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Monday, 3 August 2009

Was your ancestor a canal boatman?

The canals were once the lifeblood of Britain’s trade. Their success story began when the pioneering Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgwater (1736-1803) proved it was faster and more profitable to transport coal by canal than on land. The Bridgewater Canal, which opened in 1761, brought huge wealth to the ‘Canal Duke.’
Life on the canals during the Industrial Revolution was never as idyllic - it was hard work. Hours were long, sanitation primitive, and it was very difficult for canal boat people to obtain medical attention, or get an education.
You can find out more about the lives of canal boat people, and tips for finding your canal ancestors, in my latest feature for Ancestors magazine. As readers of this blog will know, I am really looking forward to doing the research for my forthcoming book on Tracing Your Canal Ancestors for Pen and Sword.
In the meantime you can explore how the Lancashire canal network evolved, and read the stories of the people living on the boats, in my book Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives.
And coming soon: Regency Cheshire, scheduled for publication in late October, will discuss 'canal mania' in the county during Georgian times, and what it was like to travel by packet boat on the canals and by sea.

Image: The young Duke of Bridgewater, with Barton Aqueduct behind him. From Lives of the Engineers: Brindley and the Early Engineers, Samuel Smiles, (John Murray, 1874.)

Update November 2011; Sadly, Ancestors magazine is now defunct, but my book Tracing Your Canal Ancestors has now been published, and you can buy a copy here.

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