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Switch on your Images Look 'N' Learn with Roger - The History of Canals

As you probably know, canals today are a thing of the past. Canals were discovered almost by accident, when James Brindley, the famous railway pioneer, fell into one and nearly drowned. The very first canal was built by Adrian in 1066 and ran from Newcastle to Carlisle, not far from Worsley, to prevent the Picts invading Germany. It was later discovered, however, that the Romans had built one earlier called the 'Panama' canal, which linked the Mediterranean to the Red sea, thereby increasing trade between Manchester and Liverpool. This was later re-named the 'Sewage Canal' after a petrol crisis in 1857.

The very first canals in England were narrow gauge, through which narrow boats only 3'6" wide could pass, but later a broad gauge was introduced by Isombard Kingdom Brunette enabling 7 foot wide barges to pass.

Over 2000 miles of canal (formerly called 'paddy fields') were constructed by Navvies, draughted in from the Irish Navy, to the design of MacAdam, this included a ditch on one side nowadays called a towpath. 'Puddling clay', named after a game called 'puddling' played at Clay Cross by Toll Puddle martyrs, was used to stop the water seeping out of the narrow boats, previously the job of a Dutch boy, Tom Thumb. Locks were built every so often, mostly in Scotland by Robbie Burns, to prevent boats running away downhill out of control until brakes were invented. Double locks, especially those on the T&M (Thames and Mersey canal) were made for narrow boat pairs, nowadays called 'catamarans'. Paddles on the locks, formerly used for rowing, were operated by Walschearts Valve Gears. 'Winding' (turning around) at dead ends, is accomplished wielding a 'windlass', where previously a turntable was used. Canal tunnels, or 'chunnels' were built wherever there happened to be ventilation shafts in hills. Dudley inclined tunnel links the Birmingham level to the Wolverhampton Rovers level. Aqueducts were constructed mainly by Scotsmen (the most famous of whom was Taffy Jones) wherever they couldn't find any hills to tunnel through.

The seven wonders of the canals include Anderton Lift, built by Otis Reading at Anderton Services, which lowers boats 50 foot down into the Worsley undergroundcanals below.

Various places on the canals are named after famous people or events, thus we have: Ironbridge built by Bessemer at Blasts Hill, Barrow-in-Furnace; and Perry Bar where pear cider used to be pumped by bilge pump and served through the weed hatch. The Bentley canal was so named after Charles Rolls and Henry Royce, who's numerous automobiles were later found sunk at the bottom of it. James Bingley built the famous staircase locks 'Brindley Five Rise' at Foxton, a request stop where 'The Prince of Whales' can now be found.

Boats used to be pushed from behind by a towrope attached to a horse but nowadays boats are propelled by a propeller (or 'screw') which is in turn driven by an engine (or 'screwdriver'). Boats are steered from the back with a 'tiller', invented by Jethro Tull, which later found agricultural uses. A speed limit restricts craft to 4mph on the waterways enforced by a Russian walking in front of the boat bearing a red flag. Traditional narrow boats were traditionally driven by Romanys following in a great tradition. They were also responsible for building the Roman canals, which were straight. Many of these remained straight until James Bingley bent them so you could travel around the hills instead of having to walk your boat over them.


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