The Canal Systems of the British Isles


Map Code: Ax02230

The burgeoning population and commerce resulting from the Industrial Revolution placed an immense strain on an internal transport network reliant on rivers, and often ill-maintained roads. While turnpike trusts greatly improved the coverage and quality of roads, more volume was still required, and was met initially by river navigation systems of locks and weirs, first trialled on the River Wey to Guildford (1653). The first major ‘true’ canal was constructed for the Duke of Bridgwater from his coal mines at Worsley to the booming industrial market of Manchester. The Bridgwater canal engineer, James Brindley, galvanized by the profitability of this venture, then conceived the ‘Grand Cross’ of canals to link the Thames, Mersey, Trent and Severn. This would eventually be completed with the opening of the Oxford Canal in 1790. James Smeaton completed the trans-Scotland Forth & Clyde Canal in 1779, and advised on Ireland’s Grand Canal, which opened in 1804.

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