Monday, 7 November 2011
Britain’s canal success story really began when the pioneering Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgwater (1736-1803) proved he could make a profit transporting coal by canal.
The Bridgewater Canal, which opened in 1761, brought immense wealth to the ‘Canal Duke.’‘Canal mania’ gripped the nation, and a great network of canals was cut through the British countryside by the first canal workers: the navvies and engineers like James Brindley who transformed our landscape.
Canal boats were mostly owned by big carrying companies; only a few canal boatmen could afford to own their own boat: the ‘Number Ones’. Speedy ‘fly’ boats carried time-dependent cargoes, and these boats had four-man crews.
Writer John Hollingshead said the boatmen wore: ‘short fustian trousers, heavy boots, red plush jackets, waistcoats with pearl buttons and fustian sleeves, and gay silk handkerchiefs … round their necks’ (Odd Journeys In and Out of London, (1860)).