Building Canals -

April 12, 2018 | Author: Anonymous | Category: History, European History, Europe (1815-1915), Industrial Revolution
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Building Canals Building a canal was a very big and costly job. It could take a lot of time and effort just to raise the money to build a canal. Canal companies also had to fight to get planning permission from Parliament and local people. Once a canal company had got over these problems then their engineers would then have to get on with the job of overcoming the shape of the land through which the canal was to be built. In order for a canal to work it must be built on an even level. To cope with uneven land engineers had to design a way to pass boats up or down a small hill. In order to do this they had to build a lock, which was a set of large gates to hold back the water in a space big enough to fit a canal boat. The diagram below shows how these locks worked. Source C: Canal locks

These locks were built so that a canal boat could be raised to a higher level of water. In some parts of the country the uneven shape of the land meant that many locks were needed. If a canal had to go up a steep hill several locks were joined together to form a staircase. When a canal engineer was faced with a very large hill to pass he would have to tunnel through it. James Brindley started the first great canal tunnel called the Harecastle Tunnel on the Trent and Mersey Canal. It was over a mile and a half (2.5 km) long and took eleven years to build. However, canals did not only have to go through hills, there were places where they had to build cross roads and rivers. These bridges were called aqueducts. Source D: Overcoming the shape of the land with tunnels & aqueducts.


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Building Canals Canal tunnels were built by sinking shafts down to the line of the canal and then working left and right from the bottom of the shaft. Once these tunnels were finished the shafts were left open so that air could get into the tunnel. The width of tunnels was very small so as to keep costs down, so towpaths for horses to pull the barges were rarely used. In order to stop the canal boat hitting the side of the tunnel ‘leggers’ carefully walked them through. Sources E and F describe how this was done: Source E: Crick Tunnel 1815

Source F: ‘Legging’ through a canal tunnel

The tunnel is built wide enough to allow two boats to pass, but our boats must not touch the sides. To get through we laid a plank at the front part of our boat. Upon each end of this plank a man laid himself down on his back with his feet touching the wall. They then pushed the boat forward by crossing their legs at every step. This was a dangerous job but if a man was experienced then he could ‘legged’ us through in 47 minutes a distance of 1518 yards. Source G: The largest canal tunnels in Great Britain, 1985 Tunnel



Standedge Old Harecastle Blisworth Sapperton Dudley Netherton Crick Tunnel

Huddersfield Trent & Mersey Grand Union Thames & Severn Dudley Birmingham

5456 yards 2897 yards 3956 yards 3808 yards 3172 yards 3027 yards 1518 yards

Comment The longest tunnel 11 years to build 5 years to build

The last to be built 1858 Use this one to calculate the time for the others.

Time to be legged through

47 minutes

Until the middle of the 19th century canals were the cheapest form of transport for heavy industrial goods and raw materials. This was to change after 1840 when competition with the new railways got into full swing. In order to compete some canal owners started experimenting with using steam power instead of horses to pull the canal boats along. However, the wash from these faster boats started to damage the canal banks and before long it became cheaper to send goods by train.


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Building Canals Activities: Building Canals 1. What problems did a canal company have to overcome before they started building? 2. Copy out the statements that are true: The biggest problems for canal engineers was building a level channel In order to get over a hill engineers would build a tunnel In order to get over a hill engineers would build a system of locks In order to go through a hill engineers would build a tunnel The longest tunnel was the Standedge Tunnel The last tunnel to be built was the Netherton Tunnel A 'legger' was someone who could run fast A 'legger' was someone who walked a canal boat through a tunnel An aqueduct was used to keep the canals filled with water An aqueduct was a special bridge built for canal boats. 3. Copy diagram C into your books and then explain in your own words how canal locks worked. 4. Look at Source E. How long did it take to 'legged' it through 1518 yards in Crick Tunnel? 5. How many yards could these men have ‘legged’ in a minute? (Hint: 1518 / 47) 6. Copy Source G into your book. 7. Calculate how long it would have taken to have 'legged' through each of the tunnels on your table. Write your results into the last column on your table. 8. Why did fewer industries use canals to transport their goods after 1840?


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