So how did they maintain canals?
WHILE I MIGHT not be able to comprehend how the canals were built by hand with picks and shovels, the feats of the navvies is well documented.
My wife and I completed the Four Counties Ring for the first time last September. During our journey we were accompanied by a very friendly Canal & River Trust Inspector walking the canal who helped us lock down at Etruria and beyond while inspecting all structures along the way and taking photos with his iPad and documenting this and that, again, on his iPad.
Later we saw a gang of CRT staff felling and clearing trees from the towpath side with power tools. We saw CRT staff with mini-diggers, floating on butty boats, clearing and reinforcing the banks, and on foot checking licences, again on tablets. All gave a cheery wave and seemed approachable.
We also saw offenders ‘paying back’ to the community by resurfacing the towpath.
All this activity got me thinking. Once built, how were the canals maintained 200 years ago? It is obvious that the owners would be responsible for their upkeep, but who actually did the physical work? How were breaches repaired and how quickly?
How were trees felled and disposed of? What condition was the towpath left in? What was the water quality? Was it clean, did it smell? What tools and equipment were to hand? How was ice broken? How were lock gates lifted and repaired? How was dredging done and how were reeds cleared? How were sunken boats removed?
What did we do before the advent of quick-drying cement, sheet piling and remote controlled cameras able to venture along narrow culverts?
I have never seen any documentation, be it book or article, referring to this subject. Is there any chance that you could run an article to explain how the canals were maintained and to what standard prior to the electronic and mechanised age?
IVAN FIRMAN, nb Daydream
What a good idea – Ed