1 December 2022 — Untangling the History of Britain's Inland Waterways
If someone brings up the British canal system, does it make you think of quaint narrow boats putting along no faster than a typical pedestrian, or remarkable feats of engineering, or the odd zig-zagging of capitalism stumbling over its own feet? Amazingly, the history of the complex British inland waterways is all of these, and much more.
The driving force behind the development of a major canal system in Great Britain was the beginnings of industrialization—the shift to coal for energy, and the development of production in factories, as opposed to small-scale local artisan shops. Transportation of heavy and bulky cargo such as coal, and of fragile manufactured items such as pottery, was problematic on the limited—and sometimes unreliable—road network. While waterborne transport was more suited to such cargo, as Historic UK Ltd puts it:
At this time there were over a thousand miles of navigable rivers in Britain, but the problem was, they didn’t go to the right places anymore …the industrial north and the Midlands were not connected with the consumer-based south, nor the ports through which their goods could be exported.