yes, it is true that the core network of the British Canal network came about in Brindley's time where a group of like minded people came together to discuss and plan this network. Engineers such as James Brindley and his colleagues created this network. It is possible to see such men as Wedgewood discussing such concepts at meeting of the Lunar Society. This happened at a time when the turnpikes were being created and extended. Exactly how those beliefs were formed has been discussed in many historical texts, whether even now the complete story has been unravelled totally, is probably not the case as what has been written about depends on recorded information and not the spoken word or opinions or views that were not recorded. Yet such things were a driving factor in those schemes that united the Mersey, Severn and Trent. There was also dissent and varying opinions in that mix. Opposing views of people like Samuel Garbett eventually led to other canal schemes and the wider expansion of the network that has been dubbed by some as the period of the "Canal mania".  Yet what was constructed in the Grand Cross was limited often to the size of a narrow boat and the key suggestions made throughout the twentieth century were ways to improve and widen these waterways.

 

Construction methods of the time were a limit to to waterway construction and improvement. River improvement had been on going long before the Grand Cross. Mike Clarke often talks about the group of engineers responsible for improvements of the Calder, Aire, Mersey & Irwell that steadily brought navigation upstream from the tidal sections further inland. For some those skills are seen as a beacon moment for canals being built, others realise the mode of constructing mill streams and bringing water to the mill wheel was another skill used in making the fledgling canal network. Was this second case the "light bulb" moment? Was it a combination of both? Or in fact a combination of various factors.

 

Once the canal network was up and running the next conflict was with the railways. Carrying goods in wagons was first limited to the edge rail tramroads and plateways, both of which had limited wagon capacity. That capacity increased with the making of the railway network. Wagon loads increased to 8, 10, 12 and 16 tons through time. There were many wagon loads and often the sheer volume led to congestion. For canals the handicaps were the locks and narrow tunnels where trade was delayed, For the railways the sheer volume of goods traffic at some places also was a delay. I recall one of the goods guards at Curzon Street in Birmingham telling me in the 1970's of the occassion's he would sit in a brake van for a whole shift without the turn of a wheel. But that was in the days many loads of coal came down to the Midlands for the gasworks, power stations and the many merchant yards. So for the Leeds & Liverpool and the BCN movement of traffic was often cost effective by canal. Yet there was always the improvement of waterways in Europe where larger craft became the norm. In Britain there are less examples of waterway improvement (19th & 20th Century) and on not on the scale as in mainland Europe: 

 

19th Century

BCN- New Main Line,  Walsall Junction Canal,  Netherton Tunnel, Tame Valley, Rushall & Cannock Extension Canals

Ellesmere & Chester Middlewich Branch

Oxford Canal Coventry- Napton

Manchester Ship Canal

Severn Gloucester- Stourport

Trent & Mersey- 2nd Harecastle Tunnel, lock doubling Kidsgrove- Wheelock and removal of stair case locks with parallel standard lock flights 

 

20th Century

Aire & Calder Leeds to Goole

Grand Union, Birmingham- Braunston via Napton

New Junction Canal

Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation downstream from Rotherham

River Trent above Nottingham

River Weaver

 

What was proposed in the Twentieth Century was intended to redress that balance

 

Edited by Heartland

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1 hour ago, Jen-in-Wellies said:

The colliery was Hatfield, just to the east of Stainforth. You can still see the winding hole for the large boats, the wider section of canal where the loading area was and the rough ground alongside. I don't know the destination of most of the coal sent from there, but it may have been direct to one or more local power stations as well as, or rather than to Goole. Hatfield also had railway access for sending out coal, so the water transport was just for specific destinations with direct offloading.

Bramwith was lengthened in particular for the Tom Pudding traffic to Goole at a time when they considered lengthening the locks further up the SSYN for the same reason.

 

The canal system was never a network in the conventional sense, as traffic between waterways does seem to have been restricted, though there may have been more on the narrow canals. The L&LC certainly considered themselves only to be connected between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Hull. The map drawn up circa 1790 for promoting the continuation of construction through East Lancashire does show the canal system at the time in Yorkshire, but in the west it omitted all the narrow canals as they were not seen as important. There was very limited trade between the area served by the L&LC and the Midlands, and goods sent to London would go round the coast. Apart from specific traffics, such as the short-haul carriage between factories and transshipment docks on the BCN, much of the long distant traffic on narrow canals declined rapidly after railways came into competition. The same was not the case on the early wide canals, which were well able to compete as they were essentially independent operators serving specific areas. They did work together to some extent, with the A&CN taking effective control of the C&HN and Barnsley, and working with the L&LC on through traffics, particularly onto the Bradford. The A&CN made major improvements throughout the 19th century, as did the C&HN, though these were never fully completed. The L&LC upgraded all its cargo handling and storage facilities from 1870 onwards, and deepened heavily used sections of the canal, though were never able to get the funding together to finance the lengthening of the locks. English wide waterways did continue to develop throughout the 19th and into the 20th centuries, it was the less important narrow canals which did not.

 

England's wide canals have never had the recognition which they deserve with regard to the economic benefits they continued to provide well into the 20th century. I remember speaking to a professor of transport at one of Berlin's universities twenty or so years ago. He suggested to me that there was no carrying on the UK's inland waterways, and was astounded when I told him that the A&CN was carrying several million tons annually at the time. A good number of the larger canals on the continent only carry a million tons or so annually, the overall national figures for goods carried being distorted by the volume carried on the Rhine. There is a considerable tonnage of goods carried on inland waterways in the UK, but the way the DoT collects figures means they are not properly included as such.

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The North- South divide is somewhat oversimplified and bespeaks a passion for the wide waterways of Lancashire & Yorkshire. Any unbiased discussion has to include not just the Midland narrow canals and the LLC/A&C but the Trent, the Weaver, the Severn, The Nene, the Great Ouse and all those interconnecting waterways and levels in the east of England as well as the Thames, Wey Arun, Medway, Stour etc.

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1 hour ago, Heartland said:

Yes, it is true that the core network of the British Canal network came about in Brindley's time where a group of like minded people came together to discuss and plan this network. Engineers such as James Brindley and his colleagues created this network. It is possible to see such men as Wedgewood discussing such concepts at meeting of the Lunar Society. This happened at a time when the turnpikes were being created and extended. Exactly how those beliefs were formed has been discussed in many historical texts, whether even now the complete story has been unravelled totally, is probably not the case as what has been written about depends on recorded information and not the spoken word or opinions or views that were not recorded. Yet such things were a driving factor in those schemes that united the Mersey, Severn and Trent. There was also dissent and varying opinions in that mix. Opposing views of people like Samuel Garbett eventually led to other canal schemes and the wider expansion of the network that has been dubbed by some as the period of the "Canal mania".  Yet what was constructed in the Grand Cross was limited often to the size of a narrow boat and the key suggestions made throughout the twentieth century were ways to improve and widen these waterways.

 

Consider that the Lunar Society involved 18th Century gentlemen, many bottles of port and no drunk-riding laws when they returned home on horseback in the full moonlight. The full story will never be known and probably not even remembered by some of the members the next day! Perhaps the 7' width of the narrow canals was a bright idea towards the end of one of these meetings after the port bottle had been round a few times too many and that Brindley wrote down on his handkerchief. ??

 

Jen

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1 hour ago, Jen-in-Wellies said:

Consider that the Lunar Society involved 18th Century gentlemen, many bottles of port and no drunk-riding laws when they returned home on horseback in the full moonlight. The full story will never be known and probably not even remembered by some of the members the next day! Perhaps the 7' width of the narrow canals was a bright idea towards the end of one of these meetings after the port bottle had been round a few times too many and that Brindley wrote down on his handkerchief. ??

 

Jen

Seven feet wide boats were already working into the mines at Worsley, so the idea of such boats was already current when the proprietors of what was to become the Trent & Mersey decided upon the size to reduce costs. Early Lancashire and Yorkshire canal proprietors were more forward looking, so kept to 14 feet, wide enough for the then typical coasting vessel.

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Cost of construction was an important factor in the narrow boat network. The Worcester & Birmingham tried to build a 14ft barge canal and did so from Birmingham to Tardebigge and the Stratford upon Avon also did so from Kings Norton to Hockley Heath and the Ashby Canal was also made wide. The main factor for the first two converting to  narrow boat use was cost of completion for these two waterways. In the third the developing narrow boat network where such craft proved the best form to move goods appears to be the main factor why narrow boats were used on that waterway. Whilst bulk transit did not compare with the wide waterways of the North, the types of goods conveyed was a factor that also needs to be considered. Wool and Cotton were bulky items and their transport was more suited to the wider craft. It is true that Manchester Packs were moved by narrow boat, but this trade was less than from the coast. The Midlands still had barge traffic to Worcester, Stourport and Shrewsbury along the Severn and Evesham/ Straford upon Avon along the Avon. The Trent and Soar served the East Midlands and so bulk transport was enabled to the Midland perimeter from different directions and for the narrow boat to move on further. Also the practice of working narrowboats in pairs, created a state of volume traffic that was comparable with the capacity of a barge hold.

 

With regards to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, this waterway was itself a mix of waterways, with the Douglas Navigation being shown on Bradshaws Map (1832) as separate. As was the Lancaster Canal from Wigan to Johnson's Hillock. Bradshaw mentions Johnsons Hillock Locks as part of the LLC but I understand were also built by the Lancaster. Charging of tolls must have made transit from Wigan to Blackburn complicated, at least until the time when both waterways were united under the single LLC.

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15 minutes ago, Heartland said:

 the Ashby Canal was also made wide.  The developing narrow boat network where such craft proved the best form to move goods appears to be the main factor why narrow boats were used on that waterway. 

Why, then, is the stop lock at Marston junction narrow? Was it a later addition?

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