My Big Break
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It’s Quicker Via (this) Canal

Soulbury bottom lock 24

The Monday Photo

In 1805, it became far more practical to bring goods to London from the factories in the North and the Midlands when the Grand Junction Canal was opened; we know it as the Grand Union Canal, and this is Three Locks, not far South of Milton Keynes.

Before that year, the only way to London by water was via the Oxford canal, joining the Thames at Oxford then going downstream to the capital; it was much further and depended on how the Thames was running. These routes both still exist.

But how much quicker was it when the new route opened? On the older route via the Thames it’s 172 miles each way and and modern estimates reckon it will take you 151 hours of travelling to go there and back.

For the same starting and finishing points but via the Grand Junction Canal it’s just 101 miles each way, and the modern estimate is 102 hours for the round trip. So the new route cut a third off the return journey time and was more reliable, since none of it was on the river.

The new canal did well, but competition from the railways from around 1840 meant the canal struggled to survive, though it continued to take commercial traffic right up until the 1950s, one of the last canals to do so. Now it is mostly used by leisure craft and people who live on boats, and has now been open to traffic for 215 years.

The photo shows the bottom lock of the three, which together raise or lower boats just over twenty feet, and the end of the Greensand ridge.

I don’t know what sort of speed the 18th Century horse drawn boats could average, does anyone know? I suspect they’d be slower than a modern boat with an engine. But the time advantage of the new route is obvious.

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