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.
If you are like me, you might remember 'Mr Crabtree' in the Mirror newspaper. Genial Mr Crabtree would coach his young son 'Peter' in angling skills. Created by Bernard Venables, in the 1940s. Venables was an artist, angler, journalist and author. He wrote over 20 books. He was an early environmentalist and his love of the natural world inspired many of today’s anglers and he is remembered as one of the greatest and most influential anglers of the 20th Century. Mr Wiseacre in the Catholic Press had a similar sort of role to Mr Crabtree where he coached two young friends on the issues of the day.
The Catholic Press
Thursday 21 April 1932
Mr. Wiseacre Discourses.
Mr. Wiseacre, said Megsie, 'before Joe says anything, 'I want you to tell me more about canals.' We've had them for two weeks, grumbled Joe. 'Only the Panama and a bit of the Suez. If Mr. Wiseacre says there are no more important ones, you can have your question.'
'Unfortunately, from Joe's point of view, there are several very important canals, for since they are artificial waterways, it follows that they were developed at a very early date.' 'How early?' asked Joe, resigning himself to the inevitable. ?'Well, the Egyptians had a canal joining the Nile and the Red Sea some 2000 years before our era. Nabuchodonosor built a royal canal at Babylon to join the Tigris and Euphrates at that point. Then the Chinese had begun, as early as the fifth century before our era, to cut the grand canal between Hangchow and Peking, which is said to be the longest as well as the oldest in the world.' 'How long is it?' asked Megsie. 'One thousand miles, pet. It was not finished until the 13th century of our era, and so was 1800 years in the making. ' Joe whistled. 'Not a mile a year,' he said. 'Do not forget that even with modern machinery it is no easy task to make a canal.
Europe has the most expensive series of canals, for Holland, Belgium, France, England and other countries have been developing the system since the 12th century.' The longest is in France, the Midi Canal, which has a length of 148 miles, and connects the river Garonne with the Mediterranean. In Scotland, the Caledonian Canal is over 60 miles long, but this is counting in the lakes which are used to make this waterway connecting Loch Linnhc with Moray Firth.' 'Isn't there a long one in England?' 'There are nearly 5000 miles of canals in that country, Joe. I suppose you refer to the Manchester one, which connects that famous city, often called Cottonopolis, with the river Mersey, thus enabling raw products to be brought straight to the mills.
The country of Europe most famous for its canals is, however, Holland. Here they were built, in the first place, to drain the water from the low-lying land. Thus, many parts of this country the streets are really waterways.' 'So they are in Venice. I saw a picture of it.' 'That is true, Megsie, but those were not made like ordinary canals, since tho city is really built on sandbanks and is land, in a series of lagoons. One of the most interesting canals I have ever been through is that which has been cut through the isthmus of Corinth, for, though it is not long, it passes through rocky country which is full of historical associations.' 'Did the Russians ever make canals?' 'They did, Joe. Most of the rivers there, as in other parts of Europe, have been connected by canals, so that boats can pass from one part to another, and even from the Ural Mountains to Lake Baikal, in the heart of the continent.'
'Brother showed us a picture of a long canal in America.' 'That would be the Erie Canal, which connects the lake of that name with the Hudson River; it is 365 miles long, but only about six feet deep. One of the world's most important 'big ditches' is the Wollaud Canal, in Canada, just near Niagara Falls, which avoids the cascades and rapids, and makes possible the passage from the Great Lakes to the sea. This has recently been made much deeper, so as to allow large ships to pass up to the lakes. ' 'Does it cost much to send things by a, canal?' 'It does not, Joe. Water carriage is always the cheapest, so that the country with plenty of canals and rivers has always better and cheaper transport.' 'What a pity we haven't any canals in Australia?' 'It is, Megsie, but we have not sufficient water to allow of that. Most of our inland rivers are reduced in summer to chains of ponds, and where would our canals go then?' 'Besides,' said Joe, 'in a few years we shall be carrying everything in the air, and we won't want canals.' 'I fear that day is far off, for aeroplanes are not yet able to carry heavy freight, and, in any case, the cost would be high, and not as cheap as water.'
Talking so much about water makes me thirsty,' said Joe. 'You haven't done much, anyway,' retorted Megsie. 'I'm thirsty, all the same, and so, I am sure, is Mr. Wiseacre, so I'm going to open the basket. There is a fine big bit of gingerbread, and that's a weakness of mine. ' 'One of many,' laughed Mr. Wiseacre. 'Well, let us have our little refreshment.'