October 2016 Speaker
The speaker for the afternoon was Richard Thomas, who described himself as a canal historian. To illustrate his very lively talk about the history, development, demise and rebirth of the canals, Richard came armed with a large collection of photographs which he then used to good effect to illustrate the points he made.
Richard pointed out that the industrial revolution began with the narrow boats on the canal in the 18th century. It was found that a horse could pull 2 ½ cwt on a road but up to 2 ½ tons when pulling a boat. Thus the revolution, to build waterways to connect up manufacturers, suppliers and ports got under way. James Brindley was the driving force behind this. The men used in the construction were called navigators - shortened to navvies. They only had simple hand tools to do their work and to make tunnels under hills men would dig a shaft down and then tunnel in from the sides to meet the previously bored downward tunnels and (hopefully) meet up with the tunnel from the other side of the hill.
Aqueducts using many bricks would be used to build arches and to hold metal channels and of course to take the narrow boats. The construction of lock gates offered a number of problems, not least the very weight of the gates. The narrow boats, only a few feet wide, acted as homes for the boatmen and their families but space was very restricted as most of the boat was for carrying cargo such as coal. This meant that the living conditions were barely adequate for families with beds being put up at nights and children were accommodated in drawers that tucked away or in flaps that held little babies. There was of course no toilet as we know them today.
As the demand for goods and materials increased so did the canal chains with many joining up industrial areas. Unfortunately by the time much of the canal structure was very developed, the advent of the steam train and then later the introduction of better road system, led to the demise for the demand of the canal system as the prime method of moving materials and finished goods. By the end of the Second War canals had become dumping grounds and little use was being made of these waterways. Fortunately there was an enthusiast L.T.C. Rolt, who had his own boat, and a friend Robert Aickman who together formally formed the Inland Waterways Association in 1946. There were several attempts to get discarded canals put into working order again and today most of the canal boats are privately owned and used for pleasure
After his excellent talk Richard Thomas answered questions and was then thanked by the Speaker Secretary and given a good round of applause