Canals were the first means of bulk transport in England. From being able to haul a (very) few tons at below-human walking pace canal transport made it possible to move tens of tons a little faster, the speed being limited by that of a horse. Eventually there were nearly three thousand miles of connected waterway. A little of this was in Wales, which, along with Scotland, had a number of isolated waterways but no connected system. Bulk transport was taken over by railways - and of course later largely by roads - but canals continued as an important part of our transport system until the mid-1960's, with a small contribution for thirty years after that. They are now a well-used and prized leisure asset.
Canals were almost without exception owned by what would later be called joint stock companies, many remaining independent, fairly small concerns until they were nationalized in 1947, though by then railways had taken over ownership of about a third of them. The course will look at those canals which eventually amalgamated to form three big combines: The Birmingham Canal Navigations (formed by gradual accretion in the first half of the nineteenth century), and the other two created by almost simultaneous amalgamations – the Shropshire Union in the 1840's and the Grand Union, from London to the midlands, in the late 1920's.
The course will be illustrated with colour slides taken from 1960 to 2014