Waterways of England and Wales

Original Introduction by Mike Stevens to maps resource


This page

This is the original introduction to the map resource by the author. It is included for background information but is of course now out-of-date.

Introduction by Mike Stevens (1942-2007)

These maps have been drawn to illustrate the growth, decay and (in due course) restoration of the canals and river navigations of England and Wales. The information I have used comes from my bookshelf rather than from any original research of my own. I have drawn most heavily on the David & Charles Canals of the Britsh Isles series by Charles Hadfield and others, and on The Illustrated History of Canal & River Navigations by Edward Paget-Tomlinson.

I have not restricted myself to canals that were actually built, but have included some of the proposals (some of them fascinating) that never came to fruition. These are indicated in the lists by the [#] sign.

There are limitations to what one can do in a work of this sort. Choosing a scale to show the information reasonably clearly on the screen means that the coverage couldn't be as complete as I would have liked. Not only have I not been able to include Scotland and Ireland, but the most Northerly and Westerly parts of England and Wales have also fallen off the edges of the map. I offer my apologies to devotees of the Bude Canal and the waterways of Tyneside and Teesside. Also, scale and clarity have forced me to simplify some of the facts. Some very small waterways are missed out completely.

Waterways have been divided into types in a fairly obvious way, but the boundaries between types are full of ambiguity. While for the majority of the system, "narrow" refers to waterways designed to take craft of approximately 7ft beam, and "broad" means upwards of twice this, there are a number of waterways that fall somewhere between the two. I don't claim any consistency in how I have classified them. Nor have I distinguished between "broad" waterways and ship canals, since I feel that this distinction lies in the mind of the proposers rather than anywhere else.

For some waterway projects that never achieved fruition, my sources did not indicate the planned route in any detail. Indeed in some cases there never was a detailed survey. For some, all I could find was a starting and a finishing point. In those cases I have indicated the waterway by a straight line or a guessed curve.

When a waterway was begun in one decade and completed in another, I was rarely able to make a sensible estimate of the state of completion in the decade year shown. When it came to closures of waterways, I did not have complete enough information available to distinguish between "out of use", "derelict", "formally abandoned" and "obliterated".

What you see here is very much "work in progress". The historical sequence is not yet complete - I hope eventually to bring it up to the present day, for which purpose I shall need to draw on the knowledge of my friends in the waterway restoration movement. It is not unlikely that it contains errors, inaccuracies and omissions. I would be glad to have any of these drawn to my attention (preferably with a reference to an authentic source of the correct information). I shall then incorporate them into the work as it develops. I expect to replace some pages, and add new ones, from time to time.

The maps were drawn using Micrografx Windows Draw v.5 and turned into web pages using HoTMetaL Pro v.4.0.

I am grateful to Martin Ludgate whose graphic file of a restoration map for WRG was the starting point for the drawings, and to various people who have sent me further information as a result of seeing these maps on the web or eleswhere. Some of this later information has been incorporated already, the rest will be in due course. Any errors are mine rather than Martin's or the later correspondents'.


At the end of the description on the index page for the last decade, 1940 to 1950, was a now poignant paragraph:

At some future date I hope to extend this series of maps to bring the history up to date and show the successes of the restoration movement.

Sadly that aspiration was not to be. The museum would like to talk to anyone who feels they might carry out further work so as to complete this huge collection by adding material for the decades since 1950. 3