Canal Buildings; canal industrial archeology

Canals needed maintenance yards, dry docks and houses for lock keepers and toll collectors. Commerce needed warehouses and factories. Altogether a fascinating range of structures.


Canal Cottages.

The canals required a considerable army of workers to keep the operating efficiently. Each stretch would have lengthsmen responsible for simple maintenance tasks, lock keepers to watch over locks and toll collectors. All these people needed housing close to their work. Accommodation was usually simple, such as the toll house on the Llangollen Canal on the right, but engineers often used stylish flourishes, such as circular brick hut opposite the lock cottage at Beeston on the Shropshire Union Canal.

Lengthsman's cottage on the Llangollen Canal
Lengthsman's cottage on the Llangollen Canal

Canal Maintenance Facilities.

More complicated maintenance tasks such as dredging and lock repairs were in the hands of area engineers and craftspeople based at maintenance yards such as the one at Icknield Port on the Birmingham Canal System. Smaller dry docks used for building and maintaining boats, such as the one at Taylor’s yard in Chester on the Shropshire Union Canal Canal on the right, were very common. The dock entrance is closed off by planks and the dock drained into a stream to allow boat hulls to be maintained.

Dry dock in Chester
Dry dock in Chester

Mills and other Industrial Buildings

Canals were created to serve the needs of the rapidly developing industrial revolution, and industry continued to develop alongside the canal system. So industrial buildings were very common alongside canals, although recent redevelopment has has often removed many traces, as in the Birmingham area. In the Potteries alongside the Trent and Mersey Canal you can still see old bottle kilns, used for firing pottery. Steam powered pump houses like the one at Crofton on the Kennet and Avon Canal were used to back pump precious water after it had been used in the lock flight.


Canal Warehouses

Wharves and warehouses were necessary to load and unload and store goods. This might be during transhipment, either between sea going craft and canal craft, or between railway and canal, or between canal craft and cart or truck for local collection or distribution. Many have now been torn down, but some have been restored to their former glory, such as the seven storey grain warehouses on Gloucester Docks on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. A number of ex Shropshire Union warehouses still exist, this one at Ellesmere on the Llangollen Canal is awaiting restoration.

Shropshire Union Warehouse
Shropshire Union Warehouse

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