Thursday 31 July 2014

Canal Cuttings (38)

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. 
Evening News
30th November 1907


Since water carriage is so much cheaper than land carriage, it is surprising that the canals of England have been; allowed to be so neglected. Germany now makes great use of her canals by means of towing motors on the banks, operated by an overhead electric cable like Sydney trams. An appeal is now being made in England to restore the canals, and an, expert writer points out that there are 4000 miles of canals (2700 miles are in dependent and 1200 are controlled by the railway companies); of these 230 miles are only capable of carrying boats of 90 tons; 2000 miles, boats of 60 tons; and the remainder boats of 18 tons. On the Continent the waterways are capable of bearing boats of 1000 tons, and as a consequence we are at a great disadvantage. English waterways carry only about 30,000,000 tons annually, whereas the railways carry 300,000,000 tons of minerals alone  the greater portion of which might be carried with far greater ease, less public in convenience, and at a. much lower rate if the canals were only properly used. That the Continent realises the immense value of its canals is evidenced by the fact that since 1879 France has spent £100,000,000 on her waterways alone, and is at present engaged on works involving a further expenditure of £20,000,000. Manufacturers are always complaining of the inland rates for merchandise in England, as compared with abroad. If only, they say in effect, some cheap and efficacious means of utilising our canals could be devised, the benefit to the community would be incalculable. There is such a means, and that to our hands (says the expert). Why should not our canals be 'electrified?'

By a simple application of the system of overhead wires, the widening of certain places, and the rebuilding of some antiquated locks — questions that present no difficulties to the modern engineer — out canals might be made one of the most important modes of transport in the kingdom. Imagine miles upon miles of overhead wires, to which cargo boats are linked in the same way as the tramway cars in our streets, slipping in and out of modern locks, which open at a touch, conveying produce and merchandise to the great centres at a third (or less) of the prices that is now charged. In such a picture there may be hope for the farmer yet, and prosperity may return to many a town whose now smokeless chimneys may once again send forth the cloud which tells of industrial activity. It is a standing grievance with the farmer and the merchant that our railway companies have so increased their freight taxes that they have positively no margin or profit. The railways have obtained control of just sufficient of the canalised rivers to strangle competition. If the canals were electrified and controlled by a central board nationalised, If need be one of the greatest disabilities ever put on a vast money earning industry would be removed; healthy competition would be re stored; rates would be lowered; and something like a sane system of swift carriage, linking the principal ports of the country, would be instituted. It may not be generally realised that one can go through Great Britain by canal, and scarcely touch land. Among the more important waterways in the country are those due to the Duke of Bridgewater and the genius of his extraordinary engineer, Brindley. The success of these canals and the marvellous nature of the Duke's investments, known as the Bridgewater Trusts, are matters of common knowledge.

From time to time various efforts have been made to revive interest in canals. In 1904 no fewer than 61 Chambers of Commerce passed resolutions for nationalising the canals by transferring the control to a public trust. The Mansion House Association on Railway and Canal Traffic urged a similar resolution in 1904, and pressed the Government to promote a Bill. The present Canal Traffic Bill now before Parliament includes a scheme to give local authorities power to consolidate the capital and administration of the canal system by the formation of a central canal trust, to acquire, improve, and manage in the first instance a chain of canals. Germany, Holland, Russia, Austria, and the Netherlands all have their canals, by which, a large proportion of their produce is distributed under semi state control. Canada and America, leading countries in self development, have of late enormously increased their canal mileage. England is not asked to build new canals, only to utilise those she has. By such a change commercial England would receive a new lease of life. When will it come?

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