Who Decided the Standard Size of Narrowboats?

Enhance Your Warwickshire Canal Experience with These Stops

It is difficult to tell the story of Great Britain without telling the story of how and why the canal boat hire has the shape and size that it does.

The United Kingdom was the first country to have a developed nationwide canal network which was developed to help support a range of rapidly growing industries over the 18th and 19th centuries with dedicated waterways based on where goods needed to go rather than the presence of a river.

Up until this point, goods were transported on boats of a range of different sizes depending on where they were in the country, with wider rivers leading to wider boats.

The standardisation of narrowboat sizes can be attributed to James Brindley, the canal engineer who whilst not the chief engineer of the first-ever canals (Henry Berry was the man behind Sankey Canal and James Brindley is believed to have worked under John Gilbert for Bridgewater Canal) was a pioneer in many respects.

Mr Brindley developed the use of puddling clay to produce watertight canal linings, designed Barton Aqueduct, the first in England and by 1766 had developed a reputation as the master of canal building.

It was Mr Brindley who suggested that rather than have a range of differing standards for boats throughout the country, to designate a specified size of lock designed to carry a boat no wider than 7ft and no longer than 70ft for the Trent and Mersey Canal.

The canal was designed to connect Stoke-on-Trent, home to the Wedgwood pottery company at the request of Josiah Wedgwood, who had become frustrated at the number of broken pots caused by transporting his wares on the rough roads of the era via pack-horse.

Due to the specific topography of the area, Mr Brindley and the Trent and Mersey Canal Company that were constructing the canal disagreed about how large the waterway could be, eventually agreeing to build locks that could hold boats that were 7ft wide and 70ft long.

After this proved to be a success, narrowboats of this size became standard across all of Britain’s waterways.

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