The Need for Better Transport

Why was it necessary to improve canal transport in the period after 1750?

The population of England was growing rapidly. In 1750 the population was around 5.8 million. By 1800 it was over 9 million. More people meant more demand for food, building materials and fuel to be transported.
As well as higher population more and more people moved into the towns and cities from the countryside. This meant more building, and the transport of food and fuel for the urban population became more important as fewer people lived off the land, obtaining everything locally.
Growing population meant more demand for food, and farmers needed fertilisers.The canals carried manure, from human waste and horse dung from the cities to the countryside. They brought agricultural products into the towns. For example the Lee Navigation brought grain from Hertfordshire for London's bakers.
The growth of industry to make manufactured goods, building materials, clothing, and basic foods like bread, meant that coal, stone, clay, wool and so on had to be transported in greater quantities. Coal production in 1700 was 2.7 million tonnes. By 1750 it was 4.7 million and by 1800 had reached 10 million tonnes a year.
Road transport was still very difficult with roads in bad condition and a large number of toll gates even on the best roads. Roads were especially bad for carrying heavy goods like coal or iron, and fragile goods like pottery. Only lightweight goods could be efficiently carried by road.
The army and navy needed to move troops and supplies, and materials for making weapons such as cannon. The American War of Independence (1775- 1783) and the wars with France (1793 - 1801 and 1803-15) greatly increased the demand for military transport.

In December, 1806 there was considerable disorder in Ireland (all of which was then then part of the United Kingdom) and on 11th December the government ordered reinforcements to be sent. Over 2,500 men were sent by canal from Paddington to Liverpool and then by sea. The canal journey took 5 days. 55 boats were hired from Pickfords and fitted with benches. Bakers had to be organised to supply large amounts of bread for the men to eat at London, Northampton, Stafford, and Runcorn. Because it was regarded as an emergency all other boat crews had to give way at locks, or risk prosecution and punishment. It would have taken two weeks for these troops to march to Liverpool. The massive operation went well generally. However for one horse, things did not go well. It fell in the canal and drowned.
Next Enquiry