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The 1935 Lock

Canals vs. Trains

A gradual loss of waterways traffic

'Slow but sure' didn't win the day in the 1950s

The canal and river network turned Stratford into an industrial district (you can see some of the most famous industries at this link). But by the mid 19th century Britain’s 4,000-mile-long canal network had increasing competition from that other marvel of the Industrial Revolution, the steam locomotive train.

Railways were just as good at carrying bulk cargoes as barges, and could do so much more quickly and reliably. A horse-drawn barge could average about 2.5 miles per hour, while even a slow goods train could travel the same distance in just a few minutes, and deliver to a timetable.

It was a competition that the canals were doomed to lose, slowly and painfully. Railways kept on getting faster, and canal companies could only compete by cutting prices (and wages) and spending less on maintenance.

Even nationalisation of the canals and railways after World War II failed to revive canal traffic. By the 1950s the Bow Back Rivers had no commercial use. The lock gates and lifting mechanism at Carpenters Road were allowed to rust, and were last opened in the 1960s.

Next: Post-war Decline


This page is part of History of the Lock