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Grand Junction Canal/Grand Union Canal

1790: the Oxford Canal opens to provide the first useful inland waterway link for heavy goods between London and the Midlands (a very long route via the Thames & Severn Canal did exist for a short while beforehand). However, the route is long and subject to the vagaries of navigation on the upper Thames.

1792: the Marquis of Buckingham commissions James Barnes to survey an alternative route. A meeting at Stony Stratford votes initial capital of £350,000 in £100 shares and commissions Barnes to undertake a detailed survey. William Jessop commissioned to review Barnes’s plan.  Competing London and Western Canal proposed (a.k.a. the Hampton Gay scheme) but does not succeed.

1793: first GJC Act obtained. William Praed appointed Chairman. Work commences at Brentford, Braunston, Blisworth and Tring (and probably on the Wendover feeder).

1794: GJC opened from the Thames to Uxbridge (of which the section from Brentford to Hanwell canalises the River Brent). The second GJC Act authorises the Wendover feeder to be built as a navigable canal. Jessop and Barnes survey Paddington branch.

1795: third GJC Act authorises the Cassiobury deviation. Quicksand encountered in Braunston tunnel and the tunnel found to be mis-aligned. Severe flooding brings work on Blisworth Tunnel to a standstill. GJCC authorised to raise a further £225,000.

1796: GJC opened from Braunston to Weedon. Severe flooding in the workings at Blisworth Tunnel. Jessop proposes a system of locks and steam pumping to take the Canal over Blisworth Hill, but is over-ruled in favour of a tunnel on a different alignment; tunnelling re-commences. Whitefriars Wharf (above Blackfriars Bridge) opened on the Thames. Drayton Reservoir completed ― feeds the Braunston Summit.

1797: GJC extended to Two Waters (Hemel Hempstead). The 6¼-mile Wendover Arm is known to be complete (probably well before).  Work suspended on Blisworth Tunnel, except for driving drainage headings.  Road over Blisworth Hill completed.  Aldenham Reservoir opened to control the water levels in the River Colne.

1798: GJC probably extended to Berkhamsted.  1798 Act grants powers to set up Grand Junction Waterworks Company.  Weston Turville Reservoir opened to compensate water millers on the Wendover Stream.  GJCC authorised to raise a further £150,000.

1799: GJC reaches Tring Summit.  Barnes proposes crossing the valley of the Great Ouse by an embankment and aqueduct as an alternative to a system of locks.  Barnes and Jessop survey route for a horse-tramway over Blisworth Hill.  Warwick & Napton canal opened (engineer Charles Handley).

1800: temporary locks permit crossing of the Ouse Valley.  Horse tramway opened across Blisworth Hill provides a stop-gap until Blisworth Tunnel is built (engineer Benjamin Outram).  Old Stratford branch completed.  Benjamin Bevan recommends a further reservoir at Marsworth.  Warwick & Birmingham canal completed (engineer William Felkin/Philip Henry Witton).

1801: Paddington branch opened (highly successful and helps the development of west London).  The Buckingham Branch is opened.  GJCC authorised to raise a further £150,000.

1802: Wilstone No. 1 Reservoir opened ― worked by a steam pump located on the canal bank at Whitehouses.  Work re-commences on Blisworth Tunnel. [When the first part of Wilstone Reservoir was constructed, water was pumped up to an engine house at Whitehouses.  The location was chosen to take advantage of springs that fed the brooks through Wilstone Village, known as the Ashwell Head and the Barwell Head.  Its height was raised in 1821, and again in 1827.  The Whitehouse engine was of the early 'vacuum' type, which meant that it worked on very little steam pressure, probably about 5 p.s.i., using steam from a very simple boiler.  The engine was activated by the weight of the pump bucket drawing up the piston and the piston cylinder being filled with steam from this boiler, then a jet of water was squirted in condensing the steam.  The vacuum then formed drew up the bucket and brought up the water to the canal level.  The engine was extremely inefficient, even by the standards of the time, and it - and the engine that worked Marsworth Reservoir - was soon replaced by beam engines engines installed at the Tringford station, which worked for many years.]

1803: Work commences on the Ouse embankment and aqueduct.  GJCC authorised to raise a further £400,000.

1804: Weedon Depot and military dock opened together with a short branch from the main line (James Barnes engineer).  Daventry Reservoir completed ― feeds Braunston Summit.

1805: GJC opened throughout with completion of the Blisworth Tunnel.  Steam ‘back-pumping’ is introduced at Braunston with two small reservoirs created to hold water from locking.  Rails removed from Blisworth Hill and used on the Northampton tramway.  Cosgrove Aqueduct opened.  Authorised that 50,000 tons of coal may be shipped within Coal Duty limit on payment of coal dues.  James Barnes retires.

1806: Marsworth Reservoir opened.  Part of the Great Ouse embankment fails.

1808: Cosgrove Aqueduct fails and is replaced by a temporary wooden trunk designed by Henry Provis.

1810: the abortive Western Junction Canal is first proposed to link the main line at Marsworth, via Aylesbury, with Abingdon and the Wilts & Berks Canal.  More powerful pumping engine installed at Braunston.

1811: Benjamin Bevan’s iron aqueduct at Cosgrove is opened.  Wilstone Reservoir extended.  Work commences on the Aylesbury Arm.

1812: the Regent’s Canal is authorised by Parliament.

1813: work commences on the Northampton Branch (Benjamin Bevan engineer). Benjamin Bevan undertakes survey for the Newport Pagnell Canal.

1814: the ‘old’ Grand Union Canal opened linking Leicester with the main line at Norton Junction (Benjamin Bevan engineer).  Aylesbury Arm is completed (Henry Provis engineer).  Death of William Jessop, civil engineer, Chief Engineer of the GJC project.

1815: the Northampton Branch is opened (Benjamin Bevan engineer).

1816: work commences on Marsworth and Startopsend reservoirs.  Substantial damages paid to John Dickinson for diversion of water at Apsley and Nash Mills.  Tringford Reservoir opened.  Ruislip Reservoir opened as feeder to Paddington Arm (engineers John Rennie Snr and William Anderson).

1817: Startops End Reservoir opened.  Newport Pagnell Canal opened. Benjamin Bevan leaves the GJCC.

1818: Tringford pumping station opened.   Act (58 Geo. III. C. 16) authorising the Apsley deviation on the main line receives the royal assent on 17th March 1818 ― “An Act to enable the Grand Junction Canal Company to vary the Line of Part of their Canal in the county of Hertford, and for altering and enlarging the Powers of several Acts relating to the said Canal.”  Apsley deviation opened ― Thomas Telford and W. A. Provis engineers, John Dickinson contractor.

1819: death of James Barnes, civil engineer, Resident Engineer of the GJC project and as such responsible, in the main, for the survey and construction of the GJC.  The Regent’s Canal basin is enlarged to accommodate sea-going vessels.

1820: Regent’s Canal and Dock completed.   The new canal, linking Paddington Basin with the City and the Thames at Limehouse, takes much trade away from Paddington Basin.  William Praed steps down as Chairman of the GJCC.

1821: Hon. Philip Pleydell Bouverie appointed Chairman of the GJCC.

1827: Wilstone No. 1 Reservoir extended.

1830: the Oxford Canal completes a major improvement scheme on its northern section which removes many miles from Brindley’s contour-hugging loops.

1833: death of William Praed, banker, first Chairman of the GJCC and the driving force in its early years.

1835: wide locks at Stoke Bruene doubled to reduce congestion.  Brent Reservoir opened as feeder for Paddington Arm.

1836: Wilstone No. 2 Reservoir opened ― feeds the Tring Summit via pumping.  GJCC’s tonnage revenue peaks.  Regent’s Canal Dock is enlarged.

1837: Grand Junction Railway opened, linking Birmingham with Manchester and Liverpool (engineers George Stephenson and Joseph Locke).  GJCC reduces tolls in prospect of railway competition.

1838: new reservoirs and back pumping installed at Tring to reduce summer delays.  London & Birmingham Railway opened (engineer Robert Stephenson). Duplicate narrow locks built between Fenny Stratford and Bulbourne to save water and speed up narrow boats travelling singly (completed 1839).  Steam back-pumping introduced on the northern approach to Tring Summit (completed 1841).  Northern feeder from the Tring railway cutting built.

1839: Wilstone No. 3 Reservoir opened.  All pumping to Tring Summit is centred on Tringford pumping station where a second engine is installed.  Cheddington to Aylesbury Railway opened.  Further reduction in GJCC tolls due to railway competition.

1840: Sir Francis Bond Head succeeds Philip Bouverie as Chairman.  Birmingham & Warwick Junction Canal authorised.

1841: Brent Reservoir fails causing serious flooding at Brentford.  Southern feeder from the Tring railway cutting built.

1844: extensive repairs to Wendover Arm to repair leaks.  Birmingham & Warwick Junction Canal opened (engineer James Potter).

1847: Pickfords close their canal carrying operation and transfer their business to the railways.  The Grand Junction Canal Carrying Establishment set up.  Thomas Grahame replaces Sir Francis Bond Head as Chairman.

1851: GJC ceases to use Ruislip Reservoir as a feeder.

1854: George Anderson succeeds Thomas Grahame as Chairman of the GJCC.

1857: Hertford Union Canal is bought by the Regent’s Canal Company.

1858: asphalt lining applied to Wendover Arm in an effort to stop leakage.

1860: The GJCC’s first steam tug, Pioneer.

1861: two boatmen suffocate in Blisworth tunnel due to insufficient ventilation to clear fumes from steam tugs.

1864: Newport Pagnell Canal sold to the Newport Pagnell Railway Company.  Canal bed is converted to a railway.

1865:  Regent’s Canal Dock enlarged eastwards.

1868: Robert Howe Brown takes over as Chairman from George Anderson.  ‘The New Ship Lock’ is built linking Regent’s Canal Dock to the Thames.

1871: service of steam tugs introduced at Blisworth and Braunston tunnels and hired leggers disbanded. After an accident in 1871, five ventilation shafts are opened at Blisworth, and two more in 1881.

1874: Grand Junction Canal Carrying Establishment’s boats are involved in a violent explosion on the Regents Canal ― claims against the GJCC amount to the £80,000.

1876: Grand Junction Canal Carrying Establishment ceases trading.

1879: Grand Junction Canal Act 1879, authorises construction of the Slough Arm.

1882: Slough Arm opened to help exploit local deposits of sand, gravel and clay for building materials.

1894: GJCC purchases the Leicester & Northampton Union Canal (‘Union Canal’) for £6,500 and the ‘old’ Grand Union for £10,500.

1895: GJCC’s attempt to amalgamate with the Warwick canals is defeated by local opposition. Final effort to prevent leakage on Wendover Arm.

1897: Wendover Arm closed beyond Little Tring due to incurable leakage.

1898: Thomas Tatham succeeds John Stone Wigg as Chairman of the GJCC.

1900: Foxton inclined plane (boat lift) opened ― engineer Gordon Cale Thomas.

1904: Wendover Arm west of Little Tring abandoned.

1908: Foxton locks reinstated.

1910: Foxton incline plane mostly out of use, closed permanently in 1912.

1911: Wide boats prohibited north of Stoke Bruene.

1914: GJCC forms an alliance with the Regent’s Canal.  A joint committee was set up and the companies work closely together.  Rodolph Fane de Salis succeeds Thomas Tatham as Chairman.  Peak of traffic of 348,470 tons passed Marsworth Top Lock; 440,516 tons at Norwood (lock no. 90).

1917: Canal Control Committee of the Board of Trade implements government control over canals, 1917 to 1920.  The three Warwick Canals (Warwick & Birmingham, Warwick & Napton, and Birmingham & Warwick Junction Canal) come under the management of one joint Committee.

1925: discussions commence on merger with the Regent’s Canal Company.

1926: last of the Fellows, Morton & Clayton steamers converted to diesel.

1928:  Final General Assembly of the GJCC held on 13th June; final AGM of the Regent’s Canal and Dock Company held on 17th August. Regent’s Canal and Dock Company (Grand Junction Canal Purchase) Act, 1928. Regent’s Canal and Dock Company (Warwick Canals Purchase) Act, 1928.  Foxton inclined plane sold for scrap.

1929: 1st January, Regent’s Canal and Dock Company takes over the GJCC (but not its Paddington Estates property portfolio) together with the Warwick & Napton, the Warwick & Birmingham and the Warwick & Birmingham Junction canal companies to form the GUCC.   R. F. de Sallis retires ― his portrait painted by Spencer Watson ARA; W. H. Curtis becomes Chairman of the GUCC.  Grand Junction Company Act, 1929 (London Gazette, 4988, 30th July, 1929) ― operative, following company registration, from 13th January 1930.

1931: Grand Union Canal Act, 1931 (RA 31st July, 1931): a government-supported modernisation programme to widen and deepen the section between Napton and Camp Hill Top Lock (No. 52), Birmingham.   Grand Union Canal (Leicester Canals Purchase &c.) Act, 1931 (RA 31st July, 1931): authorises purchase of the Loughborough Navigation, the Erewash Canal and the Leicester Navigation.

1932: On 1st January, the GUCC purchases the Leicester Navigation (£48,000), the Loughborough Navigation (£11,600) and the Erewash Canal (£15,800) ― over 300 miles of canals now come under GUCC control.  Last recorded use of the Buckingham Arm (formally abandoned 1964??).   GUCC issues £500,000 4% redeemable debenture stock designated ‘Grand Union Canal Development Loan No. 1’, and £400,000 6% preference stock.

1934: Duke of Kent opens new broad locks at Hatton (former Warwick and Birmingham Canal) as part of GUCC improvement scheme.  Grand Union Carrying Company formed ― by mid-1937, its fleet numbers 137 pairs.  Dividend on ordinary shares is suspended.

1936: Steam tugs withdrawn from Blisworth and Braunston tunnels.  ‘Grand Union (Shipping) Ltd.’ formed to operate the Regent’s Line of ships from Regent’s Dock, and the ‘Grand Union (Stevedoring and Wharfage) Co. Ltd.’, to service them.

1937: Col. E. J. Woolley M.C. succeeds W. H. Curtis as Chairman of the GUCC.

1939: Canals are co-ordinated by a government control committee.  They experience serious labour shortages throughout the war.

1941: John Miller succeeds Col. E. J. Woolley M.C. to become the last Chairman of the GUCC.

1942: Independent canals are brought completely under government control (Ministry of War Transport).

1943: Grand Union Canal Act., R.A. 6th July, 1943 ― in essence, gives to the GUCC power to appoint its own auditors (Deloittes); codifies, simplifies and confines to a single document the financial and administrative provisions of the many Special Acts applicable to the company; and (ref the maxim of ultra vires) alters its legal power to transact different types of business by conferring wide powers to invest in any transport or warehousing business likely to assist the Company’s undertaking.  Under powers conferred by the Act, John Miller is appointed Managing Director with effect from 1st August 1943.

1948: GUCC nationalised under the British Transport Commission.  Grand Union (Shipping) Ltd. sold but continued trading under that name.  Fellows, Morton & Clayton is wound up and its fleet sold ― the south-eastern division of the Docks & Inland Waterways Executive acquire 100 pairs of FMC boats.

1962: the British Transport Commission is abolished under the Transport Act, 1962.  Canals come under the British Waterways Board.

1964: British Waterways Boards ceases narrow boat canal carrying.

1968: Transport Act (1968) recognises that some waterways have a potential for cruising, fishing and recreational use. British Waterways is required under the Act to keep ‘commercial’ and ‘cruising’ waterways fit for their respective traffic and use.

1969: The Regent’s Canal Dock closes to commercial traffic.

2012: British Waterways responsibilities for English and Welsh waterways are transferred to a charitable trust, the ‘Canal & River Trust’.




1792 -1820

William Praed

1821 - 1840

Hon. Philip Pleydell Bouverie

1840 - 1847

Sir Francis Bond Head

1847 - 1854

Thomas Grahame

1854 - 1868

George Anderson

1868 – 1888

(decd.)  Hon. R. Howe Browne

1888 - 1898

John Stone Wigg

1898 - 1914

Thomas Tatham

1914 - 1928

Rodolph Fane de Salis

1929 - 1937

Wilfried Henry Curtis

1937 - 1940 (or 41)

Colonel E. J. Woolley M.C.

1940 (or 41) - 1947

John Miller



By no means extensive, but sufficient for the purposes of this account.
 Some of the terms (e.g. ANIMALS, FLY BOATS, GAUGING) are of mainly historical interest.

ACCOMMODATION BRIDGE: a necessary link between dwellings (or fields) that had become separated by a canal.  The provision of such bridges was generally stated in the canal company’s enabling Act.

ANIMALS: A boatman’s name for donkeys used singly, or in pairs, for towing boats.

BALANCE BEAM, or BALANCE: the beam projecting from a lock gate, which balances its weight, and by pushing against which the gate is opened or closed.

BARGE: a term including a variety of vessels used for canal and river traffic, whose beam is approximately twice that of a narrow boat.  Thames barges typically had dimensions of 105ft. in length, 17ft. 9in. beam, and 4ft. 9in. draught.  The name barge is often applied erroneously to all vessels carrying goods on a canal or river whether barge, wide boat, narrow boat, lighter, or any other vessel.

BARGEE: crewman or owner-skipper of a barge or narrow boat.

BASIN: a length of canal for craft to moor at for the purpose of loading or discharging cargo.  It might also offer cargo-handling and warehousing facilities.  A ‘basin’ sometimes forms a canal’s terminus, such as at Aylesbury and at Paddington on the Grand Union network.

BEAM: the width of a vessel, determined by its widest cross-section.

BOATER: a person who lives or works on a canal boat.

BOBBINS: short hollow wooden rollers, several of which are usually threaded on to each of the traces of horses engaged in towing, to prevent the traces chafing.

BOLINDER (semi-Diesel, hot bulb or heavy oil engine): a type of internal combustion engine in which fuel is ignited by being brought into contact with a red-hot metal surface inside a bulb (as opposed to ignition by spark plug in a petrol engine, or compression in a Diesel).  Because such engines could be left unattended for long periods while running, they were a popular choice for applications requiring steady power, such as canal boat propulsion.  However, the Bolinder was difficult to start.  The ritual involved pre-heating the hot bulb with a blow-lamp and hand-pumping oil to the main bearings, big end, small end and piston, and greasing several exposed lesser bearings.  Heating took about ten minutes, but varied according to the age and condition of the bulb.  At the crucial moment a few squirts of fuel were pumped into the bulb and a smart swing of the great flywheel, with the hand or the boot, resulted in compression and then combustion. Bolinders were common replacements for steam engines, but were superseded by Diesel engines when small reliable units became available.

BOW HAULING: hauling by men, in distinction to the more usual method of hauling by horse or powered craft.

BRIDGE HOLE: a narrows under a bridge that only spans the towpath and a single-vessel width of water.

BUTTY (BOAT): an engineless boat that works in company with another boat. The term is generally applied to a cargo-carrying boat towed by a motor boat.

BW or BWB: British Waterways and its predecessor the British Waterways Board.

BYE-TRADER: a term used to designate any trader on a canal, other than a canal company when it was itself a carrier.  All canal companies were not carriers themselves, most merely provided and maintained the waterway, and charged a toll for its use.

CONTOUR CANAL: a waterway that follows the natural land by ‘meandering’ along its required water-level contour.  Typically, the adjacent land is level or rises above the canal at one side, and is level or falls away on the other side.  By following the contour the need for expensive engineering work (such as locks, embankments and tunnels) is minimised, but generally at the expense of increased distance. The southern section of the Oxford Canal is a notorious example of a contour canal.  The Wendover Arm is a contour canal on the Grand Union network.

CROSSOVER BRIDGE: A bridge carrying the towpath from one side of the canal to the other. Also called a Turnover or Roving Bridge.

CUT: a boatman’s name for canal (now mostly obsolete), so applied on account of canals having originally been ‘cut’ or constructed in distinction to rivers, which are natural channels.

FLASH LOCK: a weir with a single gate to allow navigation.  Boats either had to navigate with, or against, the cascade of water through the gate, or wait for the whole of pounds on either side of the weir to become level.  Also called a Navigation Weir or Staunch.

FLIGHT: a series of locks up or down a natural incline, but with pounds between them (also see Staircase Locks).

FLY BOAT: a swiftly moving canal boat carrying priority cargoes.

GATES: substantial (wooden) ‘doors’ that prevent water flowing between adjacent sections of a canal where the water is at different levels. (also see Lock)

GATE PADDLE: paddles or sluices that admit water to a lock via the openings in a lock gate rather than via culverts built into the ground.

GAUGING: the means of ascertaining by the draught of a vessel the weight of cargo on board for the purpose of taking tolls.  The first gauging of canal boats is carried out at a weigh dock, where particulars of the boat’s draught are taken when empty, and when fully loaded, and at intermediate points, such as at every ton of loading.  The boat is loaded with weights kept for the purpose, which are lifted in and out by cranes; the result arrived at is then either transferred to graduated scales fixed to the boat’s sides, which can be read at any time, or the particulars of each vessel are furnished to each toll office in a book, from which on gauging the immersion of the boat at any time the number of tons on board can at once be ascertained.  The usual method of gauging a boat for immersion is to take what is called the ‘dry inches’ that is, — the freeboard — at four points, at one point each side near the bows and at one point each side near the stern.  This is done by an instrument consisting of a float in a tube, having a bracket projecting from the side of the tube.  The bracket is rested on the boat’s gunwale, and the float indicates the number of inches between that and the level of the water in the canal. The four readings are then added together and divided by four, which gives the average for the whole boat.

GROUND PADDLE: paddles or sluices that admit water via culverts built into the ground rather than via openings in a weir or lock gate.

GUNWALE: the upper line or edge, along a boat’s hull.

HARD-EDGE: adjoining land meets canal side in an abrupt step that is substantially straight and regular.  Nearsides have this profile to support the towing path and to facilitate mooring. (see Soft-Edge) 

INCLINED PLANE: a wheeled device or machine designed to lift boats from one level to another without using locks.  The Foxton Inclined Plane on the ‘old’ Grand Union Canal was an example.

INVERT: an inverted arch of brickwork or masonry, used chiefly in canal work to form the bottom of looks and tunnels in situations where, owing to the nature of the soil, lateral or upward pressure has to be sustained.  In effect, an invert provides reinforcement.

LATERAL CANAL: a canal running alongside a river and using it to supply water.

LEGGING (‘Leggin’ it’): a method used to propel vessels through tunnels using the power of one’s legs.  It involved lying on the vessel and walking along the walls or roof. (see wings)

LIGHTENING BOAT: a broad craft (sometimes of double-ended construction avoid the need to turn) that was available to tranship part of the cargo into from heavily laden boats, to get them across a summit in extreme drought.  The load would be put back on the original boats, once they had reached the far side of the summit.  The lightening boat would then take some cargo of boats going across the summit the other way, spending its time as a shuttle boat.

LOCK: (a) an appliance for overcoming changes of level in the navigation of rivers and canals.  A pound lock consists of a chamber built generally of brick or masonry, and provided at both ends with a gate or gates and the necessary paddles or valves for controlling the ingress and egress of the water. The term ‘pound lock’  is sometimes applied to the ordinary lock in distinction to the term ‘flash lock’ (or navigation weir).  (b) A construction for navigating between different water levels on rivers and canals using controlled changes in water levels to float the boat to its new level.

MONKEY BOAT: slang term (obsolete) for a typical narrow boat. Used mostly on the former Grand Junction Canal and the London waterways.

NARROW BOATS: were by far the most numerous class of craft engaged in inland navigation.  They were from 70ft. to 72ft. long by from 6ft. 9in. to 7ft. 2in. beam, and drew from 8 to 11 inches of water when empty, loading afterwards about 1 inch to 1 ton.  The ordinary type of long-distance travelling narrow boat carried from 25 to 30 tons.  Many were of wooden construction, later of wrought iron or steel.  The term is now also applied to shorter length (40-50 ft) pleasure boats of steel construction, modelled on the original designs.  It is incorrect to speak of any of these boats as ‘Barges’. (see Barge)

NARROWS: a short length of single-vessel width canal. (see Wide)

NAVIGATION WEIR: a weir with a single gate to allow navigation.  Boats either had to navigate with, or against, the cascade of water through the gate, or wait for the whole of pounds on either side of the weir to become equal.  Also called a Staunch or Flash Lock.

NUMBER ONES, boats owned by the boatmen who work them, and who are consequently their own masters, in distinction to boats owned by a firm or company.

NEARSIDE: the flank of a canal along which the towpath proceeds.

OFFSIDE: the non-towpath flank of a canal.

PACKET BOAT: a boat used in regular service for passengers, their hand luggage and small parcels.

PADDLE: (a) a sluice valve, the opening or closing of which allows water to pass or be retained. (b) A ‘trap-door’ to allow or prevent water flow through or around a lock gate; a slat, or small door, used to control the flow of water through a lock or weir.

PILING: vertical sheets of steel or concrete that form a water-tight wall, as a canal side.

POUND: (a) the stretch of water on a canal between two locks. (b) A short length of (normal-width) canal between consecutive locks (on a gradual incline); the length of canal between two locks, which can vary from a few feet to many miles.

PUDDLE: (a) clay worked up with water and spread in layers on the bottom and sides of a canal or reservoir when situated in porous strata, for the purpose of making it watertight. (b) The saturated clay lining that seals a canal bed and sides.

PUDDLING: the process of making and then applying puddle (above).

RATE: charges payable to a canal company if carriers, or to a carrier or bye-trader by any person sending goods, as payment for carrying them from one place to another. Rate therefore equals the canal toll plus the haulage charge.  The inability of a canal carriers to quote ‘through rates’ for carrying goods across different canal companies’ systems was a significant drawback to canal trading when canals came into competition with railways.

REACH, a reach of a river is the stretch of water between two locks, or in the case of the tidal portion of a river between two bends or other landmarks, as the lower reaches of the Thames and Medway, all of which have names.

RISERS: a series of locks having no intermediate pounds, so that the top gates of one forms the bottom gates of the next.  Also called staircase locks.

ROVING BRIDGE, or TURN OVER BRIDGE, a bridge situated at the point where the towing-path changes from one side of a canal to the other, and over which all horses engaged in towing had to pass.  A bridge carrying the towing path across another canal or branch at the junction.

SHAFTING: propelling a vessel with at long shaft or pole, a method that was sometimes used in tunnels.

SHOAL: a section of waterway where its proper depth has been reduced significantly by an accumulation of silt.  A shoal can cause grounding (running aground).

SIDE PONDS: reservoir to take water to and from a lock as a water saving measure.  Many of these can still be seen beside locks but very few that are in working order.

SILL (or Cill): the brick, masonry or concrete bed at the bottom of lock gates.

SOFT-EDGE: land adjoining canal slopes gradually down to the bed and thereby forms a non-abrupt, often irregular margin at the water-level.  Aesthetically pleasing, especially for offsides, and ‘friendly’ to wildlife, but vulnerable to erosion caused by the turbulence of passing boats. (also see Hard-Edge)

STAIRS or STAIRCASE LOCKS (also called ‘Risers’): (a) a flight or series of locks so arranged that the top gate or gates of each lock, except the highest one, also form the bottom gate or gates of the lock above.   (b) A flight of locks (on a steep incline) so close that the upper gate of one lock is also the lower gate of the next.

STANK: (a) a temporary watertight dam constructed of sheet piling, from the interior of which the water is pumped out, so as to enable foundations or other works contained therein, which are normally under water, to be laid bare. (b) A temporary watertight dam used to isolate and drain a section of waterway for repair.

STOP or STOP LOCK: a lock or gates, erected at the junction of one canal with another, to prevent loss of water from one to another if necessary, normally there being little or no change of level. There was generally a Toll Office at a stop lock where cargoes were declared, boats gauged, tolls paid, &c. The term STOP is also used to denote a Toll Office not adjoining another Canal Co.’s property, as on the Birmingham Canal Navigations.

STOP GATES: (a) answer the same purpose as stop grooves (below) and planks, but are made in the form of lock gates, and are always kept open except when required for use.  In long canal pounds it is usual for stop gates to be fitted at intervals, so that in the event of a leak or burst, the escape of water may be confined to that portion of the pound between the nearest stop gates on either side.  (b) Wooden gates similar to lock gates that can be used to dam the canal in the event of a leak or the need for repairs, but which are normally kept open.

STOP GROOVES: vertical grooves, usually provided at the head and tail of each lock, and in other situations as required, into which stop planks can be inserted so as to form a temporary dam or stank.

STOP PLANKS: wooden boards for dropping into grooves at a narrows to permit drainage for maintenance work on a canal section or to isolate a leaking section.

SUMMIT LEVEL: the highest pound of water in a canal, from which, if a portion of a through route, the canal descends in both directions, or if the termination of the canal in one direction only. The summit level being the highest pound is the one into which the main supply of water for the purpose of working the locks has to be delivered, and is consequently, in dry weather, the first pound to be affected as regards deficiency of navigable depth.

TOLL (also called TONNAGE): the charge payable to a canal company for the use of the canal by a trader or other person doing his own haulage, that is, carrying goods in his own boat, worked by his own crew and horse. See Rate.

TOWING-PATH: the path by the side of a navigation formerly for the use of towing horses.

TURNOVER (Bridge): a roving bridge (above) constructed in a special shape so that horses could proceed with the tow-rope remaining attached to the boat.

WAYLEAVE: a right to cross land.  In the context of canals, it has applied (historically - re telegraph circuits) to service providers that wish to install their cables, etc. under the towpath.  It involves a contractual licence, granting the service provider the right to install, maintain and/or repair their equipment (or ‘Apparatus’) on the canal company’s land.  It is usually granted in exchange for a fee, which can include the landowner’s legal and other costs, a one-off payment and/or an annual payment.

WEIR: (a) an artificial barrier or dam across a river holding up the water for navigation purposes, the change of level thus involved being usually surmounted by a lock. (b) An artificial dam across a river to hold up the water to navigation level and then by-passed with a navigation cut and lock. (c) On canals, a by-wash weir takes excess water around a lock while a storm weir is a length of side-walling (about 2in above normal water level) for the overflow of excess water (into a stream). (d) A barrier or dam across a channel to increase water depth and control the flow of water.

WHARF: a short section of canal for the transhipment of goods to or from road or rail.

WIDE: a medium length of canal that is exceptionally wide so that, when viewed from a distance it resembles a ‘natural’ lake (e.g. across the grounds of a Stately Home or where a canal crosses a natural spring). (also see Narrows)

WIDE BOAT: a type of boat in use on canals of a size intermediate between that of a narrow boat and a barge.  They were from 70ft. to 72ft. long by from 10ft. to 11ft. beam, and draw, when empty, about 11 or 12inches, loading afterwards about ¾ inches per ton to a maximum of about 50 tons. This type of boat was found chiefly on the Grand Junction Canal.

WIND (TO): to wind a boat is to turn a boat round.

WINDING PLACE, WINDING HOLE, WINNING PLACE, or WINNING HOLE: (a) a wide place in a canal provided for the purpose of turning a boat round. (b) a short length of very wide canal for use as a vessel turn-around ‘pond’. (Pronounced “whin-ding”; not “wine-ding”.) So named because the prevailing Wind would assist the manoeuvre.

WINDLASS (also called in some districts a CRANK): (a) a handle or key for opening and closing look paddles, shaped in the form of the letter L, and having a square socket at one end to fit on the square of the spindle operating the paddle gear.  Often carried in the waist band or belt of a boater. (a) Machine for raising heavy loads.

WINGS (Wing Boards, Legging Boards): (a) flat pieces of board rigged for the purpose of legging in tunnels when the tunnel is too wide to permit of the leggers reaching the side walls with their feet from the boat’s deck. A fully equipped narrow boat would carry two pairs of wings, a pair of ‘Narrow Cut Wings’ and a pair of ‘Broad Cut Wings;’ that is, a pair of wings suitable for the full-sized tunnel of a narrow boat canal, and also a pair suitable for the tunnels of barge canals, the broad cut wings being, of course, the longer ones. (b) boards that could be attached to the front of the boat and which projected out to the sides, on which the leggers lay while legging through a tunnel. Most boats would carry two sets, one for wide, and one for narrow tunnels.



A Hundred Years of Inland Transport 1830-1933: C. E. R. Sherrington (1934)

At the Heart of the Waterway - the story of the canals in the village of Braunston, Northamptonshire: David Blagrove (2003)

A Tour of the Grand Junction Canal in 1819: John Hassell (1819)

Bradshaw’s Canals & Navigable Rivers: de Salis, Henry (1904)

British Waterways ― Recreation and Amenity (Cmnd. 3401): Ministry of Transport  (1967)

Canals and Inland Waterways: George Cadbury and S. P. Dobbs (1929)

Canals and Inland Waterways ― Report of the Board of Survey: British Transport Commission (1955)

Canals and River Navigations, The Illustrated History of: Edward Paget-Tomlinson (1993)

Canal Builders, The: Anthony Burton (1972)

Canal Memories through Dacorum: edited by Denis Miles and Mary Nobbs (1999)

Canals of the East Midlands, The: Charles Hadfield (1966)

English Canals Explained: Stan Yorke (2003)

Facts about the Waterways, The: British Waterways Board (1965)

Future of the Waterways, The ― interim report of the Board: British Waterways Board (1964)

Grand Junction Canal, The: Alan H. Faulkner (1972)

Grand Union Canal (including Regent’s Canal Dock) and Associated Companies: Grand Union Canal Company (c. 1939)

Hadfield’s British Canals: Charles Hadfield, revised by Joseph Boughey (1994)

Lives of the Engineers: Samuel Smiles (1862)

Maiden’s Trip: Emma Smith (1948)

Military on English Waterways, The: Hugh J. Compton and Antony Carr-Gomm (1991)

Our Canal Population: George Smith (1875)

Personal Recollections of English Engineers: F. R. Conder (1868) ― reprinted as The Men Who Built Railways, edited by Jack Simmons (1983)

Phillips’ Inland Navigation: John Phillips (1805)

Priestley’s Navigable Rivers and Canals: Joseph Priestly (1831)

Railway Navvies, The: Terry Coleman (1965)

Report of the Committee of Enquiry into Inland Waterways (Cmnd. 486): Ministry of Transport (1958)

Story of Telford, The: Sir Alexander Gibb (1935)

Tales from the Old Inland Waterways: Euan Corrie (2005)

Transport and the Public: J. A. Dunnage (1935)

Transport goes to War ― the official story of British transport, 1939-42: Ministry of War Transport (1942)

Transport Revolution from 1770, The: Philip S. Bagwell (1974)

Two centuries of Service - the story of the Canal at Stoke Bruerne and Blisworth: David Blagrove (2005)

William Jessop, Engineer: Charles Hadfield and A. W. Skempton (1979)




The favourable reception which the previous editions of this work have received, and the steady demand for it which has arisen, have called for a new edition, and the following pages have been fully and completely revised up to the present date.

The appointment of the Royal Commission on Canals and Waterways in 1906, and the taking over of the principal canals by the Government Canal Control Committee during the European War, with a view to utilising them to the utmost to relieve the Railways, has been the cause of directing renewed attention to the subject of Inland Navigation and its possibilities.

Previous to 1761, when the Bridgewater Canal was opened from Worsley to Manchester, the internal trade of England was chiefly conveyed by pack horse, the few roads which existed were in a very bad condition, and inland navigation was almost entirely restricted to the naturally navigable rivers.

The success of the Bridgewater Canal inaugurated what may be called the Canal Era, which attained its height during the latter part of the eighteenth century. Then came the Railway Era, which commenced with the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830, and at length, in 1845, 6, and 7, completely destroyed any chance which there might have been at that time of a homogeneous system of inland navigation by placing during those three years no less than 948 miles of waterways under railway control.

Whatever may be said on the question of the unfair starving and stifling of canals by railways, there is no doubt that in the first place the canals had largely to thank themselves for it. In many cases the canal companies forced the railways to purchase or lease their undertakings at substantial prices before constructing their lines,

Canals in their day reached a far greater pitch of prosperity than the railways have ever attained to, but they suffered fatally, and do so now, from the want of any serious movement towards their becoming a united system of communication. Each navigation was constructed purely as a local concern, and the gauge of locks and depth of water was generally decided by local circumstances or the fancy of the constructors without any regard for uniformity. The same ideas of exclusiveness appear to have become perpetuated in the system of canal management; there is no Canal Clearing House, and with few exceptions every boat-owner has to deal separately with the management of every navigation over which he trades. No doubt, to some extent, profiting by the experience of canals, the railways have avoided such errors; had they not done so they could never have reached their present high standard of efficiency.

The production of this work was originally undertaken by the Author after a survey of the whole of the navigable inland waterways of England and Wales, extending over eleven years, carried out in all seasons and all weathers, and amounting to a mileage travelled over the navigations of over 14,000 miles.

The Author tenders his grateful thanks to numerous Directors, Secretaries, Managers, and Engineers of Navigations for much assistance rendered, and is especially mindful of his indebtedness to his late friend Mr. W. H. Wheeler, M.I.C.E., of Boston, who, having made commencement of a similar Work, gave to the Author the result of his labour in that direction.

The greatest care has been taken to insure the accuracy of the information contained in this Work, and no responsibility can be accepted for any errors contained therein.


A The expression  “navigable” in this Work means navigable for the purposes of trade; waterways which can only be used by rowing boats, &c., for pleasure purposes are not dealt with.

Indented places in distance tables. — Where names of places appearing in tables of distances are indented, as Wards Mill, thus :—

Thornes Flood Lock

          Wards Mill
Broad Cut

it signifies that the names of the places so indented are situated on a short branch, dock, or backwater off the direct line of the navigation.

In the lists of locks, locks whose numbers are bracketed together form a flight of locks, that is to say, they are not more than 400 yards apart.

In the dimensions of the maximum size of vessels that can use the various navigations, the expression  “not limited” when applied to the figures of length and width signifies not limited by the length or width of any locks or works of the navigation. In some cases where the maximum length of vessels is determined by bends in the navigation, these figures are also given separately.

The figures of the times of high water and the rise of the tides at places frequented by sea-going vessels are mostly taken from the Admiralty Tide Tables; the figures relating to places more inland have been specially obtained for this Work. The figures of the rise of the tides are the heights above the Mean Low Water Level of Spring Tides‘ unless otherwise stated.


Inland navigations may be divided into two classes — canal navigations and river navigations; and there are also navigations composed of varying amounts of both of these classes.

Canal navigations have the advantage of providing still water for the passage of craft, the only movement of the water which takes place being due to lockage or the entrance of water feeders, which is generally insignificant.

On river navigations, the advantage given by the current to vessels going down stream does not compensate for the disadvantage they encounter from the same cause when going up stream. The strength of the current in our navigable rivers above the tideway varies considerably, the chief cause in general being the amount of water coming down the river at the time, and, locally, the area of the channel of the river and the slope or inclination of the surface of the water, due to the fall of the river bed. The velocity of the current in the non-tidal portion of any of the navigable rivers in England as a rule Ends its maximum at between three to four miles an hour; the flow of the River Severn from Stourport to Gloucester has never been measured to exceed four miles an hour.

The traffic on river navigations is more liable to be interrupted by floods and drought than that on canal navigations. When the banks of a river overflow, although there is plenty of water in the channel, the surrounding country being submerged, it becomes a trackless waste, where risk of the navigator losing his way is great, and headroom under bridges is much diminished.

Weeds also exercise an effect on the depth of water at the top of reaches in rivers according to the season. Given a river with a moderate flow which is the same throughout the year, and that consequently maintains the same level of water at the bottom of a reach, the water at the top of that reach would be higher in summer than in winter because of its retardation by the full-grown weeds, which in winter will have died down.

The traffic on river navigations is not stopped by frost as soon as it is on canals, running water of course freezing less quickly than still water. Although the course of some of the canals is extremely tortuous, river navigations, following as they do in great part natural channels, generally have a longer course from point to point than canals.

On rivers having weirs in which there is removable tackle, navigation is often assisted by the system of “flashing,” or, as it is sometimes called, “flushing.” A head of water is allowed to accumulate in a reach, and it is then used to replenish successive lower reaches by keeping the weir at the bottom of each reach shut in and drawing tackle in the weir at the top of the reaches, such operation keeping pace with the movements of the boats so assisted.

Canal navigations have also the advantage over most river navigations in the matter of pilotage. Any ordinary canal boatman can find his way in safety over a canal on which he has never travelled before, but if his journey extend over rivers the extra cost of a man with local knowledge to pilot him is often incurred. For instance, it would not be advisable to send a man over the Upper Thames, or down the Trent below Nottingham, who was a stranger to the navigation. So convinced was James Brindley, the early Canal Engineer, of the superiority of canal over river navigations that on one occasion, when under examination by a committee of the House of Commons concerning one of his schemes, to a member who enquired of him of what use he considered navigable rivers, he is said to have answered “to supply canals with water.”

Again, there are navigations and portions of navigations which may be described as intermittent, that is, those on which the passage of the trade is confined to spring tides owing to there not being sufficient depth of water on neap tides to navigate a paying load, as, for example, the River Dee to Chester, to which city paying loads can only be navigated during about one week in the month. The Louth navigation in Lincolnshire, now closed for navigation, was also another instance. The entrance to it from the North Sea through the sands of Tetney Haven had only sufficient water for loaded Yorkshire keels trading from Hull for about two weeks during the month.


(a) Haulage by Horses.

Haulage by horses is still the system most in use on the general body of the inland waterways, and in it must be included hauling by mules, which is rare, and by pairs of donkeys, or, as they are termed,  “animals,” which are much used for boats on the Stroudwater Canal and the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, and on some parts of the Shropshire Union system. Horse towing-paths are, as a rule, provided on all canals, and on rivers above the region of the strong ebb and flow of the tide.

Canal towing-paths vary considerably, from the well-appointed and well-metalled way to the neglected track —often in winter nothing but a slough of mire, and bounded by a hedge so overgrown as seriously to curtail the width necessary for the passage of the horse.

River towing-paths, unlike those belonging to canals, are usually not fenced off from the adjacent land, being provided with gates set to close automatically by their own weight at the points of passage through the various boundary fences. In the large group of waterways of the Bedford Level and district an antiquated substitute for these gates is in general use in the shape of stiles, some of them as high as 2ft. 7in., over which horses towing have to jump, giving themselves frequently nasty knocks in so doing.

River towing-paths are sometimes not the property of the navigation, but consist merely of the right of passage for the purpose of towing, an annual rent in some cases being paid for the privilege. The towing-path of the River Severn was constructed as a separate undertaking from the navigation, the portions above and below Worcester being owned by two different independent companies.

When the towing-path changes from one side of the navigation to the other, means for transferring horses to the opposite bank are necessary. ln the case of canals, bridges are always provided for this purpose, and are known as  “roving” bridges. On rivers, bridges are not always so conveniently placed; for instance, lighters coming out of the Middle Level, bound, say, for Ely, on arrival at Salters Lode Sluice, the junction of Well Creek with the River Ouse (Great), have to send their horses two miles round by Downham Bridge to get them to the opposite side of the river. In the absence of bridges, ferry boats, which are in some cases owned and worked by the navigation, as on the Upper Thames, take their place. In the Bedford Level and district the gangs of lighters often take with them, in tow behind the last lighter, a special small boat for ferrying over the horses, known as the  “horse boat.” Horses are sometimes ferried over on the boat or barge itself, as on the River Trent and River Stour (Suffolk), but this latter river is not now navigable above Dedham.

The following are about the average speeds attained by a narrow or monkey boat hauled by a horse in a narrow boat canal in fair order:―

1 narrow boat loaded, hauled by one horse, about 2 miles per hour.
1                        empty   3
2             boats loaded  
2                        empty  

In Section XI. of this Work the existence of a towing-path or not to a navigation is always noted, as also, in the event of the towing-path not being continuous throughout the navigation, the points of commencement and termination.

(b) Bow-hauling, or Hauling by Men.

There is but little bow-hauling done now, and what there is is restricted to occasional use for quite short distances. It may, for example, sometimes be seen on the Bungay Navigation, North Walsham and Dilham Canal, and Aylsham Navigation — non-tidal waterways of the Norfolk Broad District — when the wind is unfavourable for sailing, as there are no horse towing-paths, and the navigations are not wide.

When a pair of narrow boats are worked through a narrow boat canal by one horse, on arriving at locks the horse usually takes the first boat, leaving the second one to be bow-hauled through the locks by the crew.

In the early days of canals the bow-hauling interest must have been very strong, as we find clauses inserted in Acts of Parliament enacting that barges on certain navigations shall be “haled“ by men only. Traffic on the River Trent was thus restricted until the year 1783, when two Acts of Parliament were passed containing clauses which permitted horse haulage throughout the navigation from Burton to Gainsborough.

In a paper on the past and present condition of the River Thames read before the Institution of Civil Engineers, January, 1856, by Mr. Henry Robinson (Minutes of Proceedings, Inst. C. E., vol. 15, p. 198), we read:— “The traffic on the Upper Thames was in the last century principally conducted by large barges carrying as much as 200 tons each, and hauled against the stream by 12 or 14 horses, or 50 or 80 men; these men were usually of the worst possible character, and a terror to the whole neighbourhood of the river.”

The River Avon Navigation (Warwickshire) from Stratford-on-Avon to Tewkesbury was constructed without a horse towing-path, and must have been worked by bow-haulage. At the present time the upper navigation from Evesham to Stratford-on-Avon is derelict.

(c) Sailing.

Sailing is suitable for districts where the country is flat, with long reaches of water without locks, and where there are few trees to break the wind; it is also a valuable assistance to drifting with the tide or stream when the wind is favourable. Traffic in the Norfolk Broad District, consisting of the Rivers Yare, Waveney, and Bure, and their communicating Dikes and Breads, is conducted entirely by sailing vessels, termed “wherries”; haulage by horses is quite unknown, and in no case are there any horse towing-paths provided.

Sailing is also extensively practised on the large expanse of waterways navigated by the Yorkshire keels.

Other vessels which use sails are principally Medway sailing barges, Severn trows, the black flats of the River Weaver, and the barges navigating the River Teign, Stover Canal, and Hackney Canal.

(d) Drifting with the Tide or Stream.

Drifting on the ebb or flow of the tide, or down stream in the non-tidal portion of a river, is usually supplemented by sailing, steam, or horse haulage, as otherwise progress would be needlessly slow. Dumb barges and lighters, however, in spite of the increase in the number of steam tugs, still continue on the Thames in the neighbourhood of London, drifting with the tide and controlled as far as they can be by sweeps or long oars, but always ready to blunder into whatever may cross their path.

Vessels drifting must of necessity be very unmanageable, as a rudder is practically useless unless the vessel is travelling faster than the water in which it floats.

(e) Haulage by Mechanical Power.

Although successful installations of electrical haulage are in use on portions of the continental waterways, they have not as yet been established in this country. Oil engines have in recent years grown considerably in favour, especially in the smaller craft, where the reduction in machinery space and weight over steam sets is of great advantage.

Contrary to what is often supposed, mechanical haulage on the ordinary narrow boat and barge canals does not add greatly to the speed of vessels over horse haulage; whatever horse power may be developed, the rate of progress is limited by the ease with which the water can get past the vessel as it travels, which is governed by the proportion of the cross section of the waterway to the immersed section of the vessel, subject to the proviso that, with a given immersed section of vessel and a given section of waterway, the waterway which has the most water beneath the vessel and the sides of which more closely approximate to the vertical will give the best result. Any attempt to increase the speed beyond what the section of the waterway permits merely causes a waste of power, heaps up the water in front of the vessel, creates a breaking wave highly injurious to the banks of the canal, and renders the vessel more difficult to steer.

The question of injury caused to canal banks and works by the wash of steamers is a very vexed one, opinions on the matter differing widely. As a rule, steamers are allowed on all canals owned by independent companies, those canals on which they are prohibited being mostly owned by railway companies.

In 1859 some coal owners trading on the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal proposed hauling boats by steam, the long level of thirty miles without a lock constituting this canal being especially favourable for the purpose. The Midland Railway Company, the owners of the canal, however, refused to allow the boats to pass on the ground of the damage which might be caused to the banks by the steamer, and proceedings were instituted in Chancery to test the rights of the case. The Master of the Rolls directed, with the consent of both parties, that a series of experiments should be carried out by Mr. Pole, an eminent engineer, to ascertain what effects were produced by the use of the proposed steamer. The result of the experiments showed that no wave of an injurious character appeared up to a speed of three miles an hour, and that between three and three and a half miles an hour a breaking wave appeared occasionally in curves and shallows. Mr. Pole accordingly recommended that steamboats should be admitted on the canal subject to such a limitation of their speed as would avoid the production of an injurious wave; and this recommendation was made an order of the Court of Chancery (Minutes of Proceedings of the Inst. C. E., vol. 26, p. 17).

The Severn is the navigation where the greatest number of vessels are towed together at one time. Between Gloucester and Worcester as many as two dozen narrow boats are sometimes towed behind one tug, the boats being in two parallel lines.


(a) Locks.

A lock, as is generally known, consists of a pit or chamber built usually in brick or masonry, and provided at both ends with a gate or gates and suitable sluices, whereby the level of the water in the lock chamber can be made to correspond as required with the level of the navigation at either end.

Although locks were apparently known to the Venetians as far back as 1481, the first lock constructed in England seems to have been on the Exeter Canal, some time between 1675 and 1697. This canal was completed from Exeter to Topsham in 1566 by John Trew, a native of Glamorganshire (Smiles’ “Lives of the Engineers”), and according to an article on Inland Navigation written for the “Edinburgh Encyclopaedia,” 1830, by the eminent engineer Thomas Telford, the canal as originally constructed appears to have been an open cut, the locks not having been added until over a century later. Mr. Telford goes on to say that Misterton Soss on the River Idle, constructed by Vermuyden about 1630, was probably the first lock with a chamber built in England; but Misterton Soss has not now, and so far as the Author can ascertain never has had, more than one pair of navigation gates, and consequently hardly comes within the definition of a lock, but is merely a sluice or staunch to maintain the level of the water in the river above the Soss when the tide is low, the passage of vessels only taking place on the levels of the tide.

Lock chambers, as already stated, are generally constructed in brick or masonry, but there are some few exceptions to be met with. The two locks on the Shropshire Union Canal at Beeston, near Chester, have their sides formed of cast-iron plates bolted together, owing to their being built on a stratum of quicksand. Some locks, mostly on old river navigations, are to be found constructed of timber, and another old type of lock not yet totally extinct has sloping turf sides, with a few piles or old railway metals driven vertically along the foot of the slope to confine the vessels when locking down to their proper limits, so as they do not settle down on to the turf slope. This latter type of lock takes a long time to fill, and consumes a great deal of water, especially in dry weather, as there is considerable soakage into the sides. Lock gates are almost invariably constructed of timber, having the back of the heel post of semi-circular form so as to work in a hollow quoin when opening and shutting. Occasionally, however, cast-iron gates are found, as in the case of some of the bottom gates of locks on the Oxford Canal.

Lock gates of the portcullis or guillotine type, made to open by being raised vertically, are to be seen at Kings Norton, near Birmingham, where the stop lock of the Stratford-on-Avon Canal, close to its junction with the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, has both top and bottom gates of this pattern, the fall of the lock being only about four inches. Similar gates are also in use for the bottom gates only of the nine small locks on the Old Shropshire Canal Section of the Shropshire Union Canals, between Wappenshall Junction and Trench. The above are the only examples of this type of gate in the country.

The ordinary shape of a lock is naturally rectangular, so as to consume no more water than is necessary, and exceptions to this shape are very rare. Wyre Lock on the Lower Avon (Warwickshire) Navigation is formed of a diamond shape; on the Upper Avon (Warwickshire) Navigation, now derelict, Cleeve Lock was of a diamond shape and Luddington Upper Lock was circular. Cherry Ground Lock, or, as it is locally termed, “sluice,” six miles below Bury St. Edmunds, on the portion of the River Lark now closed for traffic, was built somewhat in the form of a crescent moon.

Examples of a large number of locks per mile are 58 in 16 miles between Worcester and Tardebigge on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, in which are included the famous flight of 30 at Tardebigge, which is the greatest number in one flight in the United Kingdom. There are also 74 locks in 20 miles between Huddersfield and Ashton on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, and 92 in 32 miles between Manchester and Sowerby Bridge on the Rochdale Canal.

The largest canal lock in the United Kingdom is the large entrance lock to the Manchester Ship Canal at Eastham, which measures 600ft. by 80ft. The smallest locks in use in the country for trade are the nine locks on the Old Shropshire Canal between Wappenshall Junction and Trench, referred to above, and which measure 81ft. by 6ft. 4in.

Locks, as a rule, are not constructed to give a greater fall each than from 6 to 8 feet, as otherwise they would use an excessive amount of water, and the bottom gates would become of abnormal size. Excluding for the moment the locks of the Manchester Ship Canal, the single canal lock having the greatest fall in the country, so far as the Author has observed, is Tardebigge top lock on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, which has a fall of 14ft.

The provision of an adequate supply of water to canals is often an expensive matter. Each time a vessel passes through a summit level or highest pound of a canal it consumes two locks of water, that is to say, a lock full at each end, which has to be replaced, but which amount of water will, theoretically at any rate, suffice for working all the locks for the passage of that vessel below the highest lock on each side of the summit level. To maintain the supply of water to the summit level of a canal impounding reservoirs are generally provided to store the rainfall from as large an area as possible for use as required, the supply from the reservoirs being often supplemented by pumping from wells and from streams where available.

Economy in the use of lockage water can be obtained (1) by substituting lifts or inclined planes for locks; (2) by pumping back the water from the lower to the higher level. This is done on the Birmingham Canal Navigations at Ocker Hill, where water is returned from the Walsall to the Wolverhampton level, also on the north side of both Tring and Braunston summits of the Grand Junction Canal, and at Hillmorton on the Oxford Canal; (3) by the system of duplicate locks as described below; (4) by the use of locks with side ponds. The principle of the side pond is that instead of allowing the whole of the water to escape into the lower pound when emptying a lock, the upper portion of the water contained in the lock chamber is allowed to flow into a pond or ponds at the side, placed at a level or levels intermediate between that of the water when the lock is full and empty. The water thus collected in the side ponds is used to replenish the lower portion of the lock when it is required to again fill it, instead of the whole of the water being drawn from the top pound of the canal. The number of side ponds usually employed is from one to three.

“Waiting turns” is a system sometimes practised in dry weather at a flight of locks to economise water. The system is that boats are not allowed to follow each other indiscriminately, but that for every boat that goes down the locks one shall also come up, and vice versa, thus making sure that the maximum amount of traffic is passed for the water consumed. Where the traffic is heavy the duplicate system of locks is made use of, as on the Regents Canal main line, on the Trent and Mersey Canal from the north end of the summit level at Hardings’ Wood down to Wheelock, and at Hillmorton three locks on the Oxford Canal near Rugby. On this system, instead of one lock a pair of locks are provided side by side, the one being usually full when the other is empty. Supposing an ascending boat to have entered the empty lock from below, and a descending boat to have entered the full lock from above, when the gates have been closed the water from the full lock is allowed to discharge across into the empty one till both have run level, thus leaving only half a lock of water to be drawn from the top pound for the ascending boat, and the same quantity to be discharged into the bottom pound for the descending boat. Each lock consequently acts as a side pond for the other.

Staircase locks, or as they are sometimes termed “Risers,” are locks arranged in flight without any intermediate pools, so that the top gates of one lock are also the bottom gates of the lock above. This arrangement of locks is used where the slope of the ground to be surmounted is steep, but it has the disadvantage that vessels which are over half the size the lock will contain cannot pass each other when in any locks so constructed. The five staircase locks at Bingley on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal are fine examples of the type. They give a total lift of 59ft. 2in. Five is the maximum number of locks arranged together on this plan which can be found in this country, but two locks together are often met with on canals, and are usually called double locks.

Mr. G. R. Jebb,in a paper on the “Maintenance of Canals” read before the Society of Arts Conference on Canals, 1888, gives the following interesting information on a point connected with the consumption of lockage water. “A boat locking down from the higher to the lower level requires a lock full of water minus the amount it displaces; a boat locking up from the lower to the higher level requires a lock of water plus the amount it displaces; thus, it will be seen that a loaded boat requires more water than an empty one when locking up hill, and that an empty one requires more water than a loaded one when looking down hill.”

Throughout the main body of the barge and narrow boat canals, the lock gates and paddles (the latter also variously known as “slats,” “slackers,” and “cloughs,”) are invariably operated by manual labour. The rack and pinion is the usual gear for opening and closing paddles, the spindle of the pinion having a square on the end to take a portable crank or windlass carried by the boatmen; sometimes the crank is a fixture on the spindle of the pinion, which has the disadvantage of enabling unauthorised persons to interfere with the paddles. In a few localities, gear which requires the use of a handspike is still in existence, and there are also paddles operated by a fixed lever, as the “jack cloughs” of the locks on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

On navigations where the traffic is not large it is generally the rule to leave all locks empty, so that when locking up hill each lock must be drawn off after the boat has passed. This ensures that the water in the pounds is held by the top gates of each lock, which are less likely to leak than the bottom gates, being much smaller.

(b) Flash Locks, or Navigation Weirs, or Staunches.

Flash locks, or navigation weirs, called in the Eastern Counties “staunches,” are of necessity peculiar to rivers on account of the amount of water they consume in working. They are at best but rude and primitive contrivances. having the sole merit of being cheap, and can only exist where the traffic is small, as their use entails what is practically, to use a railway phrase, single line working. The system consists in providing, instead of a pound lock, an opening for the passage of vessels through a weir which can be opened or closed at will, so that the water of the river can be penned back in the reach above or allowed to run level, or nearly so, with the water in the top of the reach below. The passage of the water from the higher to the lower level is also often assisted by sundry side sluices in addition, which are opened for the purpose when required. The opening of the navigation passage is effected either by a gate or gates similar to those of a lock, or a shutter or “clough,” which is wound up vertically by suitable gear, or, in the case of the three Hash locks still in use on the Upper Thames, by removing a number of the rimers and paddles of which the weir consists and opening the pivoted rimer beam, which is specially constructed to swing aside for the purpose.

Thus it will be seen that the change of level from one reach to another is accomplished by allowing the two reaches to run together approximately level instead of, as in the case of the lock, by raising or lowering the level of the water in the lock chamber to correspond with either reach as required. Navigation weirs or staunches, except on the Upper Thames, stand normally open or “drawn,” being only closed or “set” when required to be brought into use.

In navigating down stream on a river provided with staunches, a man must be sent in advance to set the staunch, and sufficient water allowed to accumulate before the vessel can enter the reach of water held up by that staunch. On arrival of the vessel at the staunch it is drawn, and the vessel passes into the next reach. Going up stream the vessel passes through the staunch, which is then set, and the vessel must then wait until sufficient water accumulates to allow of a passage into the next reach above, when the staunch is drawn, and left in its normal position. The process of allowing the water to accumulate can generally be hastened by drawing water from the reach above, but it must be remembered that in going up stream all water thus drawn decreases the navigable draught in the reach the vessel is about to enter, while when going down stream the reverse takes place, putting only any vessel which may be following to a disadvantage, which of course in most cases is not held to be a matter of great consequence.

There are at present only five navigation weirs or staunches in existence in England not situated in the Fen Country or on its tributary rivers; these, which are termed weirs, consist of three on the Thames between Oxford and Lechlade, and two on the Lower Avon Navigation (Warwickshire) between Tewkesbury and Evesham.

(c) Lifts.

Lifts are of two kinds: vertically ascending lifts and inclined plane lifts. At the present time there is only one lift in use in this country: the vertical lift at Anderton, near Northwich, the property of the River Weaver Navigation Trustees, which enables vessels measuring 72ft. by 14ft. 6in. to be transferred from that navigation to the Trent and Mersey Canal of the London Midland and Scottish Railway.

The Anderton lift was first opened for traffic in July, 1875. The original design consisted of two caissons, each 75ft. long and 15ft. 6in. wide, supported and raised or lowered by hydraulic rams through 50ft. 4in., the motive power being chiefly obtained by gravity arrangement of syphons regulating the water in the ascending caisson, so that the additional weight of the descending caisson raised the former.

After working until 1908 it was found that the hydraulic rams could not be kept tight owing to grooving, and it was decided to abandon the hydraulic action and substitute electric power. This was carried out, and has been in operation since that date.

The caissons have not been altered in size, but now work independently, so allowing an increase in the maximum number of boats which can be passed through the lift.

A full account of the original lift will be found in the Minutes of Proceedings of the Inst. of C. E., vol. 45, p. 107, and of the alterations to electrical power in vol. 180, p. 239.

Among canal lifts which have gone out of use may be mentioned the Tardebigge lift, erected on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal in 1809, and the seven lifts on the section of the Grand Western Canal between Taunton and Loudwell, constructed from 1834 to 1836, and closed in 1867 (Transactions of the Inst. of C. E., vol. 2). All these lifts were of the vertically ascending type, and their remains are cleared away. Of disused inclined plane lifts may be mentioned the Trench lift and the Coalport lift. The Trench incline plane lift, which was constructed towards the close of the eighteenth century, consisted of two lines of rails laid parallel to each other, on each of which ran a trolley raised and lowered by a wire rope, and capable of carrying one tub boat at a time. The descending trolley assisted in balancing the weight of the ascending one, the extra power required being supplied by a stationary winding engine. The length of the inclined plane was 227 yards and the vertical rise was 73ft. 6in. The Coalport lift was almost a counterpart of the Trench lift, with the exception that the trolleys were hauled up by chains instead of wire ropes. This inclined plane was constructed towards the close of the eighteenth century, and went out of use in 1902. It was 300 yards long, and had a vertical rise of 213ft. On the Bude Canal, only the first two miles of the canal, which are still open for traffic, were made navigable for barges, the remaining 40 miles (closed by Act of Parliament of 1891) were navigable only by four-ton tub boats, and on this portion all changes of level were accomplished by inclined planes. The boats, which measured 20ft. long by 5ft. 6in. beam and 2ft. 9in. deep, were fitted with four iron wheels, each of 14in. diameter, projecting out beyond the boat’s side, and which ran in rails of channel section up and down the inclined planes. The first inclined plane was at Marhamchurch, a little over two miles from Bude, where the boats were hauled up and down by a water wheel. The next incline beyond (Thurlibeer) was worked by a pair of balanced tubs, the descending one being filled with water. The machinery at all the inclined planes has been removed.

The Foxton inclined plane lift, on the Leicester Section of the Grand Junction Canal, which was opened for traffic April, 1900, consisted of two caissons, each mounted on ten wheels, and running on five rails parallel to each other. The caissons were wound up and down the inclined plane laterally by wire ropes, and here again the one helped to balance the other, the extra power required being obtained from a stationary winding engine. The length of the inclined plane was 307ft., and the vertical rise 75ft. 2in. An account of the lift, with illustrations, will be found in “Engineering” of 25th January, 1901.

The Monkland incline plane lift at Blackhill in Scotland, completed in 1850, resembled somewhat the Grand Junction lift at Foxton of later date, but with the difference that the caissons were constructed to move end on, and ran on two rails each only instead of, as in the case of the Foxton lift, moving laterally and running on five rails each.


The first main line canal tunnel constructed in England was Harecastle Old Tunnel, 2897 yards long, on the summit level of the Trent and Mersey Canal. It was commenced by James Brindley in 1766 and finished in 1777, five years after his death. The latest work in canal tunnelling in the country is Netherton Tunnel, 3027 yards long, on the Birmingham Canal Navigations. It was commenced on 28th December, 1855, and completed within two years and eight months.

In the tunnels of early date, towing-paths were never constructed, and, except where mechanical haulage is in use, the method of propelling boats through such tunnels down to the present time is either “shafting” or “legging.” Shafting consists of pushing with a long pole or shaft against the top or sides of a tunnel while walking from forward to aft along the boat, and is generally only used in short tunnels. Legging is performed by two men, one on each side of the boat, who lie down on the fore end on their backs and push against the tunnel sides with their feet. If the tunnel is too wide to admit of their reaching the side walls with their feet from the boats deck, boards projecting over the boats side termed “wings” are brought into use for them to lie on. Sometimes, when the roof of a tunnel is low, one man can leg an empty boat lying down on the top of the cabin. Legging is hard work, and in former days used to be performed by women as well as men. At Harecastle Old Tunnel, before the war, a legger could have been engaged for 1s. 6d. for the passage through, which took about three hours.

The construction of canal tunnels of any considerable length with towing-paths for horse haulage in this country was only commenced shortly before canal construction practically terminated, consequently there are but few examples of such tunnels to be found. Among the principal are Netherton and Coseley on the Birmingham Canal Navigations, Harecastle New Tunnel — parallel to the disused Harecastle Old Tunnel on the Trent and Mersey Canal — and Chirk Tunnel on the Ellesmere Canal of the Shropshire Union Canals.


1 Standedge

Huddersfield Narrow


2 Sapperton

Thames and Severn (closed)


3 Lappal

Birmingham Canal Navigations — Dudley Canal (closed)


4 Dudley

Birmingham Canal Navigations — Dudley Canal


5 Norwood

Chesterfield (closed)


6 Butterley

Cromford (closed)


7 Blisworth

Grand Junction


8 Netherton

Birmingham Canal Navigations


9 Harecastle (New)

Trent and Mersey


10 Harecastle (Old)

Trent and Mersey (closed)


11 West Hill

Worcester and Birmingham


12 Braunston

Grand Junction


13 Foulridge

Leeds and Liverpool


14 Crick

Grand Junction


15 Preston Brook

Trent and Mersey


16 Greywell

Woking Aldershot and Basingstoke


17 Husbands Bosworth

Grand Junction


18 Berwick

Shropshire Union


19 Islington



20 Saddington

Grand Junction


21 Shortwood

Worcester and Birmingham


22 Tardebigge

Worcester and Birmingham


23 Barnton

Trent and Mersey


24 Gannow

Leeds and Liverpool


25 Gosty Hill

Birmingham Canal Navigations — Dudley Canal


26 Savernake

Kennet and Avon


27 Chirk

Shropshire Union


28 Shrewley

Warwick and Birmingham


29 Saltersford

Trent and Mersey


30 Hincaster



31 Ashford

Brecon and Abergavenny


32 Coseley

Birmingham Canal Navigations — Main Line


33 King’s Norton



34 Hyde Bank

Peak Forest


35 Maida Hill



36 Newbold



37 Snarestone



38 Dunhampstead

Worcester and Birmingham


39 Whitehouses

Shropshire Union


40 Woodley

Peak Forest


41 Drakeholes



42 Armitage

Trent and Mersey


43 Leek

Trent and Mersey


44 Cardiff



45 Edgbaston

Worcester and Birmingham



The type of overline canal bridge most commonly found in this country is the single-arch brick or stone bridge having the towing-path carried under it alongside the waterway. In districts affected by subsidences due to mining operations, iron girder bridges are largely used, as they can be more readily raised when the headroom under them diminishes

Throughout the waterways of the Fen Country, the towing-path, or as it is there termed the “haling way,” is not carried under the bridges, but horses towing have to have their tow lines detached on nearing bridges and reattached again on the far side. A remarkable type of bridge is to be found on the Stratford-on-Avon Canal, designed to save the expense of constructing the towing-path under it, and at the same time to obviate the inconvenience of casting off and reattaching the tow line. These bridges consist of two iron brackets, each projecting half across the canal from an abutment of brickwork on either side.

The two brackets do not touch each other over the centre of the canal by something less than an inch, the bridge being thus completely cut in two in the middle transversely. Instead, therefore, of having to detach and reattach the tow line, when the horse and boat are about equidistant from the bridge on either side, the horse is slacked up and the tow line is dropped through the slot left between the two halves of the bridge.

Opening bridges or movable bridges are of two kinds, those which open by turning aside on a centre, sometimes called “turn bridges,” and those which open by lifting upwards and are balanced by counter-weights.

Opening bridges are cheaper in first cost than the fixed brick or stone bridge, but cost more to maintain. They are not generally adopted except for special situations. Large numbers of them are, however, to be found on the southern portion of the Oxford Canal between Fenny Compton and Oxford.


The earliest canal aqueduct constructed in England was that at Barton, opened on the 17th July, 1761. It was built by James Brindley for the Duke of Bridgewater to carry the Bridgewater Canal from Worsley to Manchester across the River Irwell, about five miles west of Manchester. This aqueduct, built of stone, was about 600ft. in length and 36ft. in width at the top, the waterway being 18ft. wide and about 4½ft. deep carried in a puddled channel across the structure. It remained in use and in a good state of preservation until 1893, when it was superseded by the present Barton swing aqueduct, designed by Sir E. Leader Williams, and necessitated by the portion of the bed of the River Irwell below being absorbed into the Manchester Ship Canal. The main girders of the swinging portion of the present aqueduct are 234ft. long, the waterway being 19ft. wide and 6ft. deep. The aqueduct is always swung full of water, there being gates at each end and also at the shore ends of the canal which can be closed at will. The total weight of the swinging span and of the water contained therein is about 1600 tons.

For an account of the circumstances attending the construction of the old Barton aqueduct, see Smiles’ “Lives of the Engineers”; and for an excellent illustrated description of both old and new aqueducts, and the Manchester Ship Canal in general, see “Engineering” of the 26th January, 1894, from which the above figures of dimensions are taken.

Another notable canal aqueduct is Lancaster aqueduct, completed by Rennie in 1796 at a cost of £48,000, which carries the Lancaster Canal over the River Lune near Lancaster. It is 600ft. long, and consists of five arches of 75ft. span each. The mortar (pozzolana earth) used in its construction was brought from Italy (see Smiles’ “Lives of the Engineers”).

Two other remarkable aqueducts are those of Chirk and Pontcysyllte, completed by Telford, the former in 1801 at a cost of £20,898, and the latter in 1803 at a cost of £47,069, for the Ellesmere Canal, now a portion of the Shropshire Union Canal Section of the London Midland and Scottish Railway Co.’s Canals. Chirk aqueduct, over the River Ceriog, consist of ten arches, each of 40ft. span, and is 710ft. long. The waterway was originally carried across this aqueduct in a puddled channel.

Pontcysyllte aqueduct, over the River Dee, four miles north of Chirk, is 1007ft. long, and consists of a cast-iron trough for the canal with towing-path and iron side railings carried on nineteen arches. For further particulars and illustrations of these two aqueducts, see Smiles’ “Lives of the Engineers,” and the “Life of Thomas Telford,” written by himself, 1838.

A remarkable instance of road, canal, and railway, on three different levels, is to be seen near Hanwell in Middlesex. Here the short aqueduct carrying the main line of the Grand Junction Canal over the Great Western Branch Railway from Southall to Brentford is also surmounted by the bridge carrying the high road from Greenford to Osterley Park. The three ways of communication make approximately angles of 60 degrees with each other at their point of crossing, and an imaginary plumb line could be drawn to intersect all of them.


In navigable waters, under the influence of the ebb and flow of the tide, traffic, as a rule, has to be conducted in the same direction as that in which the tidal current is moving at the time. The difference of level of the tide at high and low water, the velocity of the tidal current, the distance inland to which the periods of ebb and flow extend, and the further distance to which the effect of the tide is felt by backing up the land water, vary very much. It must always be remembered that the tide is greatly affected both as regards the time of high and low water and the height to which it rises or falls by the wind. For instance, a wind blowing with a flood tide will cause it to be earlier and to rise higher, whilst a contrary wind will produce the opposite effect. In rivers also the amount of land water coming down the river considerably affects the time and height of the tide at any given place.

The greatest tidal range in the British Isles, and apparently also in the world, is found at Chepstow, on the River Wye. Here the average range of a spring tide is 38ft. and of the maximum recorded tide 53ft. It used to be commonly held that the tide in the Bay of Fundy exceeded that of the Bristol Channel, but it appears recently to have been proved to the contrary. The Bristol Channel tide can also apparently claim to have the greatest velocity of flow of any in England. The tide flowing past Sharpness Point on the Severn, the entrance to the Gloucester and Berkeley Ship Canal, attains at times a velocity of seven knots.

With regard to the distance inland to which the influence of the tide reaches, it may be mentioned that on the Thames high spring tides sometimes flow to Kingston Bridge, a distance of 68 miles from the Nore. The River Ouse (York) is tidal up to Naburn Locks, 5¾ miles below York and 55 miles from Hull, and on the River Ouse (Great) spring tides affect the level of the water as far as Brown’s Hill Staunch (now a lock) above Earith, and about 42 miles from the estuary.

When the tide flowing up a river to a weir rises to the same height as the reach of water above the weir the tide is said to “make a level.” Where the tide, owing to its rising considerably above the normal level of the inland waterways, has to be shut out by sea doors, as in the Fen Country, two levels are made at every tide — the level of the flood tide, or as it is termed “the first level,” and the level of the ebb tide or “the back level.” These levels are of great assistance in passing trade, as so long as the level lasts both top and bottom gates of the lock can be open at the same time, thus affording an easy passage from one reach to the other.

The phenomenon of the first of the flood tide flowing up a river in the form of a tidal wave, or as it is termed “Bore” or “Aegre,” is met with in certain of the rivers at spring tides whose channels suddenly contract from wide estuaries, thus causing the advancing water to be heaped up. The term “bore” is applied to this wave when it occurs in rivers of the West Coast of England, while “aegre” is the term used in the case of the rivers of the East Coast. The bore is seen in the Severn, the Parrett, and the Dee; and the aegre in the Trent and the Welland. An Aegre used to occur in the Witham below Boston, but the deepening of the channel has now removed the cause of its origin. Various statements have from time to time appeared as to the height of these tidal waves. In one case an aegre on the Trent which sunk two narrow canal boats at Gainsborough in 1898 was credited with a height of from 8 to 10 feet, but it may generally be accepted that the height of these waves in the case of any of the rivers of England Ends its maximum at from three to four feet.

An excellent short description of the phenomenon of the tides in general will be found in Whitaker’s Almanac.


(a) Non-Sailing Vessels.

“Narrow” boats or “monkey” boats are by far the most numerous class of vessel engaged in inland navigation. They are from 70ft. to 72ft. long by from 6ft. 9in. to 7ft. 2in. beam, and draw from 8in. to llin. of water when empty, loading afterwards about 1in to 1 ton.

The ordinary type of long-distance travelling narrow boat carries from 25 to 30 tons, and is built with rounded bilges. The narrow boats in use on the Severn and in a few other localities for short-distance traffic are built with square bilges, and carry up to 40 tons. This latter class of boat requires more power to haul, as it offers more resistance to the water, and also has the disadvantage of not being able to “carry a top,” as the boatmen say, that is, they become top heavy in loading sooner than a boat with rounded bilges.

A modification of the narrow boat is found in Yorkshire, where there is a type of short boat about 58ft. long by 7ft. beam, made for the purpose of passing the short locks of the Huddersfield Broad Canal and Calder and Hebble Navigation and the narrow locks of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.

Another small type of narrow boat is found on the Shropshire Union Canal Section of the London Midland and Scottish Railway Co.’s Canals, being made to pass the small locks between Wappenshall Junction and Trench; these boats measure 70ft. long by 6ft. 2in. wide, and draw, when empty, about 12½in., and when loaded with 17½ tons, about 2ft. 8½in.

Wide boats are boats of a size intermediate between the narrow boat and the barge; they are from 70ft. to 7 2ft. long by from 10ft. to 11ft. beam, and draw, when empty, about 11in. or 12in., loading afterwards about ¾in. per ton to a maximum of about 50 tons. This type of boat is found chiefly on the Grand Junction Canal. The term “boat” in Yorkshire is also applied to a class of vessel built on the lines of a Yorkshire keel, but without masts and sails, and which as a rule do not navigate tidal waters.

Barges comprise a large number of vessels of widely varying dimensions, the largest of which, sailing barges of course excluded, are probably the Thames barges such as navigate the Surrey Canal, which admits of dimensions of 105ft. in length, 17ft. 9in. beam, and 4ft. 9in. draught.

The Regent’s Canal can pass barges 78ft. long by 14ft. 6in. beam with a draught of 4ft. 6in.

In all the above measurements of length the rudder is included.

A barge such as would pass Cowley Lock on the Grand Junction Canal, measuring 72ft. long without rudder and 14ft. 3in. beam, would draw about 16in. when empty and carry 70 tons on a draught of 51in. loading — therefore, about 2 tons to 1in.

Leeds and Liverpool Canal short boats, which are the maximum size which can pass between Leeds and the bottom of the 21st lock at Wigan, measure about 62ft. long by 14ft. 3in. beam, and draw when empty about 1ft. 2in., and when loaded with the maximum load of 45 tons about 3ft. 9in.

Thames lighters, or as they are termed by the watermen and lightermen “punts,” are swim-ended vessels, that is, they have flat sloping ends; their dimensions average about the same as those of the barges, but they do not travel far away from the river. Their advantage is that they are less damageable than barges, most of them having no helm; those fitted with helms are termed “rudder punts.”

Bridgewater Canal lighters are of the same size as the Mersey flats, but are open vessels, and do not travel on the Mersey estuary. Their maximum load is about 50 tons.

Mersey flats are from 68ft. to 70ft. in length by from 14ft. 3in. to 14ft. 9in. in beam. Their draught when empty is about 1ft.10in., and they load afterwards about 2 tons to 1in. to a maximum load in open water of about 80 tons.

Weaver flats are usually about 90ft. in length by 21ft. beam, and draw up to 10ft 6in. of water with a load of about 250 tons, as when not exceeding these dimensions four can lock together through the locks on that river. Some of these flats are fitted up as steamers and others are plain flats for towing by steamers; there are also the No. 1 flats (sailing flats), which are now greatly reduced in number owing to the increase of the steam traffic on the river.

Aire and Calder Navigation compartment boats, or “Tom Puddings,” are oblong iron boxes towed on the Aire and Calder Navigation by steam tugs in trains, the usual number of compartments in a train being nineteen. Attached to the fore end of the first boat in the train is a short wedge-shaped boat called the “Dummy Bows,” for the purpose of cleaving the water, and which carries no cargo. The measurement of these compartment boats is about 20ft. in length by 15ft. beam and 8ft. deep; they carry 35 tons on a draught of 6ft. 6in.

Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation barges measure about 58ft. 6in. long by 16ft. beam. Their maximum load is about 27 tons with a draught of 2ft. 2in. There are only one or two of these barges fitted with cabins, as the length of the navigation is only thirteen miles.

Glamorganshire Canal, Brecon and Abergavenny Canal, and Monmouthshire Canal boats measure about 60ft. long and about 8ft. 6in. beam, drawing when empty about 13in., and loading afterwards about lin. to 1 ton. Their usual load is about 20 tons.

The majority of these boats are without cabins.

Neath Canal and Tennant Canal boats measure about 60ft. long by 9ft. beam, and draw when empty about 9in., loading afterwards about 1in. to 1 ton. Their average load is 20 tons and the maximum 24 tons.

None of these boats have cabins, all of them are double ended, the rudder being transferred from one end to the other as required.

Swansea Canal Boats measure about 65ft. long by 7ft. 6in. beam, and draw when empty about 12in. to 13in., loading afterwards about 1in. to 1 ton up to 20 tons.

None of these boats have cabins, all of them are double ended, the rudder being transferred from one end to the other as required.

Fen lighters are usually about 42ft. long by from 9ft. to 10ft. beam at bottom to from 10ft to 11ft. beam at deck, and draw when empty about 12in. They load a little more than 1in. to 1 ton, drawing about 3ft. 6in. when loaded with 25 tons. Owing to the beam at bottom being less than that at deck, the immersion is of course greater per ton for the first portion of the cargo loaded than for the last.

Fen lighters are only met with on the waterways of the Bedford Level and tributaries; they invariably navigate in gangs of about five lighters, the stern post of one lighter being tightly coupled to the stem of the next by a “seizing chain.” All the lighters in a gang except the first are fitted with poles projecting over the bows like bowsprits, the second lighter is fitted with a longer pole than any of the others, called a “steering pole,” by means of which a man or men standing on the first lighter steer the whole gang unaided. Two ropes called “fest ropes” one from each side of the lighter, and passed round the fore end of the steering pole, are used to steady the pole as required when steering. The third and remaining lighters in a gang are fitted with shorter poles called “jambing poles,” whose fore ends are attached to either side of the lighter in front by ropes called “quarter bits.” All Fen lighters do not have cabins, but it is usual for one lighter in each gang to be provided with a cabin, and such lighter is termed a “house lighter.”

River Stour (Suffolk) lighters measure about 47ft. long by 10ft. 9in. beam, and draw when empty about 12in. and when loaded with 13 tons about 2ft. 5in. They closely resemble the Fen lighters, and always work in gangs of two, the stern post of the fore lighter being coupled to the stem of the after lighter by a “seizing chain,” and the gang being steered from the fore lighter by a “steering pole” fixed to the after lighter.

The locks on the River Stour can take in the two lighters at one time, and as each lighter can carry about 13 tons the capacity of the gang is about 26 tons. The after lighter contains the cabin, and is termed a “house lighter,” as in the case of the Fen lighters.

Upper Trent boats are used for local traffic in the Newark, Nottingham, etc., districts. These measure about 74ft. long by 14ft. 2in. beam, and draw when empty about 20in. forward and 14in. aft, or an average draught of approximately 18in. When loaded with 32 tons the average draught is 30in., and with 75 tons 53in.

These boats, as will be noticed from the above dimensions, carry a good load on a small draught; they would be quite unsuitable for carrying on the Lower Trent traffic, as this necessitates navigating the Humber in order to reach Hull. Upper and Lower Trent traffic is often transhipped at Newark, but Upper Trent boats in no case ever go below Keadby.

Tyne wherries are the type of vessel in general use for conducting the local traffic on that river. They vary in size from 30 to 100 tons, and are usually towed by steam tugs.

(b) Sailing Vessels.

Medway sailing barges are built in sizes ranging from 65 to 150 tons, the usual large size barge being about 120 tons. A 65-ton barge such as would pass the locks in the London District of the Grand Junction Canal would gauge the same as an ordinary barge with the addition of about 4 tons extra in respect of the mast, spars, sails, and gear.

Yorkshire keels measure about 57ft. 6in. to 58ft. long and from about 14ft. 2in. to 14ft. 8in. beam, and draw when empty from about 2ft. to 2ft. 6in., loading afterwards between 5½in. and 6in. per 10 tons up to a maximum draught of about 6ft. to 6ft. 9in. with a load of about 80 to 100 tons at this draught.

Yorkshire keels, like Fen lighters, are built of less beam at the bottom than at the deck, and similarly the immersion is greater per ton for the first portion of cargo loaded than for the last.

Severn trows measure about 70ft. long by 17ft. beam, and draw when empty from between 3ft. to 4ft.; they carry about 120 tons on a draught of from 8ft. 6in. to 9ft. 6in.

Standard Lower Trent boats measure 82ft. 6in. long by 14ft. 6in. beam, and draw when empty about 15in. to 17in., loading afterwards from about 8in. to 9in. per 20 tons up to a maximum of approximately 100 tons. These boats navigate between Hull and Nottingham when loaded with 100 tons, no transhipping now being required at Newark.

No. 1 flats are vessels trading up the River Weaver from Liverpool and district. Their numbers are now much reduced owing to the growth of steam traffic on the river. For average dimensions, &c., see Weaver flats ― (a) Non-Sailing Vessels.

Norfolk wherries vary in size from 12 to 83 tons. A 12-ton wherry measures about 35ft. long by 9ft. beam, and would draw when empty about 2ft. and when loaded with 12 tons about 3ft. 3in. A 20-ton wherry is a size of which many are in use; they measure about 54ft. to 56ft. long by 13ft. to 14ft. beam, and draw when empty about 2ft. and when loaded with 20 tons about 4ft.

The largest wherry ever built is supposed to be the “Wonder” of Norwich, which measures 65ft. long by 19ft. beam, and draws when empty about 3ft. and when loaded with 83 tons nearly 7ft.

River Teign, Stover Canal, and Hackney Canal barges, which are mostly engaged in taking china clay from the Newton Abbot district to Teignmouth for shipment, measure about 56ft. long by 13ft. 6in. beam, and carry 30 tons with a draught of about 3ft. forward and 3ft. 9in. aft.



Following Fabian Hiscock’s presentation to the Tring & District Local History Society on the impact of the Grand Junction Canal on the growth of West Hertfordshire (16 March 2016), we felt that we ought to record our conclusions concerning the Canal’s impact on the development of Tring.  It was the authors’ original intention to address this subject in detail, but due to a lack of documentary evidence it proved impossible to deal with reliably (see Foreword). Thus, the note that follows derives mostly from conjecture and speculation.

When considering the impact that a new canal had on a community, it is reasonable to assume that the improved transport communication it offered was beneficial; the question, therefore, is to what extent this was material to the development of the local economy.  Many newspaper reports of the time speak of the often dramatic fall in the price of coal in the area served by a new canal.  As there was no coal mining carried out anywhere near Tring, meaning that coal was a comparative luxury before the canal, this point needs to be considered.

On 14th October, 1800, the tenancy of ‘a wharf’ at Tring (presumably Gamnel Wharf) was auctioned for three years.  The lease was taken by James Tate, a coal merchant, for £15 per annum.  This is the earliest indication of cheap canal coal arriving in the town.  As the canal was not yet complete to the north it was probably sea coal shipped through Brentford (the Regent’s Canal not then being open to the London Docks), although it is possible that Warwickshire coal was also available, it being conveyed over Blisworth Hill by the horse railway that operated during the years in which the canal tunnel was under construction.

The early coal trade (to which coke was added as town gasworks came on stream after c.1820) would have attracted some commercial activity at Gamnel Wharf, but more importantly it would have reduced the costs of heat-dependant manufacturing being carried out in the locality, such as brewing, brick and tile making, and iron work.  While cheap coal and coke reduced the costs of what industry already existed, there is no evidence of new heat-dependant industries starting up at Tring following the canal’s opening.  Coal did, however, became more affordable for domestic use ― even the Parish Overseers were able to distribute it to those on Parish Relief.  So existing local industry together with the local coal and coke trade probably benefited from these fuels’ fall in price, but there is no evidence of the town growing significantly as a result.

The canal’s most tangible contribution to Tring’s growth was Mead’s (now Heygates) Flour Mill at Gamnel Wharf, which can trace its roots back to the canal’s early years.  In 1810, William Grover bought Gamnel Wharf from the Grand Junction Canal Company and on it — probably before 1820 — he erected a windmill; flour milling continues on the site to the present day.  The Grover family’s connection with Gamnel wharf ceased in 1843 when the business was sold.  According to a sale notice published in the Bucks Herald there was by then an active canal trade:

“William Grover, in the town of Tring in the County of Hertfordshire, having on the 28th day of January last disposed of the business of wharfinger, coal and coke merchant and mealman, and dealer in hay, straw, ashes, and other things, lately carried on by him in partnership with Thomas Grover, at Tring Wharf, and at Paddington in the County of Middlesex, under the firm of ‘WILLIAM GROVER & SON’ to his sons-in-law, William Mead and Richard Bailey.”

Mention of Paddington is important.  It refers to the firm’s wharf at Paddington Basin, which the new owners maintained for many years together with a fleet of narrow boats, using the wharf to import hay and straw into the horse-powered Metropolis and to export horse manure to the countryside for fertiliser.  When it became available in the 1870s, the Tring Flour Mill also received cargoes of cheap imported American/Canadian grain through Brentford for milling, a canal trade that continued until after World War II when narrow boats were replaced by road transport.

It is also likely that the canal was used to bring building materials into the town - including road stone for the Turnpike and other local roads - but only on an ‘as and when required’ basis rather than as a regular activity.  A case in point is the construction of the Tring Silk Mill in 1824.  Originally a very large structure, it would have required bricks, structural timber and ironwork in quantity, and also machinery, all probably delivered to Gamnel Wharf.  But overall this aspect of the local canal trade was probably insignificant.

In addition to grain milling and the shipment of general merchandise, a boat-building business (later named Bushell Brothers) grew up at Gamnel Wharf out of the need to maintain the Mead family’s fleet of narrow boats, a business that continued until the early 1950s.  Bushells later built commercial vehicle bodies at their boatyard and undertook general painting, decorating and carpentry work in and around the town, but the business was never a large employer.

A further new employer to the area was the Grand Junction Canal Company itself.  The Company employed lock-keepers and others to operate the Bulbourne toll house and the Tringford Pumping Station, as well as workers from various trades at the lock-gate manufacturing works at Bulbourne.

Following the opening of the London & Birmingham Railway in 1838, trade on the Grand Junction Canal fell into a slow terminal decline.  An example of this decline was coal for the Tring Gas Light & Coke Company.  When opened in 1850/51, the company minutes record that for the first couple of years coal was brought in by canal after which this fairly substantial trade switched to the railway, which by then probably brought in most of the town’s coal for other uses including that of the breweries and firing the Silk Mill’s engine boiler.

To conclude, the canal was probably a contributory factor in the growth of the small communities at Gamnel, Bulbourne and Little Tring, some inhabitants of which would have worked at the flour mill, the boat-building business, the canal works and the pumping station, but none of these businesses were extensive.  Improved transport communications would have had some beneficial impact on local agriculture, but its extent is not evident.  Thus, it appears that the Grand Junction Canal had little impact on the development of the town and its surrounding area, certainly nothing to compare with the impact that the railway was later to have on Tring’s growth as a commuter town, and the main roads were to have on the growth of its trading estates.