Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Canal Cuttings (3)

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. Covering the last 200 years or so of life on the inland waterways. With particular interest in the major 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 waterways to get reduce competition. What is not clear is the effect this early form of asset stripping had on the viability of the inland waterways. Its good to take a look back at what people were saying and doing in the past. Most surprising of all are some of the problems that beset the canals back then - are still prevalent 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. 

Neglect of Canals

The Spectator 20 February 1941

The Minister of Transport has at length done what he might advantageously have done far sooner he has appointed -that brilliant traffic organiser, Mr. Frank Pick, "to investigate and report upon the carriage of traffic on canals and inland waterways." For many years the country has been suffering from the neglect of the excellent system of canals which it once. Possessed a neglect due to the deliberate policy of the railways in the last century, which set out to kill a competing mode of transport. 

Though in recent years Ministries of Transport have come to realise the possibilities of proper use of the canal, little has been done. But these are still waterways, such as the Lea Navigation and the Grand Union Canal, which are capable of carrying a far larger volume of traffic than at present, and there are many unemployed barges available. But ways will have to be found of releasing labour both for working the vessels and maintaining the waterways. 

We are constantly told that the pressure on the railways threatens to reach breaking-point. Through difficulties of transport great hardship has been inflicted on householders who cannot get coal. Canal traffic is admittedly slow, but in the transport of many kinds of goods the time factor is not important. A way must be found of making more use of the rivers and canals. An early task of post war reconstruction should be the restoration of the inland waterways and a reclamation of the capital locked up in them.

Its 1941 and Britain is heavily involved in the second world war. Here again, the railways are struggling to cope with the demands of the war. No lessons have been learned about the canals in the last twenty years since the end of the previous war. The governments answer to the problem was to commission yet another report and recommendations. Essentially a repeat process from before. If only the government had previously nationalised the inland waterways and invested in their maintenance.

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