Saturday, 12 April 2014

Canal Cuttings (8)

This is just one of a series of around fifty old newspaper articles that I have been reading. I have been doing some research 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. 

City and Suburban

The Spectator: 7th January 1955

By John Betjeman it is in the local papers that one often finds the real news. This week's Wiltshire Herald tells me of the desperate attempts the British Transport Commission is making to close the Kennet and Avon Canal this year. The canal was engineered by John Rennie from 1794 to 1799. It was devised as a means of taking goods between Bristol and London without their having to go round Land's End and along the south coast and so into the Thames Estuary. Until the Great Western Railway came along, nearly half a century later, the canal paid well. 

The Great Western was compelled by Act of Parliament to keep the canal in repair, and this it did, grudgingly and inefficiently. British Railways, of course, are less honourable. Between Bath and Newbury the Kennet and Avon is a wonder of early engineering and is, I suppose, the first great modern canal in the country. At Devizes it climbs the hill of chalk from the Avon valley by a series of twenty- nine locks. In many countries motor-coach tours would be run to see so marvellous a sight. At Devizes the wide ascending layers of locks are weed-grown, neglected and unvisited. The Kennet and Avon Canal Association was formed to defend this beautiful and historic waterway, and offered evidence of a practical nature in its defence. But the Board, which reported to the British Transport Commission, submitted a report in favour of closing before considering this evidence of the Association.

City and Suburban

The Spectator: 21st July 1955

By John Betjeman. The public relations officers of the incompetent British Transport Commission are always very vocal when they can answer a question. I wonder if they will have any reply to these about canals? Why is the British Transport Commission removing paddle gear from the Kennet and Avon Canal and removing cranes and lowering weirs on the Macclesfield Canal in advance of abandonment? Has the Bill been passed in Parliament yet? Was a single visit of a few hours, including lunch at Marlborough, a sufficient basis for the Board of Survey to recommend the immediate abandonment of the Kennet and Avon Canal, which is a broad one, fourteen feet wide and eighty-six miles long? Did this Board of Survey, which was set up by the Commission, consist of three men, none of whom had any experience of smaller inland waterways? Did this Board of Survey recommend exactly the same programme for shutting down canals which the British Transport Commission had publicised before the Board was set up? Why was there not an independent inquiry?

 City and Suburban The Spectator: 28th July 1955
The policy of the feeble British Transport Commission, so far as the canals it wishes to abandon are concerned, has become quite obvious. The idea is to cease to keep up the waterway and then announce that it is no longer navigable. On the Macclesfield Canal, designed by Telford and one of the most beautiful engineering feats in the world, it is rumoured that on August 10 the maintenance staff is to he reduced. This will leave one lengthsman to every seven miles, a totally inadequate number to maintain the canal in reasonable order. Meanwhile, the south and east of England are drying up for want of water which could be brought by canals from the wet parts of England. And if there are any readers who cannot afford to rent fishing on the Test, they will soon no longer be able to fish in the canals, whose water is pure and full of fish compared with that of most large rivers.

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