Waterways of England and Wales

1790 - 1800


Introduction to 1790-1800

Click on one of the coloured areas to see an enlarged view.


These historical maps are by the late Dr. Mike Stevens

The Canal Mania

Suddenly the map starts looking busy. The first generation of canals had, on the whole, proved pretty profitable, and speculators were keen to invest in new ones. The years 1792-1793 saw more proposals come before Parliament than any other comparable period of time. Some of these were well-founded schemes that went on to become successful enterprises, some were castles in the air, and there were lots in between. Sadly many of even the fairly good proposals were never completed because of the dramatic rise in construction costs caused by economic difficulties during and after the Napoleonic War.

There was competition to build a better connection between Birmingham and London, avoiding the length of the Thames from Oxford. There were two main contenders. The one that was built involved three different canal companies, the Warwick & Birmingham, Warwick & Napton and Grand Junction. All three of these were complete by the end of the decade, apart from Blisworth Tunnel on the Grand Junction, which was suffering from engineering problems, and was by-passed by a tramroad until its completion in 1805. Its rival scheme was the London and Western (or Hampton Gay) Canal, promoted by the Oxford Canal Company to protect their trade from the threat of the Grand Junction.

The complicated saga of the Leeds and Liverpool was getting even more so, with all sorts of proposals to vary the line to make junctions with branches from the MB&B, the Rochdale and the Lancaster. The latter was also in difficulties over the southern part of its line.

The Black Country was spawning more and more canals to serve the rapidly-growing industry there. The Wyrley and Essington and the Dudley were independent companies later taken over by the BCN, whereas the Walsall Canal was a project of the BCN itself. The Dudley also built its "number 2" line to link to the as-yet-incomplete Worcester and Birmingham Canal and achieve a route to the Severn without the high tolls charged by the BCN.

The Ellesmere Canal was originally planned to connect the mining and industrial area around Ruabon in one direction to Shewsbury and, in the other, over the hills to Chester, then crossing the Dee and continuing across the Wirral peninsula to join the Mersey at a village called Netherpool which was to grow into the canal town of Ellesmere Port. They soon realised there were major engineering problems for their original line, and various other routes were considered, some of them linking to the Chester Canal. The Llanymynech Branch ran south towards the Severn, and was continued further by the Montgomeryshire Canal (built in two sections by two independent companies).

A network of small tub-boat canals in Shropshire was growing, as feeder lines to the Severn. They would eventually be linked to the main system and become part of the "Shroppie".

The Leicester Navigation's main line was now complete, and work was going ahead on the Leicestershire and Northamptonshire Canal to link it to the River Nene at Northampton and thus to the Fens and the East Coast.

Most of the main trunk canals were busy planning branches to connect to towns a few miles from their routes. Among these was the Grand Junction's several branches, including the Paddington Branch, a 13-mile level canal to connect the GJC main line at Southall to Paddington, then on the north-west edge of London.