Waterways of England and Wales

1850 - 1860


Introduction to 1850 - 1860

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


These historical maps are by the late Dr. Mike Stevens

Continued Deterioration

By now the canal system was seriously in decline. The River Lugg and the Leominster, Glastonbury, Shrewsbury, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Donnington Wood and Andover Canals all closed, as did much of the River Foss in Yorkshire. The Upper (Warwickshire) Avon was disused, as was the upper part of the River Wye.

Railway ownership continued to grow in this decade. Many canal companies sold out because they were no longer profitable, and in many cases the new owners deliberately let the canal decay in order to reduce the competition with their railway. There were two notable exceptions to this. One, as we noted in the previous decade, was the Shropshire Union. The other was the Birmingham Canal Navigation, where the dense crowding of industry along the many canals of the area made it sensible to develop a pattern of long-distance carrying by rail with local distribution by canal from a number of canal/rail interchange basins.

On the other hand there were some rays of hope. The Birmingham Canal Navigation was building the Cannock Extension Canal (its last) to reach the newly-opened Cannock coalfield, and had already made navigable the feeder (now named the Anglesey Branch) to the Wyrley & Essington from Chasewater reservoir. This new coalfield was to produce a lot of short-haul traffic on the B.C.N. until the very end of the canal carrying era in the 1960s and '70s.

Droitwich was already connected to the Severn by the (broad) Droitwich Canal, and now gained another connection to the Worcester and Birmingham in the form of the (narrow) Droitwich Junction Canal.

In London, the Hertford Union had been bought by the Regent's Canal and re-opened, being incorporated into their normal operation. The Kensington Canal had ceased to function. It had amalgamated some time before with a railway company whose line ran northwards from the canal basin (at what is now Kensington Olympia station) to Willesden Junction. Unfortunately the railway proved unprofitable, so they decided to fill in the canal and extend the railway southwards to cross the Thames and join other lines at Clapham Junction. All that was left of the canal was a very short tidal length leading off Chelsea Creek.