The Golden Age of Canals

Browsing the TV guide this evening I came across this gem of a programme on BBC 4.

Here is a clip from the programme

The programme showed the work of dedicated volunteers and canal boat enthusiasts and explored the restoration of our canal systems over the years.

There were the inevitable bits of footage of Barbara Castle doing her bit as minister through the 1968 transportation act which defined the legal status of canals and prevented funding being cut, We learn of the battles that various groups fought to reopen silted up canals left to rot in Beeching style because they were considered unnecessary as they weren’t a main commercial venture any more.

Despite that, we were shown the delightful three men (see above) who determined to continue the canals as just that and who worked the canals until operations and difficulty leaping on and off boats to negotiate locks became too much for them, and the couple currently working a coal trade from their narrow boat.

Hills and Mills at Marsden is one of the many wonderful photos on their official site.

But the part of the programme that really hit home was to find that good old British Shipbuilders stuck their oar in there too. Specifically, though not exclusively, in relation to the The Huddersfield Narrow Canal which was described as “the impossible restoration”.

It was considered impossible to restore, largely because of BS’s clever idea leaving it to silt up and, better still, of infilling it with quarry debris and concrete. But not just any old concrete – reinforced concrete! It took volunteers over 20 years to clear up this particular British Shipbuilders’ blunder and after restoration from 1975 to 2001 the canal was finally able to be officially opened.

Today over 200, 000 people a year holiday on the canals. There are more narrow boats on the canals today than in the early 1900s and 20, 000 live on narrow boats.

Just for good measure here’s a photo of the famous aqueduct carrying the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee in Wrexham, North East Wales.

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

And more power to all their elbows!


About Ruth Macadam

Great Granddaughter of Henry Robb. School teacher.
This entry was posted in Henry Robb and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Golden Age of Canals

  1. Great post and a wonderful programme. I have had a number of memorable holidays on narrowboats chugging about ancient boatlifts and huge tunnels. The picture of the Pontcysyllte Aquaduct was just as I remember it – just not as scary. It only has a parapet at one side and the boats wobble as they chug across!

    • Carole says:

      been across the pontycysyllte many times. Used to be a little freaked out by it as one side was lower than the other and it felt as if you could fall off. But i was a kid, so had a great imagination. Lots of memories and very happy ones.

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