Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Canal Cuttings (1)

This is just one of a series of around fifty old newspaper articles that I have been reading. I have been researching from old newspapers and magazines articles over the last 200 years or so based on the inland waterways. With particular interest taken in the issues of the day that were effecting the canals. The most active periods for evaluation and change, has always been just prior, during and shortly after the two world wars. It should be remembered that between the wars the ownership of some of the canals changed hands as the railway companies bought up the inland waterways to reduce competition. What is not clear is the effect this early form of 'asset stripping' actually had on the viability of the inland waterways. Its good to take a look back at what people were thinking, saying and doing at the time. Most surprising of all are some of the problems that beset the canals back then - are still prevalent on the canals today. Reading old newspapers can throw up some rather interesting stories. Here is what we would call today a public interest story.

Caveat: Some of the articles are difficult to read and even using modern electronic  scanning and text conversion methods. The odd punctuation, word or character may have been transcribed in error. 

The Spectator: 2nd August 1890

The fourth International Congress on Inland Navigation

Manchester on Monday. Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, the President for the year, in his inaugural address, while admitting that England was, speaking generally, far behind her neighbours in regard to the development of her canal system, pointed out that the managers of the Weaver and the Aire and Calder Navigations have marched with the times, and are at least abreast of their Continental rivals. 

The figures quoted as to the profits earned by our canals are very remarkable. Out of the paid-up ordinary capital invested in the canals, 25 per cent. paid from to 2 to 3 per cent. dividend, and 9 per cent. paid from 4 to 10 per cent. dividend; 81 per cent. of the whole amount of paid-up ordinary capital paid more than 2 per cent dividend, and only 6 per cent of them paid no dividend at all. 

The canals in the hands of the Railway Companies show, however, distinctly less favourable results, though this is rather due to neglect than to any deliberate policy of starving them. We cannot doubt that if an enterprising general manager were to turn his attention to the subject, and to endeavour to develop the canals under his control, he might make them exceedingly useful for heavy traffic, and render them, besides, a great source of profit to the shareholders.

A large number of people already recognised in the 1890's, problems that were effecting the waterways. In the main brought around by the owners who had money in the canals and the railways. More profits were to be made from the railways and money was saved by cutting back on essential maintenance. This time worn story still continues today. Speed is everything. We still see it now, £60 billion pounds going to be spent on the railways. The driver for the investment being cutting the journey time to London by half an hour. The real outcome being that when completed the public investment will be passed onto various businesses to enjoy the profits.

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