Friday, 20 June 2014

Canal Cuttings (26)

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. 

Rockhampton Bulletin
Monday 24th September 1924



To the average Briton the word 'canal' conjures up a vision of a tow-rope, a sagging horse assisted by a slower donkey, and a shouting bow legged, stick-whittling lad, whose mother sits on the helm of a barge with a baby on one arm and a half darned stocking on the other.

During the last eight years our canals have fallen largely into disuse. In many instances they have fallen into actual decay. Yet, strange to say, during the last forty years or so France has expended something like one hundred and twenty millions sterling on her internal waterways. Her canals interconnect all her chief rivers. It is easily possible to penetrate into the remotest districts without resorting once to road or rail. On the Continent there are canals capable of floating barges with a carrying capacity of over a thousand tons, whereas the biggest barge we possess is hard put to it to carry ninety tons. Moreover, we possess less than 300 miles of artificial waterway capable of taking a barge of even ninety tons; whilst, of a total canal mileage of some 4000 miles, half will take a boat of sixty tons, and the other half baulk at anything exceeding twenty!

Is transport so cheap in this country that we can afford to give our water transport possibilities the cold shoulder. Ask the farmer or market gardener. He finds that unless his farm or garden is close to a big town, foodstuffs from Denmark, Holland, France, and even from America and the Argentine, can be run up the Thames, Mersey, Clyde, or Humber as cheaply and often as expeditiously than he can transport them to the town by rail. In other words, he finds that foreign produce can undercut him because it has been transported by water and not by land.

Give our farmer the same chance cheap, expeditious, reliable, transport, and the balance will turn in his favour. A quickened market will produce a quickened and increased supply, which will not only benefit the farmer but increase the security of ourselves and our prosperity. At the same time, a cheapened transport will reduce the price of foodstuffs.

What, then, should be our policy during these times, when we hear so much talk about work of national utility which will prove the paying of a national investment when better days come round to this. To deepen and widen our existing canals; to construct new trunk canals linking up all our rivers and great ports; the reconstruction of existing canal docks and the construction of many others; The establishment of convenient delivery stations, quays, subsidiary waterways or backwaters linking up remoter agricultural districts with no main waterways; the enlargement of still existing locks; the widening of bridges in short, such a transformation of existing crude conditions  that farmers possession  of a fleet of barges to carry hay, corn, potatoes, fruit, dairy produce, fodder, and so on, to or from the canal station, will be as much a better of course as his present possession of half-a-dozen wagons.

Have we so little imagination that we fail to see this country intersected by thousands of miles of canals, on which ply roomy barges, clipper built, linked to a wire which stretches on and on endlessly, alive with electrical energy, typical of the new electric forces of an awakened people. These electrically propelled barges will enter and leave hydraulically controlled locks which a child can manipulate, take mountains in their stride, cross rivers by fine aqueducts, skirt every town en route, and establish there docks, wharves, and warehouses which will give the most inland place a hand shake with the ocean and the whole earth.

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