Into and Out of the Vortex
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Into and Out of the Vortex book
Collusion between the transport interests on the Liverpool and Manchester route had been a feature of the events of the 1830s. Despite all manner of difficulties, open war had largely been avoided. James Loch had been instrumental in perpetuating a surprising degree of compromise and, even in the face of ill-will in the policing of the regulations, the Carriers' Agreements had generally prevailed. Loch fought every inch to preserve co-operation and to prevent unilateral rate-cutting. His first premise was that 'to run against each other is advantageous to neither.' Since he represented both canal and railway interests Loch had every reason to adhere to such a notion. However, in the generally depressed conditions of industry between 1839 and 1842, falling prices and reduced profits added a new severity to the contest for survival. The uneasily co-existing rivals broke apart under economic strain. l
The rift began in July 1840. Trade on the railway was declining despite the fact that the total cotton traffic was increasing. It was clear that the cause was the successful competition of the waterways, and since the profits of the Old Quay had 'decidedly diminished', it was inferred that the Bridgewater Canal 'got the difference'. George Loch suggested that the reason was the superior management of the canal, which took great pains to attract business. He said it was absurd for the railway board to 'complain of them for managing their affairs so well as to deprive us of business' when the railway 'took so little pains'. He insisted, in effect, that the canal was pursuing a perfectly legitimate policy, competing not in price but in service. But Henry Booth believed that some of the private carriers
on the waterways had not acted in good faith and 'that they either charged lower than the rates fixed on, or make some abatements afterwards', though he absolved the Trustees themselves from the imputation. The suspicion was there, and it grew. John Moss declared that the railway should make preparations for a freightwar and that a fund for this purpose should be set aside. 2 Moss was a man to reconcile. It was at this time that Loch wrote him an invitation to accompany him to Sutherland to view 'the finest European scenery to be seen . . . 1 undertake neither the Railway or Canal shall be pronounced in your hearing the whole time.' 3
Loch was unwilling to allow the agreement to lapse simply to appease the more truculent members of the railway board. 'I consider it a very serious misfortune', he said, 'that the Carriers' Agreement which 1 took, in conjunction with the aid of others to effect, should be put an end to-and every influence 1 possess shall be exerted to give it continuance and support'. The question, he contended, had not been fully investigated-there were a thousand things to consider-for example, the general decline of trade, and the distinct possibility that the current Manchester trade did not 'require the speed of railways'-a point which had been overlooked. Loch's son pointed out that changes in the marketing of cotton had favoured the canals, which were able to supply direct to the warehouses, while the insurance companies had been attempting to spread their risks more widely between the carriers. He also admitted that some of the allegations of price cutting were not entirely without foundation. But the elder Loch insisted that the management of the Bridgewater had 'acted up to ... the spirit and letter of the arrangement'."