So how did they main­tain canals?

Canal Boat - - Letters -

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

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