Thursday, 10 July 2014

Canal Cuttings (32)

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. 
Daily Telegraph
Saturday 13 September 1930
Ralph H. Bretherlon


Two little dredgers are being built for the Kennet and Avon Canal. There was some talk of abandoning that link between the Thames and the Severn, but it seems that it is to be maintained in a usable condition.

The other link over and through the Cotswolds and down the Stroud Valley lies dry on the hills. The old pumping station that filled the summit reaches is but a monument now. It has thc interest of a relic, but there is sadness in the empty trench beside it. The way of great hope that was to give cheap transport between the Stroud mills and London hal become a winding ribbon of no man's land. The labour that made the long Sapperton tunnel, a big work in its day, counts for nothing. |

We are inclined to think that most of our canals have been abandoned. Some certainly have gone out of commission, almost passed from the map. London once dreamed of a back door on the Channel. The Wey and Arun Navigation was made. There is legend of cargoes that went that route out, of the Thames down to the sea. But, though the Wey is still navigable, the cut to the Arun is lost.


We all of us know of dead canals. As a boy I saw one, the Newent, which left the Severn at Gloucester and went through, I think, to Hereford, becomes railway except for one little pool of weedy delights at the entrance from the river. I heard then, no doubt, that the day of canals was over. But we still have many canals in commission, and some of them do increasing business. Our legacy of canals is by no means worthless. The inland waterways still mean a great deal in transport.

London has lost some of her canals, but, if she abandoned the Croydon Canal, that was only because she built it in the wrong place. It went over the Southern Heights, and had a leaky summit. A much easier way, geographically, would have been up the Wandle Valley. But the little Wandle with its ever flowing stream, was one of London's sources of power. To have canalised this river would have meant the disturbance of many mills, some of which are working today.


The Regent's Canal, coming round through East London to skirt the back of the City, tunnel under Islington, and then climb through Camden Town to Paddington, carries something like 1,000,000 tons of goods a year. It joins the Paddington with a branch, of the Grand Junction, leading to the Midlands, The two canals have become on the Grand Union, and it may be noted that it is along their line, rather than along Thames-side that the new industrial Middlesex has arisen. The short Surrey Canal is still in being. The Lea Navigation is maintained. London has not let her canals go derelict.

It is the same in the Midlands, The canals are not dead, but still alive. He was only joking, perhaps, who called Birmingham, on account of her canals, the Venice of England. But there is in Central England a network of canals which certainly could not be abandoned without upsetting our communications. And there are huey canals in the North. In the West our oldest ship canal, the Gloucester and Berkeley opened in 1827, is a paying concern.

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