Waterways of England and Wales

1940 - 1950


Introduction to 1940 - 1950

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


These historical maps are the work of the late Dr. Mike Stevens

Decline and nationalisation

1942 saw the most ambitious waterway proposal ever in the UK. J F Pownall's proposed Grand Contour Canal was to be a lock-free ship canal on the 310ft (95 m) contour connecting most parts of England, and linked to the main river systems by boat lifts. The surface width of the canal was to be 100ft (30.8 m) and its depth 17ft (5.2 m). In addition to shipping, it was proposed to use it for water transfer. Sadly the proposal came to nothing.

At the end of World War Two the canals were handed back to their owners once again, and this time there was a real fear that the growth of road competition, in addition to the existing railway competition, could bring the final death-knell of the system. This prompted the formation in 1946 of the Inland Waterways Association to campaign for the retention and use of the waterways.

The 1947 Transport Act nationalised most of the waterways. This was almost certainly not a major target of the Attlee Government, but incidental to their nationalisation of the railways, who owned much of the waterways system. Grand Union Canal Carrying Company, the largest carrying fleet, became part of the nationalised industry, and Fellows Morton & Clayton, the second largest, sold out to them in the following year after the first loss-making year in its history.

The last years of the decade saw the first signs of a fight-back against decline, with the successful campaign, initiated by John Gould, to prevent the nationalised industry from abandoning the semi-derelict Kennet & Avon Canal.