Chapter XIII.
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― II.―

“The course of the Grand Junction Canal is for the most part through agricultural country.  A considerable through general trade passes from Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham, and the Derbyshire coal fields to London.  On the portions of the canal and branches forming the route between Paddington and Slough, there is a large traffic in bricks, gravel and manure.  The trade done on the Wendover, Old Stratford and Buckingham, Welford, and Market Harborough branches is very small.  The canal is in fair condition as a whole, the worst portions of it as regards navigation being the Wendover, Old Stratford and Buckingham, Welford, and Market Harborough branches.

By an arrangement made in 1897 with the other canal companies forming the route between London and Birmingham, and London, Leicester and the Derbyshire coal fields, the Grand Junction Canal Company have the power to quote through tolls for traffic between these places.”

Bradshaw’s Canals and Navigable Rivers, H. R. de Salis (1904)


Following the opening of branches to Northampton and to Aylesbury in 1815, other than by the addition of docks and cuts to traders’ wharves, the map of the system remained unchanged for many years.  There then followed several attempts to expand; these met with some success, although not necessarily to the material benefit of the business.

In 1865-66, under the auspices of E. J. Lloyd, then Engineer to the Birmingham Canal, [1] an attempt was made to amalgamate the independent (i.e. non railway-controlled) canals between south Staffordshire and the Thames.  Had the amalgamation succeeded, combining the Grand Junction, Coventry and Oxford canals among others would have enabled the quoting of through tolls on distance carrying, and possibly the standardisation of engineering features to better enable inter-working, thereby placing the canal companies in a more competitive position with the railways.  However, it was by then impossible to bypass the railway companies’ strategically located intermediate canals which, it was believed, would by some means be used to resist any attempt by the waterways to claw back trade.  Negotiations broke down and a merger on such a scale had to await the nationalisation of the waterways in 1948.

Elsewhere, the Grand Junction Canal Company extended its domain through purchase, although the outcome proved to be of limited commercial benefit.

In 1894 the Company bought the Leicestershire & Northamptonshire Union and the ‘old’ Grand Union canals, thereby extending its waterway from Norton Junction to Leicester.  These two canals formed a through link to the south for coal from the Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire coalfields, imported Russian and Scandinavian timber (landed at Boston and Wisbech), beer from Burton and the usual building materials and agricultural produce.  Imported grain was among the goods transported in the opposite direction.  Because the two canals had little trade of their own they depended on through traffic, which, when most of it was acquired by the railways, left little business to sustain them.

In its early years, the Leicestershire & Northamptonshire Union had paid reasonable dividends, its best year being in 1837 (6%) after which earnings diminished and at its final half-yearly meeting in 1894, a dividend of 4s per cent was declared on net earnings of £414 2s 5d.  The ‘old’ Grand Union was never a commercial success due in part to its heavy construction costs, [2] which were not repaid until 1836.  Dividends never exceeding 1¾% (1847) after which they declined, 1s per cent being declared at the final company meeting.

By the 1890s, both canals were on the brink of bankruptcy and their shareholders were probably much relieved when the Grand Junction Canal Company renewed an earlier offer to buy them out:

“It may be stated that the terms of the agreement for sale in the case of the Old Union Canal [3] are as follows:― The purchase money is £6,500 and the purchasers bear all the costs of the Act of Parliament and a proportion of the costs to be incurred in the subsequent distribution of the purchase money and in winding up the company, but the purchase does not include the invested capital belonging to the vendors, which will be retained by them for the benefit of the shareholders.  The purchasers take upon themselves the liability to pay any unclaimed dividends; and the purchase is to be completed within three months from the date when the royal assent to the Bill shall be given.  In the case of the Grand Union Canal the purchase money is £10,500, and the conditions in other respects are the same as previously stated with regard to the Old Union Canal.  The meeting was numerously attended, and a large number of proxies were sent, all being in approval of the Bill.  We may add that the Grand Junction Company, who are purchasing these canals, are taking powers under their Bill to raise £70,000, which will be devoted to improvement of the canals, by deepening them, renovating the locks, and carrying out other essential work.  It is probably that within a few years the navigation between London and the Derbyshire coalfields will in this way by considerably improved, and thus become a source of great benefit to the traders of Leicester and other Midland towns.”

Leicester Chronicle, 3rd February 1894.

Following their acquisition of the south Leicester canals ― which became the the Leicester Section of the Grand Junction Canal ― the plan was then to gain control over the canal tariffs between the East Midlands and London in a bid to recapture some of the coal trade that had been lost to the railways.  The Company entered negotiations with the north Leicestershire waterways (the Leicestershire and Loughborough navigations) and the Erewash canal (which straddles Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire) from which emerged a trading agreement whereby tolls along the route would be lowered on the proviso that the Grand Junction would make good any deficit if those companies‘ profit levels failed to be maintained.  The Company also obtained an option to purchase the three waterways.

At the same time the Company attempted a further merger (following Lloyd’s scheme of 1865-6) with the Warwick canals, which together with a 5-mile stretch of the Oxford Canal provide the link between the Canal’s northern terminus at Braunston and the outskirts of Birmingham.  In 1895, a notice appeared in the official newspaper of record announcing:

“Amalgamation of the Warwick and Birmingham, Warwick and Napton, and Birmingham and Warwick Junction Canal Companies, with the Grand Junction Canal Company; Cancellation of Capital of three first-named Companies, and issue of Shares or Stock of Grand Junction Company in lieu thereof; Winding-up and Dissolution and Collection and Distribution of Assets of such Companies, and incidental provisions; Confirmation of Agreements; Powers of Alteration of Tolls, Rates, and Charges; Alteration of number of Directors of Grand Junction Canal Company and Appointment of Addition Directors; Power to dredge and Repair Canals, &c., to sell Superfluous lands; Creation and Issue of Shares and Stock by Grand Junction Canal Company; Borrowing of Money by them; Incorporation and Amendment of Acts; and other purposes.”

London Gazette, 22nd March, 1895

The three ‘Warwick canals’ comprise the Warwick & Napton (14 miles) and the Warwick & Birmingham (22 miles), both being opened in 1799, and the Birmingham & Warwick Junction Canal (2⅝ miles), [4] opened in 1844 and owned jointly by the other two.  Together with the Tame Valley Canal (also opened in 1844), which it joins, the Birmingham & Warwick Junction was one of the last canals to be built.

By 1844, railway competition was making a serious inroad into the Warwick canals’ revenues and when, in the following year, an offer was made to purchase them for conversion into a railway, the canals’ shareholders accepted.  However, the scheme collapsed when the enabling Bill for the ‘Warwick and Birmingham Canal Railway’, as it was to be called, ran into parliamentary difficulties.  Thereafter the fortunes of the Warwick canals declined in line with many others and when, in 1895, the Grand Junction proposed a merger, the Warwick shareholders were pleased to accept.  But as with the earlier railway conversion scheme, the enabling Bill failed to complete its passage through Parliament.  Dr. Beeching would probably have regarded that as a favourable outcome, for when the canals did merge in 1929, the newly formed Grand Union Canal Company’s heavy investment in modifying the Warwick canals, while helping to shorten the dole queues of the Depression years, served little other purpose than to delay the inevitable demise of long distance canal carrying on the system.  And despite the Company’s efforts to promote their route through Nottinghamshire, it too failed to reach the anticipated level of traffic to the extent that the Company had to make good its minimum profits guarantee to the Leicester and Loughborough Navigations and the Erewash Canal. [5]

There were to be no further purchase or merger schemes until the amalgamation that formed the Grand Union Canal Company took effect at the beginning of 1929.  However, the Company did build a new barge canal from Cowley Peachey on the main line, to Slough.

Opened in 1882, the 5-mile Slough Arm was built principally to serve the brick-making, sand and gravel industries in the area, these products being conveyed to wharves on the Arm by tramways.  Despite its comparatively straightforward engineering:

. . . . the cost of the canal had been considerably in excess of the estimated amount [£70,550].  This was chiefly owing to the large demands made for the land required to be purchased, and the legal expenses incurred in obtaining more reasonable terms, and partly to the necessity of buying the whole of some brickfields and land of which a small portion only was wanted for the purpose of the canal.  In order to meet these expenses, the Committee had been obliged to advance from the ordinary resources of the canal the sum of £32,300, which had been raised by way of mortgage under the powers of the Slough Branch Canal Act.  It was expected that a large portion of this would be recovered by the sale of the plant and surplus land, and in the meantime, the land was yielding a considerable annual revenue.

Chairman’s address to the General Assembly, 6th June, 1882

. . . . but by December 1896, £9,651 of the construction costs remained.  This was cleared using the proceeds of the sale of  4% perpetual debenture stock authorised by the Grand Junction Canal Act, 1879. [6]

Following the Arm’s opening, litigation arose between the Grand Junction and Regent‘s Canal companies over leakage. [7]  The Grand Junction Canal Act, 1879, gave the Regent’s Canal Company ― with whose canal the water of the Slough Arm was contiguous (through the long level) ― a right to compensation should leakage in the Arm occur, which is what was alleged.  The Regent’s company, believing that the bed of the Arm was “defectively constructed”, wished to have their engineers carry out an inspection to determine the compensation to be made.  The Grand Junction objected on the grounds that by draining the Arm to enable an inspection “would interfere very prejudicially with the navigation of the canal”, and at any rate they contested the right of the defendant to claim compensation under the Act, claiming that the Act only applied to defective “valve, weir, sluice, pipe or other work” and not to the construction of the bed of the canal itself.  The Grand Junction argued that the words “or other work” were confined to like terms (such as pipes, etc) and not to the canal itself.

Having lost their first action ― this being an appeal ― the Grand Junction lost again (with costs) by a majority verdict, the ruling being that “other work” should be interpreted to include the canal’s puddling.  The dissenting judge, who commented on the “ill-drawn Act of Parliament”, believed puddling to be an integral part of the canal and not work in connection with it, which seems a sensible interpretation.

Leakage or not, the Arm was soon carrying a heavy trade and by 1904 the editor of Bradshaw‘s Canals was able to report that “On the portions of the canal and branches forming the route between Paddington and Slough, there is a large traffic in bricks, gravel and manure.

The Arm’s peak year of activity was in 1905, when 192,000 tons of freight was carried yielding an income of £7,614.  Trade then declined gradually and by the 1940s the deposits were becoming exhausted.  The worked-out pits were then used for landfill, which together with a trade in timber to a yard at Slough Wharf, provided some traffic.  Commercial traffic ceased in 1960.

Some of the Canal’s other branches were less fortunate.  The 1904 edition of Bradshaw’s Canals reported that trade on the branches to Wendover, Old Stratford and Buckingham, Welford and Market Harborough (the latter two being on the Leicester Section) was “very small” and that they were the worst parts of the system as regards to navigation.  Subsequently the Buckingham branch was abandoned as also was the Wendover Arm west of Little Tring.



The coming of the railways also resulted in a decline in the fortunes of the canals in France, Belgium and Germany.  But in these countries, transport legislation together with government investment and, in some cases, control, revitalised the waterways to the extent that by the end of the 19th century they were flourishing.  Aggressive railway competition was curtailed by a combination of sensible legislation and state ownership:

“In Germany and Belgium, both systems of transportation [i.e. rail and water] are controlled by one department [of state] for the benefit of the public.  In France railway rates are regulated by the State so as to prevent undercutting.  The water transport policies of France, Belgium and Germany benefited trade and commerce, assisted in the development of industries, and in the general progress and prosperity of the respective countries.”

Extracted from a paper read by R. B. Dunwoody to the British Association, 1913 [8]

The outcome of such national policy was low transportation costs, which gave European manufacturers a competitive edge over their British counterparts.  By comparison, Britain’s canals under private enterprise ― albeit regulated by the State, but in a piecemeal and ineffectual manner ― had failed, due to their construction and management ethos remaining lodged in the eighteenth century:

“We are convinced, then, that private enterprise cannot be expected to take the improvement of canals in hand, because, as things now stand, there is no prospect of adequate remuneration, except, perhaps, in a very few cases.  That there is no prospect of remuneration is due to the essential defects of the canal system as a whole, as it now exists.”

Royal Commission on Canals and Inland Navigations of the United Kingdom (1906-11).

During the 1890s, public dissatisfaction with increasing railway freight charges led to interest in the revitalization of the canal network with the aim of providing an effective alternative to rail, particularly for moving raw materials.  In the early years of the new century a number of attempts were made to introduce legislation into Parliament to bring key waterways under State control, but without success.  As an alternative, the government appointed a Royal Commission to investigate the problem and make recommendations.

The length of time that such commissions take to deliberate [9] and report might have led the cynic to conclude that this was merely shunting the problem into the sidings.  Whether or not that was the intention, it was the outcome.  By the time the Commission’s findings were available in 1909 (1911 for Ireland) other more pressing political issues had come to the fore.  These, together with the estimated cost of implementing the Commission’s main proposals (£17.5m plus) and strong protests from the railway lobby about unfair advantage led to the report being shelved.  Nevertheless, the Commissioners did a thorough job, a positive outcome ― perhaps the only one ― being that for historians their work provides a detailed analysis of inland waterway transportation in Britain as it then existed, including comparisons with certain European waterways.

Overall, the Commission concluded that:

“Of a few waterways or sections of waterways, favoured by special conditions, combined in two or three cases with enterprising management, traffic has been maintained and even increased.  On other waterways it has declined, on some it has virtually disappeared.  Everywhere the proportion of long distance traffic to local traffic by water has become small.  Considered as a whole, the waterways have had no share in the enormous increase in internal transport business which has taken place between the middle of the nineteenth century and the present time.  Their position, so far as regards their total traffic, has been at best one of a stationary character, since the development of steam traction of railroads and on the sea, while the whole transport business of the country, including that taken by railways and that taken by coasting vessels, has multiplied itself several times over.”

Royal Commission on Canals and Inland Navigations of the United Kingdom (1906-11).

The Commission believed that the position could be recovered, but only with State intervention and significant investment. Their main recommendations, which appear to have been influenced by European practice, include:

  •     a State-owned Central Waterways Board to acquire and administer the waterways that make up the four main routes centred on Birmingham, and linking respectively to the Thames (at Brentford), Humber, Mersey and Severn;

  •     these waterways to be upgraded to accommodate craft of at least 100-tons carrying capacity, which would involve their widening and deepening; this would reduce drag and enable greater speed to be achieved per unit of tractive effort; [10]

  •     certain key minor waterways that formed important feeders also to be acquired and modernized to carry craft of 40-tons capacity.

Among the specific proposals, the main route from Birmingham to Brentford (the Warwick canals plus the Grand Junction main line) would be shortened from 135 to 128 miles, and the number of locks reduced from 160 to 31, plus 15 boat lifts of the Foxton design to shorten transit times and reduce water loss.

Although a dead letter at the time, some elements of the Commission’s proposals were later implemented ― albeit via a different route ― by the Grand Union Canal Company.



Following the German military’s effective use of railways during the Franco-Prussian conflict (1870-71), [11] the British Government enacted legislation to enable the State to take control of railways in times of war through a committee of railway managers, the Railway Executive Committee. [12] Due to sloppy drafting, the legislation overlooked waterways although in practice those that were owned or controlled by railway companies fell under the Act.  Thus, following the outbreak of hostilities in 1914, the Railway Executive Committee took control of almost the entire railway system together with 1,025 out of some 4,000 miles of canals and river navigations.  For the remaining ‘independent’ canals, this brought about a damaging situation that was to outlast the conflict.

In common with railwaymen, those employed on railway-controlled waterways were exempt from military service and received extra pay through a ‘war bonus’.  The outcome was that the railway-owned canals retained most of their workforce.  In stark contrast, those employed on the independent canals not only failed to qualify for war bonus, but were subject to conscription into the armed forces.  Many who avoided conscription left to take up better paid work in the munitions factories. The result was that although there was a fairly large traffic on the independent canals at the commencement of hostilities, by March 1917 there were some 1,200 boats lying idle for want of crews or of repairs, while waterway maintenance had fallen into arrears.  In 1916, the Grand Junction Canal carried 1,236,000 tons of freight compared with 1,668,000 tons in 1913, a decrease of 432,000 tons.

But this unequal treatment had other consequences.  The carrying firms on the independent canals were obliged to increase their charges to combat wartime inflation, which caused the railways’ freight rates ―  by now regulated ― to fall below those of the canal carriers.  The effect was to drive freight off the waterways onto the already overloaded railways while the independent canals, which were in consequence suffering a serious fall in their revenues, were in danger of closing down; many of their carriers did.  If that was not sufficient, there was a call from the British Forces in Europe for locomotives, rolling stock and railway personnel to be sent to bolster their supply lines, which further denuded the railways of resources.

By the end of 1916 the situation had become serious:

“We think the time has come when the Ministry of Munitions should take in hand the question of the better use of canals throughout the country for the transport of raw materials used in the manufacture of munitions of war.  There must be considerable opportunity for relieving the railway companies by this method, and we think that matter should be taken in hand at once with a view to steps being taken which would enable the canals to be used to a much greater extent than they are at the present time. . . . .”

To the Secretary, Ministry of Munitions, from the Railway Executive Committee,
7th December, 1916.

And so on 1st March 1917, certain of the independent canals ― 1,226 miles in total ― were brought under state control through the Canal Control Committee of the Board of Trade.  Their workforces were made exempt from military service and were paid the war bonus applicable to railway workers.  To provide closer control, the canals so acquired were split into three regional groups, each under its own sub-committee, the Grand Junction Canal (together with the Warwick canals, the Oxford Canal and the Regent’s Canal) falling into that covering the Southern Area ― 320 miles of canal in total.  While military exemption and better pay served to stem the fall in the workforce, the waterways remained undermanned.  This was addressed to an extent by the military, who seconded personnel from the Transport Workers Battalion; it is recorded that the Grand Junction benefitted from this to the extent of 14,186 man days of labour.  The independent canals and some of the larger carrying companies were also guaranteed revenue corresponding to their net profits for 1913 which, fortuitously, had been a good year.



Following the cessation of hostilities, state control of the independent canals continued under the auspices of the newly formed Ministry of Transport, control eventually being relinquished on the 31st August 1920, when the canal subsidy also ceased.  It is difficult to conclude what impact the Canal Control Committee had on canal carrying, for the volume of traffic on the canals it controlled continued to decline during its period in office, although the decline would probably have been greater without it.

The end of state control left the independent canal companies in an even less competitive condition vis-à-vis the railways than they were in 1913.  Because little maintenance had been carried out during the war the canals were in poor condition.  Operating costs had risen to the point where canal carrying charges exceeded those of the railways, which were by then state subsidized, and the many cheap war surplus lorries on the market (together with a commensurate number of unemployed ex-servicemen able to drive and maintain them) were a further source of competition.

Such were the problems now facing the industry that at the Company’s General Assembly on 8th December 1920, the Chairman, R. F. de Salis, addressed those present in uncompromising terms:

“As the Government control of our canal ceased on August 31 last, and with it the subsidy we received, it seems right that I should take the earliest possible opportunity of informing you, as clearly as I can, of our present position and prospects . . . . As I informed you in June, we, in common with all the independent canals, had applied to be taken over — on the invitation of the Ministry at a meeting called on February 24 last — on the same terms as to compensation then in force, until August 31, 1921.  This would have put us in the same position as the railway-owned canals.  We received no answer to this application until July 22, when we were informed that control would terminate on August 31 of this year.  The Ministry were willing to continue control of any canals making application in order to give them the power to raise their tolls, but the Ministry stated that in taking possession of the undertaking for this purpose they would not relinquish the right to exercise any other powers which were vested in the Ministry under the Act, nor would the taking of such possession involve a continuance of the present guarantee.

We were very unfairly treated. 
[13] There was no reason why we should be placed in a different position to the railway-owned canals, and in justice we should have received earlier notice.  The position we were faced with at a month‘s notice was:— Can we do better by carrying on the canal ourselves, or is the Ministry’s offer of giving us increased toll-raising powers — temporarily only during control — sufficient compensation for the loss of our freedom of action?

We divide our traffic roughly into two classes: — Through, or traffic between London, Braunston — for Birmingham — Leicester and Northampton; and local, all other traffic.  Generally, the through traffic is in competition with rail; the local traffic is not.  On the through traffic we were much below our maximum tolls.  On the local traffic we were considerably under our maximum in 1914, and as the Ministry had not seen fit to raise the tolls, though the traffic could well bear it, we had a considerable margin in hand.

To understand the position figures are necessary, and I propose to take the first six months of 1913 — our basic year — and the first six months of 1920, when we were still under control.  Our total traffic showed a decrease in 1920 of 118,660 tons and £4,574 in money.  Our local traffic brought us in for the 1913 period £23,606, and our through traffic £10,000, or nearly one half of the local traffic.  In 1920 our local traffic amounted to £22,735, and our through traffic £6,303, or a little over one quarter, and the reason of this is not far to seek.

The Government, when they took over the canals in 1917, ignored the fact that many of them were not carriers, but only toll takers, and the private carrier found himself quite unable to compete with the subsidized railway, with the result that many have gone out of business.  Another factor which militates heavily against the use of canals in competition with railways is that the cost of man-power bears a far larger ration on canals to the cost of moving the traffic than it does on rail.  Three men are needed to move 50 tons, say, from London to Birmingham on canal, and the same number can move 500 tons by rail.  This is a factor which has come to stay, and I do not think we can look for anything but a dwindling long-distance traffic.  The cost of moving goods is the cost of maintenance of the road, plant and overhead charges, which falls on the canal company, plus the cost of transportation, which falls on the trader, and it is in this latter item that the labour cost presses most heavily.  Our tolls are so small as to be unremunerative on through traffic, and we have obviously nothing to give away to help the trader.

As you are aware, it has always been the policy of this company to improve its waterway rather than look for large dividends, with a view to encouraging traffic; and up to 1914 this policy was being justified, as our rising traffic figures showed, but the war and, particularly, Government methods as regards the men‘s demands and the means adopted for placing traffic on canals have entirely altered the case.  We considered and we advised that the traders should be universally controlled and munitions factories instructed to send their products by water by services of boats organized for the purpose.  This would have kept the traders in being, and would have utilized the canal in the national interest, and, further, would have accustomed factories to the use of the water route, but the policy adopted by the Government of controlling the waterway and leaving the trader to compete as best he could has resulted in his partial extinction.

Our local traffic is in a different position.  Quantities of refuse are taken out of London, and gravel and sand brought back.  We have short distance traffics in coal, cocoanut oil, and petrol, and we put factories which are springing up all along our route between Brentford and London in direct touch with the sea.  We can look forward safely to a steady development of revenue from this part of our system.

The Government offer to give us power to increase our tolls would have been no use as regards through traffic, because it is dwindling, and a uniform rise in tolls would certainly not help it materially, and, as regards our local traffic, Government assistance would have enabled us to do little more than we had power to do, and it is obviously no use putting on such tolls as would kill traffic.  We therefore came to the conclusion that we should do better not to apply to go under control, with all its bureaucratic disadvantages, but should manage our affairs in our own way, and put any reserve powers we have for increasing tolls into operation.

It was necessary at once to inaugurate a policy to meet the altered circumstances.  For the first six months in 1913 our maintenance charge for labour and materials was £12,644; for the corresponding six months in 1920 this was £18,262, and, in addition, £20,032 war wage and war bonus.  We decided that we must cut our coat according to our cloth — in fact, ration ourselves — and we at once reduced our staff with the corresponding reduction in the purchase of materials, and we also reduced our clerical and engineering staff.  Any further increases in expenses forced upon us will be followed by a corresponding reduction is expenditure in other directions.  The staff we now have includes a gang to be employed solely on Paddington Estate repairs, and it will be a charge against that portion of our undertaking.  It also includes a gang to be employed on works for traders on the canal, which are paid for by them and from which we derive a profit.  The staff employed on the canal proper will be at 1913 cost, except while we are carrying out certain works of deferred maintenance, for which money is reserved.  As our canal revenue increases we shall hope to carry out desirable improvements on the paying portion of our canal, but on the non-paying portion we shall merely carry out our obligations.

As I informed you in June, a Commission has been appointed under the chairmanship of Mr Neville Chamberlain, to consider the canal question, and if they recommend taking over our canal, or any portion of it, and carrying it on for the public benefit with public money, we should give them every assistance, but it is quite clear that we as a commercial concern can only spend money when and as a return can be secured.”

R. F. de Salis sitting in the bow of the Company’s inspection launch, Swift c. 1920.

De Salis’s reference to the “partial extinction” of the independent canal carriers through unbearable labour costs, together with the emaciating impact of the War on the population of boat crews, created a legacy of insufficient capacity that was to last for the remainder of the Canal’s carrying days.  It is also evident that the volume of the Company’s ‘through traffic’ continued to dwindle ― a trend that stemmed from the early days of railway competition ― to the extent that the toll revenue from this class of business now barely paid its way.  The Company’s development policy was therefore to confine investment to those parts of the canal that did pay ― essentially the heavily worked southern section, from Brentford and Paddington to, perhaps, as far north as Berkhamsted ― and to confine the remainder of the network to care and maintenance (in the case of the Buckingham Arm, to virtual abandonment).

But the major expansion of the network and the heavy investment in modernising its outer reaches that was shortly to happen was to stand this policy on its head.

[Chapter XIV.]




Later, Engineer and Secretary to the Warwick canals and ― judging from his appearances before Parliamentary committees ― a knowledgeable and enthusiastic supporter of canal carrying.


The line includes cuttings, embankments, two significant tunnels (Crick at 1,528 yards ― where there were tunnelling problems due to unstable rock and quicksand ― and Husbands Bosworth at 1,166 yards), long flights of locks at Foxton (10) and Watford (7), and reservoirs at Welford, Sulby and Naseby, which supply the 20-mile summit level via the 1¾-mile Welford Arm.  The short pound between Welford Lock and Welford Wharf terminus is the highest point on the Grand Union Canal network.


The name by which the Leicestershire & Northamptonshire Union Canal was generally known.


The Birmingham & Warwick Junction Canal was built to relieve congestion on the heavily locked Birmingham end of the Fazeley Canal, and also to regain traffic that was being lost to that canal from the newly opened Tame Valley Canal.


At a meeting of the Institute of Civil Engineers, held in November 1905, Gordon Cale Thomas, the GJCC’s Engineer, stated that “notwithstanding the generous expenditure on maintenance, and the large sums recently spent on improvements, the through traffic on the Grand Junction was only one-half of what it was fifty years ago, and now the through traffic was in many cases unable to pay as high a rate as the local traffic”.


“The Committee reported that in accordance with the resolution of the Special Assembly of June 10 last, the remaining £10,000 Perpetual 4 per Cent Debenture Stock authorised by the Grand Junction Canal Act, 1879, has been issued to proprietors at a minimum of £146 per cent, realising a sum of 14,640, of which £9,651 had been applied in paying off the amount due on the Slough Branch Canal account, and the balance of £4,989 had been carried to the Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Union Canal and Grand Union Canal account.” Morning Post 10th Dec 1896.


Reported in the Morning Post, 11th May 1885.


Robert Browne Dunwoody, Civil Engineer, Assistant Secretary and later Secretary of the Royal Commission on Canals (1906-9) and, during WWI, Secretary of the Canal Control Committee.


“To inquire into the Canals and Inland Navigations of the United Kingdom and to report on their present condition and financial position; and future improvements”.  The Commission commenced work in 1906; it held 106 sittings, 88 of which took evidence from 266 witnesses.  The Commission’s reports were issued between 1909 and 1911, the last being Volume XI: Canals and Waterways of Ireland.


Experiment suggests:

Least breadth at bottom = 2 x greatest breadth of boat
Least depth of water = 1½ feet + greatest draught of boat
Least area of waterway = 6 x greatest mid-ship section of boat.

The Principles and Practice of Canal and River Engineering, David Stevenson FRSE (1886)


Germany’s railways were almost wholly State-controlled, and had been built with strategic as well as commercial aims in mind.


Section 16 of the Regulation of Forces Act, 1871.  Individual railway companies retained the management of their lines, subject to instructions issued by or through the Railway Executive Committee.


John Miller, then Chairman of the Grand Union Canal Company, was to reach the same conclusion following the cessation of hostilities in 1945, and for much the same reasons.