Friday, 16 May 2014

Central Queensland Herald

This is just one of a series of old newspaper articles looking at the inland waterways and the things that were effecting the inland waterways. The most active periods for evaluation and change was always just prior to the two world wars. Between the wars the ownership of the canals changed hands and the railway companies bought up the canals to get rid of competition. Its good to take a look back at what people were saying and doing in the past. Most surprising of all, is the problems that beset the canals are still prevalent today.  Reading old newspapers can throw up some interesting stories. Here is what we would call today a public interest story.

Central Queensland Herald

12th October 1950



Because an English duke found difficulties in his business nearly 200 years ago, Britain today has a network of 2419 miles of canals and inland waterways. After years of declining traffic they are now being equipped to play an important part once again in the life of the nation.

It was In 1761 that Francis Egerton, third and last Duke of Bridgewater called in an engineer named James Brindley to help him get the coal from the Duke's pits at Worsley, in the North of England more cheaply to Manchester six miles away. Brindley constructed the first artificial Inland Waterway In Britain since the Roman occupation, and the price of the duke's coal in Manchester immediately dropped by half.

The Bridgewater canal is still in use. Up to World War II it was carrying 1,000,000 tons of freight a year. It was the beginning of the great network which became Britain's main artery for the carriage of heavy goods and remained so until the 19th century.

With the development of the railways, the canals began to be neglected, though on the whole they continued to give useful service. Some of them, were bought up by the railway companies to prevent competition. Yet in World War II when the railways were choked with traffic the canals came into their own again, and today with State ownership, there are plans for making them a larger integral part of Britain's transport services.


At present about 11,000 people are engaged in the canal industry and about 3200 boats are working on the narrow canals. For generations these boats have been a picturesque feature of the life of the countryside. Though most of them are no longer drawn by horses, they are still gaily decorated with the traditional designs of castles and roses, both inside and outside the cabins. This is perhaps the most vigorous of Britain's surviving folk arts.

When the canals' were nationalised two and a half years ago there were fears that as the boats came under state control they would be painted to a uniform pattern. So much public feeling was aroused that the Docks and Inland Water ways Executive, which had been set up to administer the industry, found it necessary to give a categorical assurance, .

The executive, it stated, "has no intention of suppressing a decorative art Which brightens the entrances and Interiors of cabins, or the gaily painted cans and buckets which are a feature of the long distance canal boats"


Decoration is now the craft of a small number of painters, the survivors of the skilled craftsmen who have through the years maintained this highly original art. It takes about a day to "rose and castle" a cabin and paintings are regarded by the canal families In much the same light as the ordinary house wife looks upon ornaments In her home. 


Canals are constructed as nearly as possible on one level. They follow the contour lines of the land. Embankments carry them over low country, tunnels through hills, aqueducts over rivers. Near Wolverton an aqueduct carries the Grand Union Canal over the river Nene. 

Life In the cabin of a canal boat is very confined. As well as helping their husband work the boats the wives of canal men do the housework and cooking. This picture of the galley shows that every inch of space is used. Cooking is on a coal range or primus store.

Man and daughter have their meal as they sail his wife is steering the Butty.

The Grand Union Canal Company, biggest of the southern England canal carriers, owns Regent's Canal Dock at Limehouse, London, where ships from many parts of the world come with their cargoes to be unloaded into barges for shipment to Inland towns.

The company operates a fleet of 380 vessels and recently spent £1,000,000 on improving its main waterway from London to Birmingham. The boats run In pairs. Each craft Is 70 feet long 7 feet wide. Looking down the length the boat seems unending. The pair between them are capable of transporting 50 tons of coal or grain-and father, mother and children all lend a hand. The canal folk are a sturdy, independent race, who have preserved many old customs and work largely to their own rules.


For years the education of the children has been a problem, but special hostels are now being provided where the children can live and be looked after while they are going to school. The hostels are being opened at convenient places along the canals so that the children's parents can visit them frequently.

Among the schemes that have been discussed for the development of the canals is a system of "Inland ports" such as exists on a large scale at Manchester, where the great ship canal starts on its journey to the sea 35 miles away. It is certain that with coordination much more use can be made of Britain's Inland waterways.' The war was not the only emergency in which their special advantages were apparent. Three winters ago, when Britain was in the grip of the sev erest weather known for 100 years, and the "railways were snowbound, supplies of coal were kept moving by water.

The central administration, of canals Is no new idea, As long ago as 1906 a Royal Commission, which produced the most comprehensive survey of England's canals In existence, recommended a "central waterway board" and a programme of reconstruction. Fifteen years ago a proposal was made that the canals should be electrified and a tidal flow set up with a current sufficiently strong to carry specially designed boats along.

To the tourist the industrial the aspect of the canals is less important than the glimpse they give of a strange, colourful life of their own. Just recently thousands of visitors enjoyed a Venetian carnival at the Leicestershire, England, town of Market Harborough, when for a week a Festival of Boats' was held. From all parts of the canal network came the decorated craft with their highly polished brasswork and traditional paintings. At night the town canal went gay with floodlighting and thousands of fairy lights.

Not all the boats were the workaday canal carriers. Then was one which had been converted by a doctor into his permanent home. The galley was equipped with refrigerator, gas stove, and hot and cold water, and in the air conditioned cabin was a radio and television set.

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