chapter  2
20 Pages

The Canal Age

In the middle of the eighteenth century there was evidently plenty of scope for more turnpiking. The further extension of the river system, however, was becoming increasingly difficult, for by then in areas of economic growth there were very few rivers left which could be made navigable. The Staffordshire potteries, for instance, did not have any, nor the Black Country to the north of Birnlingham itself. A number of coalfields found thenlselves similarly land-locked. Moreover, communication between London, the country's commercial centre, and other parts of the kingdom, relatively direct by the improved trunk roads, was very roundabout by sea and river. Such water transport was often dangerous, too, particularly during a century largely occupied by wars with the French which added the possibility of capture to the hazard of shipwreck. The position had been reached in Britain which had first been encountered on the continent over three centuries earlier: the waterway system could be satisfactorily extended farther inland only by the cutting of completely new man-made waterways, or canals.! These deadwater navigations were more costly to build and they posed problems of water supply and flood prevention; but they did have the great advantage not only of opening up new areas to water communication but also of enabling vessels to be moved with less expenditure ofenergy. There were no river currents with which to contend.