Icons of England
  • Introduction
  • The Icons
  • Nominations
  • News
  • Learn & Play
  • Your Comments

Narrowboats on Canals

Biography

Did you know our canal system was started by the "Canal Duke"? Read about the canal builders and the history of narrowboats here.

The Basics

Francis Egerton, third Duke of Bridgewater, was the father of England’s canal system, having built the first one in the 1760s. Linking Manchester with the town of Worsley six miles away, it was designed for transporting the coal used by the cotton industry. As the canal gradually lengthened to more than 40 miles, other mine-owners and business proprietors in the industrial heartlands followed the Duke’s lead.

The Basics
The Canal Duke

The Canal Duke

Our canal system was mostly built between 1760 and 1815, during the "Canal Age". This was started by one man, Francis Egerton, third Duke of Bridgewater. In the words of the Duke's epitaph, "He sent barges across fields the farmers formerly tilled".

The Canal Builders

From the late 18th century, large gangs of workmen moved around the country, digging canals with picks, shovels and wheelbarrows. Canals were called "inland navigations", and so these builders came to be called "navigators", shortened by the public to "navvies" (and often used as a term of abuse).

The Canal Builders
Narrowboats

Narrowboats

The narrowboat gets its name because it is long and thin - a shape determined by the size of canal locks. James Brindley, the pioneering canal engineer, made his locks 74ft long and 7ft wide. In consequence, the boats on his canals were usually about 72ft long and 6ft 10in wide.