Saturday 13 September 2014

The Accident of Life

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 the last 200 years or so of the inland waterways. With particular interest 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 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. 
Kalgoorlie Miner
Thursday 30 April 1903


A hundred years ago on Sunday the 8th April 1803. There died at Bridgewater House, St. James England, Francis Egerton, third and last Duke of Bridgewater. A large portion of his magnificent possessions he left without a single condition of entail.

Built for some reason, then more or less inscrutable, he controlled to trustees for a period of five score years for the benefit of his grand nephew, Lord Francis Leverson Gower, afterwards the first Earl of Ellesmere, and his heirs, the vast system of inland waterways and colliery undertakings which he had set up in Lancashire. Thus there came into being the famous Bridgewater trust, which for a century has exemplified the power of the 'dead hand', in the count Palatine. It is the trust which has now come to an end. The day of its expiry being in the eyes of the law a dies non. It was on the 9th that the present Earl of Ellesmere, the third holder of the title, entered into corporeal possession of the trust property of which he and his predecessors have long enjoyed the income. 

The story of the Bridgewater trust is a story of romance, of which probably the best and truest account was given by the first Earl of Ellesmere I in the Quarterly Review of as far back as March, 1844. He tells us that his benefactor, born in 1736. lost his father at the age of 11 and that his education was neglected. At 17 his guardians sent him to make a tour of Europe. It has been suggested that in Italy and in Holland the young Duke of Bridgewater became fascinated, with the idea of canal construction. That scorns doubt as events, the 'Racing Calendar' shows that from 1756 to 1770 he kept racehorses, and for some time had a house at Newmarket. Once, he rode a race in Trentcham Park against a jockey of the Royal blood the Duke of Cumberland. But what the first Lord Ellesmere calls an accident had a share in finally shaping the Duke's career.

A disappointment in love alienated him from what is called the world. He fell in love with one of the beautiful Miss Gunning's as they are always spoken of. Elizabeth, then the widow of the Duke of Hamilton. She refused his request to give up the acquaintance of her sister, Lady Coventry, as to whose reputation unkind things had been said, and so the match was broken off. The Duke thereupon abandoned society and is said never afterwards to have spoken to another woman in the language of gallantry. A Roman Catholic might have mastery, tenanted a cell, and died a saint. The Duke, at the age of 22 betook himself to his Lancashire estates, made Brindley his confessor and died a benefactor to commerce, manufactures and mankind. 

If the Duke, had become the husband of the most beautiful woman of the day he might, indeed, have become the father of a race of egotism, but not of an Inland navigation. Thus freely writes his biographer, summing up in a few words the life story of the Duke of Bridgewater. He fixed his residence in the coalfields at Worsley, and on the confines of Chat Moss. In person large and unwieldy, careless of dress, and invariably wearing a brown suit, in something of the cut of Dr. Johnson he lived a life devoted solely to the construction of canals and the development of collieries. He talked only of canals, but he smoked more than he talked, and every five minutes, it is said he rushed out of the room to look at the barometer. So much capital did his schemes involve that at one time he reduced his personal expenses to £400 a year, which sufficed, nevertheless, to cover a groom and a couple of horses. But this was not the lowest point which the duke's fortunes reached. At one period, it is stated, his credit was so low that his bill for £500 could scarcely be cashed in Liverpool and on occasion money had to be borrowed from local farmers.

There came, however, a turn in the tide, and the duke 'began to reap the fruits of perseverance and sacrifice. Between 1738 and 1771 he bad constructed no fewer than 42 miles of canals, connecting the Worsley coalfield first with Manchester and then with Liverpool. Cheaper transport assisted largely in the development of his collieries, and he also employed his canals for passenger conveyance, unsuccessfully introducing the paddle wheel for that purpose for the screw propeller had not yet been invented. It is stated that the Duke spent £220,000 on canals and that the annual revenue which they ultimately yielded him reached £8o,ooo. It be came a case of the Duke's horses, the Duke's boats, the Duke's coals everything, in fact, was the Duke's in the district, and the Bridgewater trust, as it happened, was destined to keep the Duke's name alive for a full 100 years after his death. 

Why however, was the trust created? The first Lord Ellesmere throws same light on this, problem. When things were beginning to look hopeful Lord Kenyon congratulated the Duke of Bridgewater. Yes, replied the Duke we shall, do well enough if we can keep clear of those tram roads. From which it may be inferred that he was acute enough, to see that there might, in the shape of railways, come a rival to the liquid highway. It was this anticipation, according to Lord Ellesmere, which led to the extreme anxiety of the Duke to earn power beyond the grave, and to the creation of the trust which has just expired. His sole object, says his biographer, was to secure to the public the continuance in perpetuity, as far as human things can be perpetual, of the advantage of his undertakings. 

It is a curious thing that the very steps which the Duke took to avoid a dreaded contingency had the effect of accelerating instead of retarding the introduction of those tram roads. Lord Ellesmere admits in 1844 that the irresponsible power exercised with reference to the public in the management, of the Bridgewater lines of navigation helped towards a crisis which might have been delayed. In spite of railways, however, the trust has been carried out, and today Barton Aqueduct by which the Duke of Bridgewater carried his canal across the River Irwell stands, a striking monument to his sagacity, and enterprise. A canal aqueduct in England and it looked like proving an insurmountable obstacle to the Manchester Ship Canal, which in 1887 acquired the Bridgewater undertaking of £1.710,000. What, however was done was to make a swing bridge of part of the aqueduct, so that when vessels, require to pass along the ship canal portion, the canal overhead moves aside. Thus the first fixed canal aqueduct became, after 136 years, the first swing canal aqueduct. Tram roads in the shape of lines of railway and of electric cars have come in spite of all the help which the conveyancing lawyers lent the Duke of Bridgewater in his desire to prevent their advent, but, as history has worked out, it was reserved for the Manchester Ship Canal to develop and extend those ideas of canalisation to which, more than a century, before, the great Duke had given a first and powerful impetus.— London Daily Telegraph.

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