Canal Mania (Commentary)

Canal Mania (Commentary)

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This commentary is based on the classroom activity: Canal Mania

Q1: Explain why the Duke of Bridgewater arranged for a canal to be built between Worsley Colliery and Manchester.

A1: The Duke of Bridgewater built his canal because he wanted a cheaper way of transporting coal from his colliery in Worsley to his customers in Manchester.

Q2: Study sources 1, 3 and 8. Describe how goods were transported by canals and navigable rivers.

A2: Sources 1, 3 and 8 all reveal that barges on Britain's rivers and canals were pulled by horses.

Q3: Study the sources in this unit. Comment on the value of these sources in helping you understand why many manufacturers in the second half of the 18th century began using canals to transport their goods.

A3: Sources 1, 2, 5 and 7 all contain important information on why many manufacturers began using canals to transport their goods. Sources 1, 5 and 7 all reveal that canals were very good at transporting bulky goods over long-distances. Samuel Smiles in source 2 argues that the Worsley to Manchester Canal enabled the Duke of Bridgewater to sell his customers cheap coal. Source D reveals that the cost of transporting goods by canal was less than half the cost of sending it by road.

Q4: Explain the connection between the growth of the canal network and the increase in the amount of foreign goods being sold in Britain.

A4: The rapid growth in the canal network meant that waterways linked almost every town and port in Britain. The original idea was to develop a system that would enable British manufacturers to distribute their goods to both the home and overseas market. However, the network could also be used to distribute foreign goods that were arriving at British ports. Therefore the growth in the canal network increased the amount of foreign goods sold in Britain.

The Martian Century

Roger Hennessy tells of a hundred years of investigation, imagination and speculation about life on Mars.

Popular interest in Mars is long-established, but has enjoyed two dramatic flowerings, one in the 1890s and the other a century later. Two developments have quickened current media attention: the revelation by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in August 1996 that it possessed a small meteorite which might have come to Earth from Mars and might contain fossils of primitive life forms and the dispatch to Mars, by NASA, of spacecraft designed to scrutinise the planet, and to land on it. The Mars Pathfinder touched down on July 4th, 1997. Soon the public could see for itself the marvel of a small vehicle moving about the rust-red sands of Mars, controlled from Earth some 119 million miles away.

Less well known is Russia’s failed attempt to play a part in Martian exploration its Mars 96 spacecraft failed shortly after take-off in November 1996. Packed into its cargo (and now possibly at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean) was a CD-ROM entitled Visions of Mars, bearing over seventy novels, articles and broadcasts in seventeen languages and ten alphabets, chronicling humanity’s long fascination with
the Red Planet from tenth-century Arabic poetry to contemporary science fiction and documentaries.

Any speculation about life on Mars, then or now, is part of a long discourse on ‘the plurality of worlds’ which had its origins in classical Greece. This debate went quiet in the Middle Ages but from the Renaissance onwards astronomical pluralism re-established itself. It was a near-orthodoxy by the late eighteenth century, supported by Diderot, Benjamin Franklin, Immanuel Kant and Tom Paine, inter alia.

Pluralism’s onward march started to falter in the 1850s: William Whewell, an eminent Cambridge scientist and divine, criticised its methodological weaknesses Darwinism raised doubts about the replication of intelligent life-forms elsewhere in the universe. But aid and comfort for the pluralists was close at hand. The new science of astrophysics suggested that the myriads of stars in the firmament were similar to the sun in their composition – perhaps they too were circled by planetary systems. Nearer to home Mars, our neighbour in the solar system, seemed to offer the evidence the pluralists had hitherto lacked.

The characteristics of Mars’ orbit are such that its distance from Earth varies considerably – from 34.5 to 234.5 million miles. From an astronomer’s standpoint it was particularly well-placed for observation in 1877, 1892 and 1909. Observations in each of these years intensified discussion about possible life on Mars.

If life, intelligent or otherwise, were to be found on Mars then life on Earth would not be unique. The scientific, theological and cultural outcomes of such a discovery could be stupendous. It is fitting, therefore, that the late-Victorian saga of life on Mars had one of its origins in the Vatican observatory. In 1859, Fr Angelo Secchi, director of the observatory and a confirmed pluralist, observed markings on the surface of Mars which he described as canali, channels. The fateful word had been launched on its career, although there was little immediate development from Secchi’s work.

In 1877 another Italian, Giovanni Schiaparelli, one of Europe’s most distinguished astronomers, also observed the canali, but he added the refinement that they appeared to be constituents of a system. Other astronomers observed features that might be continents or seas Schiaparelli confirmed these findings and ascribed to them finely sonorous classical names such as Hellas, Mare Erythraeum, Promethei Sinus.

Although Schiaparelli was cautious in his public statements, recent research suggests that he was possibly a closet pluralist. Certainly his choice of familiar topographical terminology for the planet, and his publicising of the canali network, encouraged pluralist speculation. Inevitably, canali was soon being translated into English as ‘canals’ rather than ‘channels’. In 1882 Schiaparelli further fuelled speculation by discovering twin canals, a configuration which he named ‘gemination’ he described no fewer than sixty canals and twenty geminations.

Some of Schiaparelli’s findings were confirmed by the astronomers Perrotin and Thollon at Nice Observatory in 1886. In 1888, however, Perrotin confused matters by announcing that the Martian continent of ‘Libya’ observed by Schiaparelli in 1886 ‘no longer exists today’. The confusion grew two prestigious observatories in the US found in one case no canals, in another a few of them but no geminations, and no changes to Libya. These conflicting findings were early examples of a problem which still affects our investigations of Mars a century later – science operating at the very cutting edge of the available technology. A century ago the creative imaginations of some observers took their conclusions beyond generally acceptable limits. Disputes among historians about the nature and interpretation of evidence appear quite modest when set against what was to follow.

While the observers exchanged reports and papers, the popularisers got to work. They were generally restrained at first. The British commentator Richard Proctor thought that the canals might be rivers he was among the first to suggest that a Martian canal would have to be ‘fifteen or twenty miles broad’ to be seen from Earth. The leading French pluralist, Camille Flammarion published his definitive La Planète Mars in 1892: ‘the canals may be due. to the rectification of old rivers by the inhabitants for the purpose of the general distribution of water. ’ Other commentators supposed the ‘canals’ might be an optical illusion, a line first advanced by the English artist Nathaniel Green, teacher of painting to Queen Victoria and an amateur astronomer.

The canals debate might have levelled off at this point had it not been for the incursion of its most prominent controversialist – and convinced pluralist – Percival Lowell. Lowell, an eminent Bostonian, entered the astronomical fray after a career in business and diplomacy, mainly in the Orient. He was a formidable mathematician, a master of the detached, ironic prose popular at the time and immensely wealthy. He financed his own observatory at Flagstaff, Arizona and commenced work in 1894. He may not have brought an entirely objective mind to the task. Even before he started observing he had announced that the canals were probably ‘the work of some sort of intelligent beings.’

Lowell was indefatigable. In addition to writing numerous papers and lecturing on Mars and its canals he wrote three highly readable best-sellers: Mars (1895) Mars and its Canals (1906) and Mars as an Abode of Life (1908).

The newly-arrived popular press was very willing to report Lowell’s findings and views canal mania grew apace. By 1910 Lowell had reported over 400 canals with an average length of 1,500 miles. He wrote plausibly about the Martian atmosphere and the means by which the canals distributed water from Mars’ polar caps to irrigate the planet before evaporation returned moisture to the poles. This hydraulic cycle appealed to popular evolutionism which perceived Mars an an old, dying world trying to avert its fate by rational and cyclopean engineering – this was, after all, an age of of great canals: Panama, Dortmund-Ems, Manchester, Corinth.

For all his enthusiasm and ingenuity, Lowell remained in a minority. Most astronomers were sceptical or decidedly hostile to the canal theory moreover, Lowell was never an astronomers’ astronomer. Psycho-history has analysed Lowell in recent years, although his motives remain a mystery. To some he is the Brahmin disillusioned with war, nationalism and excitable democracy, a person who liked to imagine sensible Martians organising their planet rationally. C.K. Hofling (1964) thought Lowell was influenced by ‘voyeuristic impulses. unresolved oedipal conflicts.’

Lowell helped to launch one of the twentieth century’s most popular cultural icons, fictional Mars, with its wide range of imaginative possibilities. Although novelists had described an inhabited Mars before Lowell, his popularisation of the canals proved crucial. The most famous product of Lowellian Mars is probably H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, first published in 1897. One of the best-known opening passages in English literature tells the reader that ‘in the last years of the nineteenth century. human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own.’ The Martians lived on a dying planet and ‘regarded this earth with envious eyes.’ Wells had sub-texts: ruthless evolutionism and imperialism blessed with superior military technology. Lowell’s Mars supplied him with a perfect setting.

Imaginary Mars had remarkable affinity with terrestrial fashions and ideologies. Edgar Rice Burroughs, later to invent Tarzan, used the planet as a setting for traditional folk-fantasy, Mars inhabited not only by monsters, but also by egg-laying princesses of great beauty. In a more austere vein, the Bolshevik Aleksandr Bogdanov wrote The Red Planet (1909) in which ‘the democratic state was forced to involve itself with the (canal) project in order to absorb the growing surplus of the proletariat and aid the remnants of the dying peasantry.’

Children’s literature has also drawn on Martian themes, for example Fenton Ash’s A Trip to Mars (1909) in which two archetypical young Edwardians ‘stalwart, well-grown, clean limbed British youths’ visit the planet. By 1914 there were some half-dozen films using Mars as a setting, including a pioneer New Zealand production A Message from Mars, (1909), and a British film of the same title (1913) in which a Martian comes to Earth to reform a fallen soul.

Lowell died in 1916. By then the fury of professional controversy was largely over and the canals were dismissed as an optical illusion. Nevertheless they, and an inhabited Mars, survived remarkably fit and well through the inter-war period in popular fiction. There was a flurry of professional interest in 1924 when attempts were made to detect radio messages from the Red Planet – the US Navy even obliged by closing down its own radio traffic to assist. Some of the more open-minded astronomers like Sir Harold Spencer Jones (Astronomer Royal 1933-55) were willing to concede that there might be life on Mars, but most probably low-grade organisms like mosses or lichens.

With the advent of the Space Age, serious speculation returned. Mars has been targeted by twenty-hree space missions since 1962. The pluralist question has been explicit or implicit in all of them, particularly in the NASA Viking expeditions of 1976 which were specifically designed to search for traces of life on Mars. Viking 1 took numerous pictures of Mars, including the objects which latter-day Lowellites have interpreted as artefacts – and others have dismissed as natural formations. Viking 2 landed on Mars and took soil samples the analysis of which has produced ambiguous and controversial conclusions that have fuelled scientific debate ever since.

The similarities between the Martian discourse of the 1890s and that of today are clear the differences are revealing. Both eras have drawn on time-hallowed human speculation about the possibility, even the hope, of life on other worlds. The US then and now has held the pre-eminent position in the discussions. A hundred years ago American astronomers, both pro- and anti-pluralist, had at their disposal the equipment and publicity-engine of a newly emergent world economic power in the 1990s their economic and technical support is unrivalled. The Russian initiative, once so promising, has begun to falter, the victim of post-Soviet problems and complexities.

The wilder speculations of the 1890s have been replaced by more sober and better-informed commentary a century later. Even so, interested parties have played the contemporary media with skill, rather as Lowell did in his day. NASA was suitably prudent about possible traces of life on a ‘Martian meteorite’ in 1996 but it is a publicly-funded agency and far from naive. The popular media were predictably quick off the mark: ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Armada to Mars’ were among the headlines which followed the announcement. While public excitement was heightened, President Clinton, limbering up for his re-election campaign, seized on the news and pledged generous support to the search for life on Mars.

Karl S. Guthke thought that the extra-terrestrial life debate was ‘the myth of modern times’. As has been the case from the time of Epicurus to the present, the idea of extra-terrestrial life in general and on Mars in particular has much more to tell us about ourselves than about life ‘out there’.

Roger Hennessey writes and lectures on the history of humanity’s speculations about life on other worlds.

British Canals in the Industrial Revolution Worksheet

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Canals were needed for the Industrial Revolution which was creating huge amounts of heavy produce which had to be moved. Roads simply could not handle such weights and the vehicles needed to move this produce did not exist. Canals were the answer to moving heavy objects large distances.

Canals were man-made rivers which were deep enough to cope with barges which were capable of moving nearly forty tonnes of weight. This was far more than a pack of mules could carry or a horse and carriage.

As business grew in the North and Midlands, there was a need for waterways where no rivers flowed. It is a short step from improving a river with cuts and locks to cutting an artificial river or canal. In 1757 the first such canal in England was built – the Sankey Canal. It ran from the St Helen’s coalfield to the Mersey River and it was used to supply Liverpool with coal. Two years later work started on a much more important project, the Bridgewater Canal.

The Duke of Bridgewater owned at coal mine at Worsley. He found it very expensive to take coal by packhorse to nearby Manchester, so he planned to build a canal there from his mine. He was helped by two men. One was John Gilbert, the land agent who looked after the Bridgewater estates. The other was James Brindley, who was recommended to the Duke as a very clever engineer, though he had never been to school.

The Duke gave the task of designing and building the canal to James Brindley – an engineer who at this time had never built a canal before. As such, the duke was taking a great risk and he even had to borrow £25,000 to pay for the project – which was a vast sum of money then.

It took two years to build the canal which was completed in 1761. The canal had a series of tunnels which were linked directly to the coal mines. But its most famous section was the Barton Aqueduct which took the canal over the River Irwin.

Gilbert and Brindley planned to build the canal all on one level. To do this they had to cross the River Irwell at Barton. This picture shows how they did it. This special bridge is called an aqueduct. It carries the waters of the canal over the river. You can see the barge being pulled across by two horses.

The Bridgewater canal was opened in 1761 and was a great success. The Duke was able to sell coal in

Manchester for half the price he had charged before, and as a result he sold more and more of it.

Canals could make those who invested in them vast sums of money. In the 1790’s so-called “canal mania” took place when people invested their money into practically every canal project. Canals were good at moving fragile goods such as pottery and also heavy goods such as coal.

They were actually faster than carriages and pack mules as once a horse got a barge moving, its own momentum would keep it going at a decent pace. By 1840, there were nearly 4,500 miles of canals in Britain. Yet within years their great days were over. Why ?

Different builders build different size canals so that different size canal barges were needed. One canal barge might not be able to use a canal built by another engineer. This, naturally, limited them a great deal.

Roads, Railways and Canals

Transport changed very quickly in the period 1700-1900 as a result of an increased need for better methods of moving goods, new technologies and large scale investment in the countries infra-structure (communications network). The result of the hanges in the Industrial Revolution was a complex transport system including roads, rail, canals and the London Underground.

The changes came in several stages. First Roads were improved, then Canals were built and finally the Railway was developed. Each change had an impact upon life in the country, each shortened travel times over longer distances and each enabled industrialists to seek new markets in previously out of reach areas of the country. Likewise they enabled more raw materials and goods to be shipped to and from factories, providing further impetus to the industrial age.

Prior to the Industrial Age getting around the country was very difficult, as these images of a stage coach demonstrates.

The Turnpike Trust

Turnpike trusts were local companies that were set up to maintain roads. They were toll roads, where the user had to pay a fee (a toll) to make use of the road. These trusts were needed because the government did not finance things such as roads at the time.

Turnpike trusts would need to raise quite a lot of money to make improvements to the roads. The image below shows you what roads were like in the days before tarmac and regular repairs to roads.

As roads were often simply mud tracks they would be cut up in wet weather, leaving ruts when they dried out. This could damage vehicles using the road and make the road very hard to use.

Roads such as these were not really suitable for transporting fragile goods along. Industrialists needed flat and hard wearing roads to enable larger wagons to be able to make use of them safely. Turnpike trusts enabled this to happen. The diagram below shows what the outcome of Turnpike trusts was for roads.

Straighter, hard wearing roads would improve journey times and make travelling more comfortable. paying for using the roads allowed Turnpike trusts to employ professionals to make and improve the roads, making travel by Road a lot more effective.

Not everybody was pleased with Turnpike Trusts however. Lots of people were very angry that they had to pay money to use roads that had previously been free. In some places there were violent protests about the roads and toll houses and toll gates were the target of angry mobs. These protests were called the Rebecca Riots.

As the Industrial Revolution continued and other forms of transport, such as the Canal and the Railway systems evolved, the need for Turnpike Trusts was reduced. Eventually the government and local authorities took responsibility for making roads. Further improvements were made, by engineers such as Telford, MacAdam and Metcalfe.

These men used a range of ideas, not too dissimilar to those that the Romans had used two thousand years earlier, to make roads flatter, smoother and more hard wearing. The diagram below shows the way in which each of these engineers designed their roads, making use of a variety of types of material.

Each of these engineers realised that roads needed to be ’rounded’ so that rain water could drain from the road easily. They each used a number of different sizes of stone to provide further drainage and a firm foundation. This led to roads becoming much stronger and safer for wagons and coache to use.


Canals are man made waterways. They were built during the Industrial Revolution to allow industrialists to move large quantities of raw materials and goods to and from their factories.

A canal has several big advantages over using roads. (Remember that roads at the time were not as good as they are nowadays).

Firstly a boat, or barge, on a canal is not going to have a bumpy journey so fragile goods are much less likely to smash on route. Secondly a canal barge is much larger than a horse drawn wagon and so it can be used to carry much more than wagons on Turnpike roads could be expected to. The third major advantage of canals is that, once they are built, they are very cheap to use. If a barge can carry 50 tonnes of coal and it only takes two men to look after the barge consider how much has been saved in wages if the largest wagon on the road could only carry 2 tonnes. There’s also less breakage so the factory has more goods to sell.

Industrialists soon realised that Canals were a very good idea and invested heavily in the construction of this new form of transport. By the end of ‘canal mania’ it was just about possible to use inland waterways to get goods from most cities to any of the major ports.

The engineers who designed Canals were very capable men. One of the basic problems with using water for transport purposes is that water doesn’t go up and down hills in the way that roads can. Britain, particularly the north of England where much of the industrialisation was happening, isn’t a very flat place. A solution had to be found, how can you go up and down hills on a canal? The answer was to use locks.

Using a system of gates on a hill the canal builder could create a system where-by the people working the barge could open and shut gates in the order demonstrated above to move the barge uphill. Locks such as these can still be seen today and are a feature of all British canals. The most famous example of locks in Britain being the ‘Five Rise locks’ in Bingley, West Yorkshire. Here there are 5 locks in quick succession to allow a barge to make a steep climb up a hill. (There is also a smaller 3 rise lock not so far away from this engineering masterpiece, showing how ‘hilly’ the area is).

Barges were powered initially by horses. A tow path can be found on one side of all canals. This was for the horses who dragged the barges up and down the canals. In tunnels however their was no tow path, the horse would be walked over the hill to the other side. To get through a tunnel the men working the barge would have to lay on top of the barge and use their feet of the side of the tunnel to ‘walk’ the barge through the tunnel. this process, illustrated below, was called legging.

Canal building stopped with the invention and development of the steam engine. Most of the canals of the industrial age are still navigable (boats can use them) and are used by thousands of people each year for barging holidays. Some canals are being redeveloped and reopened to recognise the importance that canals have in our heritage and to promote tourism in some areas.


Railways developed quickly following the early successes of the Stephenson’s and other pioneers. This new technology was the result of the invention and subsequent development of the steam engine. Steam could be used to power motors and had been used in mines to help bring coal and tin to the surface quicker. This idea was transferred to the notion of pulling wagons along rails and eventually Stephenson took the idea one stage further and built the steam engine into a wagon.

This first ‘train’ was very slow and initially scared a lot of people but soon the early railway lines between Liverpool and Manchester and Stockton and Darlington were accepted and people began to realise that Rail had a lot to offer industry and society in general.

The railways spread across the country at an amazing rate as companies were established to build and run the new lines. Many were financed by industry, eager to have quicker delivery of goods and a wider sales reach.

The impact of the railways was great. Industry benefited as goods could now be transported faster and in even greater quantities than before, reducing costs and creating bigger markets. The construction of the railway network also fueled demand for coal and steel. Ordinary people saw the benefits too. They could now get around the country much quicker and for the first time holidays out of the city were a possibility (Thomas Cook organising the first ‘package’ holiday from Leicester Station to the seaside). Communications in general improved as well. Newspapers could now be sent from London and Manchester, where most of the national dailies are printed, to towns across the country, the postage system became much quicker and movement of workers became a more realistic prospect.

One of the most noticeable consequences of the growth of the Railways was the rapid development of a number of towns. Crewe and Peterborough are both examples of towns that grew quickly due to their location on the railway network.

There were however several negative consequences of the growth of the Railways. Many people lost money from previous investments in canals, people who worked on the canals found themselves out of work.

Before the canal age Wiltshire was little served by navigable rivers. The head of the Thames navigation was at Lechlade in Gloucestershire, whence coal and other goods brought up the river were distributed in the neighbouring parts of Wiltshire, (fn. 1) and agricultural produce collected. Barges worked above Lechlade to Cricklade, and even perhaps occasionally to Ashton Keynes, from time to time, but there is little evidence of this trade. Probably it was only carried on during times of abundant water, and ceased as soon as the Thames & Severn Canal was opened in 1789. (fn. 2) On the other side of the county the making navigable of the Hampshire Avon had been authorized in 1664–5. The work was partially done by about the end of the century, a few barges passed, and then the works were said to have been washed away by a flood. They were not rebuilt. (fn. 3)

The idea of joining the Thames to the Bristol Avon by a canal was as old as the reign of Elizabeth I, and several proposals were made, but the project was too great for the times. (fn. 4) When the canal age came, the Kennet had already been made navigable from the Thames at Reading to Newbury (fn. 5) and the Bristol Avon to Bath, and in the latter case there had been proposals in 1734–5 and again in 1765 for the extension of the navigation above Bath to Lacock and Chippenham, which had come to nothing. It was Francis Page, who had recently become the owner of the Kennet Navigation, who seems to have made the first serious proposal to connect the two. In an interview in October 1770 (fn. 6) James Sharp told George III that 'Mr. Page has told me of another proposition . . . to continue the canal near the River Kennet, in a direct line from Reading to Newbury, and from thence to Hungerford, Marlborough, Calne, Chippenham, and from thence to the River Avon to Bath. . . . It is very possible sometime or other, inferior people may get into their bedchambers at Somerset House, and never be removed from thence till they are landed upon the Parade at Bath.' When in 1788 a meeting was called at Hungerford to promote such a canal, then called the Western Canal, under the chairmanship of Charles Dundas, Francis Page attended and supported it.

The needs of the countryside for transport at the time can be deduced from a pamphlet issued soon afterwards: 'The price of carriage of coals, and all other heavy articles, will be greatly reduced the estates of gentlemen and farmers, will be improved at much easier expense by the introduction of free-stone, timber, brick, tile, and other building materials lime, peat-ashes and manure, of all sorts. They will find new markets for the produce of their farms and estates: corn, malt, cheese, and other productions, will meet with a ready and cheap conveyance to the great marts.' (fn. 7) The route surveyed and approved by Robert Whitworth and John Rennie was the same as Page had originally suggested, and in November 1790 a further meeting 'resolved unanimously that a junction of the Rivers Kennet and Avon, by a canal navigation from Newbury to Bath, by Hungerford, Ramsbury, Marlborough, and the Cherhill lower level, under the White Horse Hill, and through Calne, Chippenham, Lacock, Melksham, and Bradford, at the estimated expense of £213,940 is practicable, and will be highly useful and beneficial to the subscribers, and to the public at large'. (fn. 8)

Sufficient support was lacking, however, from the landowners and country gentlemen who were its promoters the merchants of Bristol do not seem to have been brought in. The project lay dormant, until it was suddenly revived in Bristol during the canal mania of 1792. Another group of promoters held a meeting there in December 1792, and began to raise subscriptions. Dundas and his supporters moved quickly, absorbed the new men from Bristol and Bath, and action began upon what now became known as the Kennet & Avon Canal. (fn. 9) The route was resurveyed by Rennie, who now abandoned the Marlborough-Calne line, and recommended a new route by Devizes, with a branch to Marlborough and another to Calne and Chippenham, so substituting a short tunnel at Savernake for a long one under the White Horse Hill in Cherhill.

By early 1794 the branch to Marlborough had been dropped, and that to Calne and Chippenham relinquished to another company proposing to build a canal, the Wilts. & Berks. In that year the Kennet & Avon was authorized from the Avon at Bath by Bradford-on-Avon, Devizes, Pewsey, Burbage (for Marlborough), Great Bedwyn, and Hungerford to the Kennet at Newbury, and a committee of 24 was chosen to control it, 10 from Bristol, 7 from the Hungerford district, and 7 from the middle district centred upon Marlborough.

Construction had begun by 1796. The rising prices of the time made the building more expensive than had been expected, as scarcity of money succeeded the prodigality of the canal mania. By 1799 the section of canal from Newbury to Great Bedwyn was open, and that from Foxhangers below Devizes to Bath by 1804, Foxhangers having previously been linked to Devizes about the end of 1802 by a double-track horse tramroad. In 1807 the Devizes-Pewsey section was complete, and that from Pewsey to Great Bedwyn was finished about the end of 1809. Finally, the whole canal was opened on 28 December 1810 on the completion of the Devizes locks.

The Kennet & Avon is a broad, or barge, canal, built to take barges carrying up to 60 tons, although much of its traffic was carried in narrow boats from the Somersetshire Coal, or the Wilts. & Berks., Canals. It is 57 miles long from Bath to Newbury, with 79 locks, which raise the canal 404 ft. 6 in. from Bath to the summit level at Savernake, and then lower it 210 ft. to Newbury. The main engineering features of the canal are the Dundas (Limpley Stoke) and Avoncliff aqueducts over the Avon between Bradfordon-Avon and Bath, the Bruce tunnel at Savernake (502 yds.), and the great flight of 29 locks at Devizes which lift the canal from the Avon valley to the Vale of Pewsey.

While the Kennet & Avon was being built, the Wilts. & Berks. (fn. 10) was also under construction. This, the second of Wiltshire's important canals, originated partly in Page's and Rennie's original line for the Kennet & Avon by way of Calne and Chippenham, and partly in a proposal to by-pass the poor navigation of the upper Thames by a canal from Kempsford above Lechlade to Abingdon. As authorized in 1795, its line was from the Kennet & Avon Canal at Semington, near Trowbridge, by Melksham, Dauntsey, Wootton Bassett, and Swindon to Abingdon to join the Thames, with branches to Calne and Chippenham. The engineer was William Whitworth. By the middle of 1801 the line was open from Semington to near Wootton Bassett, together with the Calne and Chippenham branches. It was completed to Swindon in 1804, and to Abingdon on 22 September 1810. The Wilts. & Berks., unlike the Kennet & Avon, was a narrowboat canal, taking craft of about 30 tons. The main line from Semington to Abingdon was 51 miles long, the Calne branch 3 1 /8 miles, and that to Chippenham 2 miles long. It rose 189 ft. 3 in. by 24 locks from Semington to the summit between Wootton Bassett and South Marston, and then fell 163 ft. 9 in. by 18 locks to Abingdon. There were also three locks on the Calne branch.

Both these important canals were finished in 1810 the first had cost about £950,000, and the second £256,000. The traffic of the Kennet & Avon was based on coal, mainly derived from the Somerset coalfield by way of the Somersetshire Coal Canal, which joined it at Limpley Stoke, some from the Gloucestershire field by way of horse tramroads to the Avon. This coal was carried eastwards along the canal to wharves such as those at Avoncliff, Bradford-on-Avon, Hilperton, Seend, Devizes, Honey Street (in Woodborough), Pewsey, Wootton Rivers, Burbage, Great Bedwyn, Little Bedwyn, and Froxfield, to Hungerford, Newbury, Reading, and places on the Thames. Supplies of coal also passed for a short distance upon the Kennet & Avon, and then entered the Wilts. & Berks. at Semington to be landed at all the wharves along the line, such as Melksham, Lacock, Chippenham, Calne, Stanley (in Bremhill), Dauntsey, Wootton Bassett, Wroughton, Swindon, Stratton St. Margaret, and South Marston, and places to Abingdon and the Thames.

The supply of coal along the lines of the two canals, and from their wharves by land carriage to places farther away, was their principal contribution to the economy of the county. They brought also stone for road-making, salt for men and cattle, bricks, timber, and roofing material for building, and manure for the land, and took away corn, 'the cheese for which north Wiltshire is so much celebrated', (fn. 11) and other produce. In addition, the Kennet & Avon carried a considerable long-distance traffic between Bristol and Bath at one end, and Reading and places down the Thames to London at the other. Soon after it was opened there were attempts by the Wilts. & Berks. Co. to work up a similar long-distance traffic, and to propose a canal link from their line at Abingdon to the Grand Junction Canal at Marsworth beyond Aylesbury. This would have given an all-canal line to London, but the narrow and more roundabout waterway could not in this respect compete with the broad and straighter Kennet & Avon.

Local traffic such as coal, and heavy long-distance cargoes carried in barges on the Kennet & Avon, was supplemented by fly or express boats for light merchandise, which ran to a time-table. These craft travelled fast, usually by day and night, and had precedence at locks. They seem to have worked on the Kennet & Avon from 1824, mainly for through goods, but also for fast local traffic. In 1825 a fly-boat was put on the Wilts. & Berks. between Bristol and Melksham, and another soon afterwards from Melksham to Abingdon, and from Abingdon by Swindon to Gloucester. This last ran by way of the North Wilts. Canal, (fn. 12) which was opened in 1819 from Swindon on the Wilts. & Berks. to Latton, where it joined the Thames & Severn.

Passengers were carried on most canals, but usually the services were occasional, such as on market days. Both the Kennet & Avon and the Wilts. & Berks. had passenger boats, but it is not possible to be certain over what periods. In 1808, before either canal was fully open, a boat was working between Shrivenham and Bath: there was a service between Bath and Bradford-on-Avon at intervals between 1808 and about 1840, (fn. 13) and as late as 1851 a passenger boat was working between Wootton Rivers and Devizes.

The idea of a canal from the Thames to the Severn, (fn. 14) like that of a waterway from the Thames to the Bristol Avon, had been long in mind. It was brought nearer when in 1779 the Stroudwater Canal was completed from the Severn at Framilode to Stroud. Meetings were held in 1781, and in 1782 the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, which had a direct interest in promoting a through water route between the Midlands and London, helped to get a survey made by Robert Whitworth. (fn. 15) A meeting of supporters of the canal in January 1783 decided to go ahead, and an Act was obtained in the same year for a broad canal to run from the Stroudwater at Stroud by Brimscombe, Chalford, Sapperton, Siddington, Latton, and Cricklade to the Thames at Inglesham, with a branch to Cirencester. It was opened in 1789, the main engineering feature being the Sapperton tunnel, 3,817 yds. long, at that time the longest canal tunnel in Britain. The Thames & Severn Canal was 28¾ miles long, with a rise from Stroud of 240 ft. 11 in. by 28 locks to the summit at Sapperton, and a fall from the farther end of the summit at Siddington of 128 ft. by 16 locks to the junction with the Thames. The cost was about £220,000.

Though built as a trunk canal, the Thames & Severn (fn. 16) was used only for a short time as the main route between the Midlands and London, for a shorter line by way of Oxford was opened one year later, in 1790. It was, however, the only canal route from Bristol to London until the construction of the Kennet & Avon. It in fact depended for its receipts upon local trade. This consisted mainly in the carriage of Forest of Dean and Staffordshire coal from the Severn to the Golden Valley, Cirencester, Latton, Cricklade, Kempsford, and Lechlade, where a depot was established to supply the neighbouring parts of Wiltshire, Berkshire, and Gloucestershire.

This local trade was not enough to yield the shareholders a satisfactory profit, and many attempts were made to persuade the Thames Commissioners to improve the river down to Oxford, and so to encourage a through trade from the Severn to the Thames. (fn. 17) When at last it was clear that the Commissioners did not intend to act, the canal company decided that the only alternative was to support a canal linking the Wilts. & Berks. at Swindon to the Thames & Severn at Latton, a proposal that in one form or another was as old as the Wilts. & Berks. itself. (fn. 18) Such a canal would enable barges to avoid the bad navigation of the upper Thames by passing through canals all the way to Abingdon, from which town downstream the Thames was adequately supplied with locks. The disadvantage was that the Wilts. & Berks was a narrow canal. The capacity of the Thames & Severn, therefore, would not be fully used and much of its water wasted.

The linking canal, the North Wilts., was built by a separate company with the support of the Thames & Severn and the Wilts. & Berks., and the help of a loan of £15,000 from the Exchequer Bill Loan Commissioners. In 1821, two years after it was opened, the Wilts. & Berks. company reported to its shareholders that 'the managers of the North Wilts. having represented the impossibility of satisfying the demands of Government for the repayment of the loan which they have contracted, and proposing an incorporation with this canal, the committee, considering the large stake which the Wilts. & Berks. Canal have in that concern . . . are of opinion that the proposition should be acceded to . . .' . (fn. 19) The amalgamation took place in the same year. The North Wilts. Canal was 9 miles long, with 12 locks, an aqueduct over the upper Thames, and a short tunnel at Cricklade. Its cost was about £35,000. It showed its usefulness as soon as it was opened, and in time the traffic which passed through it had a considerable effect upon that of the parent canals.

The Kennet & Avon, the Wilts. & Berks., and the Thames & Severn were all in their way important waterways. They were a means of distributing coal and other necessaries along the valley of the Bristol Avon, the Vale of Pewsey, and the Vale of White Horse, and of taking away agricultural produce. They carried through traffic between Bristol or Gloucester and London. Yet these services were at little profit to the shareholders upon the combined construction cost of nearly £1½ million. Table 1 gives some comparative figures.

The Wiltshire Canals. Receipts, Dividends and Tons carried 1818–38

Kennet & Avon Thames & Severn Wilts. & Berks.
Year Toll receipts Dividends Tons carried Toll receipts Dividends Tons carried Toll receipts Divi-dends Tons carried
1818 £32,911 (fn. 20) 2.25% (fn. 20) Unknown £4,428 (fn. 20) 1.5% new (fn. 20) Unknown £7,627 (fn. 20) None Unknown
0.65% old (fn. 20) (estimate)
1828 £44,247 (fn. 20) 3.1% (fn. 20) Unknown £5,505 (fn. 21) 1.5% new (fn. 20) 57,633 (fn. 22) £10,719 (fn. 21) None 51,502 (fn. 22)
1.2% old (fn. 20)
1838 £52,348 (fn. 20) 3.4% (fn. 20) 341,878 (fn. 22) £6,489 (fn. 20) 1.9% new (fn. 20) 60,894 (fn. 22) £12,798 (fn. 20) 2.9% (fn. 21) 62,899 (fn. 22)
1.9% old (fn. 20)

This canal system into and across Wiltshire had begun with the opening of the Thames & Severn in 1789, been expanded by the completion of the Kennet & Avon and the Wilts. & Berks. in 1810, and been rounded off by the opening of the North Wilts. in 1819. It had not been in existence long, therefore, when the first proposals were made for a railway from London to Bristol, or even when the threats of competition these proposals carried with them were made actual by the passing of the Great Western Railway Act in 1835. (fn. 23) This line followed a route from London by Reading, Swindon, Chippenham, and Bath to Bristol. It, therefore, competed directly with the Kennet & Avon only in through traffic from Bristol and Bath to Reading and London, in the Bristol-Bath trade on the Avon, and in the local trade in the Bath and Reading areas, which could now be carried also from the railway stations there. The rest of the canal's trade, mainly coal from the Somersetshire Coal Canal, and imported goods from Bristol to Devizes and places along the line towards Reading, was not affected. The impact of the railway was enough, however, to cause a sharp fall in tolls and receipts, and in long-distance, although not in total, tonnage carried. Economy was practised, and efforts were made to increase efficiency, until in 1845, at the time of the railway mania, the canal company decided to promote a Bill to construct a railway, the London, Newbury & Bath Direct, alongside the canal.

The Bill had some success, but was in the end withdrawn after an arrangement for compensation had been made with the Great Western. There was an effort from 1848 (by which year the dividend had fallen to ½ per cent.) by the canal company to maintain its position by entering the carrying trade, but the pressure was too great, and in 1851 representatives approached the Great Western. The railway company agreed to acquire the canal for a payment that would yield ¾ per cent. a year on the shares, and the transfer was made in 1852. The carrying business was continued by the railway company until 1873, and then closed down.

The opening of the Reading-Hungerford line in 1847 (fn. 24) had meant more rail competition with the waterway, and this was increased by the Holt-Devizes line in 1857, (fn. 25) and the Hungerford-Devizes line in 1862. (fn. 26) These two lines caused a steady decline in the canal's local trade, while the diversion of Somerset coal from canal to railway between 1874 and 1898 (fn. 27) removed the main source of supply. By 1906 there was almost no commercial traffic within Wiltshire on the canal, and although efforts have since been made to restart it, they have been unsuccessful. Under the Transport Act, 1947, the canal became the property of the British Transport Commission. A few years before this transfer the canal had ceased to be navigable throughout its whole length, and in 1956 the Commission introduced a Bill to prepare a scheme for abandonment.

The main line of the Great Western Railway, which had avoided the route of the Kennet & Avon, ran close to that of the Wilts. & Berks. from near Abingdon to Chippenham, and its opening caused an immediate and heavy fall in traffic along the canal's eastern section from Swindon to Abingdon. The western section from Swindon to Semington was less affected, because for a few more years it still held the Somerset coal trade up the Avon valley. It too suffered decline, however, when, in 1848, the Wilts., Somerset, & Weymouth Railway was opened from Thingley Junction near Chippenham to Westbury via Melksham. (fn. 28) The post of wharfinger at Swindon was given up in 1861, and that at Abingdon in 1867 the last dividend was paid in 1870, and the diversion of Somerset coal to rail, that began in 1874, was the beginning of the end.

After some inconclusive negotiations with the Great Western in 1874, the company sold out in the same year for about £13,500 to a new group, the Wilts. & Berks. Canal lessees, who raised money to put the canal in order. They in turn leased it in 1882 to a group of Bristol merchants, who, after losing money, were released from their commitment in 1888. The lessees then again worked the canal until 1891, when another company, the United Commercial Syndicate, was formed to take it over. Once again the waterway was put in order, and this time a regular service of fly-boats from Bristol was started. Again the enterprise failed, and the syndicate then tried to abandon the whole canal except for the North Wilts., which the Thames & Severn agreed to take over. The attempt at abandonment was unsuccessful, and thereafter the canal decayed. Traffic ceased in 1906, and in 1914, at the instigation of Swindon Corporation, an Act was passed to close the canal, including the North Wilts. branch, and to use Coate Water, the canal reservoir, for public purposes. Soon afterwards the canal became derelict.

Railway relations with the Thames & Severn were more complicated. The canal was faced with direct railway competition when in 1836 the Cheltenham & Great Western Union Railway was authorized from Cheltenham to Swindon. (fn. 29) This company had its difficulties, and in May 1841 the line was opened from Swindon only to Kemble, together with the Cirencester branch. The company was then bought by the Great Western, which completed the line to Gloucester in May 1845. The canal, like most others similarly placed, had benefited from the carriage of railway construction material while the line was building. Thereafter the through trade between Gloucester and London via Swindon, and also the coal-carrying trade upwards from the Severn, was badly affected. Competition caused the tolls of the Thames & Severn to fall more heavily than those of the Kennet & Avon or the Wilts. & Berks., for there was little other traffic to fall back upon.

By the early sixties the canal company was in serious difficulties (it paid its last dividend in 1864), but it had an asset in its great Sapperton tunnel. In 1865, therefore, it proposed to turn itself into a railway company, and build a line from a railway connexion at Stroud, through the tunnel, and on to Fairford, to join a railway branch from Oxford. There was heavy opposition, and the Bill failed. In this year the enterprising Richard Potter resigned from the chairmanship of the Great Western Railway, which had opposed the Bill, and some years later he began to buy the canal shares until he had a controlling interest. He probably had a railway conversion scheme in mind, for at the end of a letter written in September 1876 (fn. 30) to the canal company's clerk offering to buy shares, he says:'. . . I will conclude by saying that my scheme of reorganization involves not only the maintenance of your present position, but in all probability an enlarged sphere of employment and a higher status.' When in 1881 an extension of the Andover-Swindon line was authorized from Swindon to Cheltenham, (fn. 31) Potter and the canal company promoted a Bill for a branch through the tunnel to Stroud. This also was lost, but it had frightened the Great Western, which, through nominees, bought control of the canal from Potter in order to prevent any future railway being built.

In 1893 the Great Western, having no use for the canal, closed most of it. There was then an outcry, which led to the transfer of the canal in 1895 to a trust consisting of three canal companies, the Severn Commission, the Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, and Berkshire county councils, and the towns of Stroud and Cirencester. It was made a condition that the canal was not converted into a railway. The trust failed to make the canal serviceable, for the leakages through the limestone of the summit, which had always been a trouble to the canal company, seem now to have become worse. The trust abandoned the undertaking in 1901, and it was then taken over by the Gloucestershire County Council, although the companies and bodies which had formed the trust still had limited liabilities. The county council spent some £26,000 on the canal, and the Thames Conservancy a further sum on the upper river, but the engineering difficulties persisted, and hampered what little traffic had survived the previous interruptions. The last craft passed through the tunnel in 1911, and most of the canal, including all that lying within Wiltshire, was abandoned in 1927.

One last waterway, this time abortive, remains to be mentioned. In 1789 a canal, the Andover, had been authorized to run from the tideway at Redbridge to that town, and was completed about 1796. At the time of the canal mania of 1792 there had been a proposal for a canal from Bristol and Bath to Salisbury and Southampton, (fn. 32) but this collapsed when the Kennet & Avon was authorized. It was then suggested that the Kennet & Avon might be joined either to the Andover or to Salisbury. If the latter, another canal might be built from Salisbury to Southampton. (fn. 33) A paper written about January 1794 (fn. 34) says: 'The corporation and principals of the city of Salisbury are more anxious than ever for a communication with the sea, because they consider it next to a certainty that the Kennet & Avon will join Andover, by which a very grand junction will be formed, and Salisbury cut out without a branch to the Andover Navigation. The majority of Salisbury considered that by having a canal to Southampton only they should have much more inland trade than if extended to Bristol.'

The connexion between the Kennet & Avon and Andover was never built, nor was it ever joined to Salisbury, but in 1795 an Act was obtained for a Salisbury & Southampton Canal (fn. 35) to run from Salisbury to Kimbridge on the Andover Canal, and from near Redbridge on that canal to Northam on the Itchen via Southampton. Neither the Salisbury nor the Southampton portion of the canal was ever finished, though both were begun and partly opened. The line from Kimbridge to Salisbury, about 14 miles long, was intended to have 17 locks and a short tunnel near Salisbury. Contracts for it were let almost at once, but work proceeded only spasmodically, for money was scarce. In April 1802 this portion was navigable from Kimbridge through 7 locks to West Dean, and in January 1803 to the fifteenth lock at Alderbury, where a wharf was made, and a short horse tramroad built, 629 yds. long, to join the temporary wharf to the turnpike road. Very little traffic resulted, and even this seems to have ceased about the end of 1806. The proprietors, unable to raise money to finish a canal which offered no prospect of profit, met for the last time in March 1808. The works then decayed, and in 1834 the clerk recorded that 'The proprietors have mostly resumed their lands, pulled down the locks and filled it up'. (fn. 36) The bed was later used for the Kimbridge Junction to Salisbury (Milford) line of the Bishopstoke & Salisbury Railway, opened in 1847. (fn. 37)

Canals 1750 to 1900

Canals were needed for the Industrial Revolution which was creating huge amounts of heavy produce which had to be moved. Roads simply could not handle such weights and the vehicles needed to move this produce did not exist. Canals were the answer to moving heavy objects large distances.

Canals were man-made rivers which were deep enough to cope with barges which were capable of moving nearly forty tonnes of weight. This was far more than a pack of mules could carry or a horse and carriage.

The man most associated with early canals was the Duke of Bridgewater. He owned coal mines in Lancashire but he needed to get the coal to the big market of Manchester which was nearly six miles away. The duke gave the task of designing and building the canal to James Brindley – an engineer who at this time had never built a canal before. As such, the duke was taking a great risk and he even had to borrow £25,000 to pay for the project – which was a vast sum of money then.

It took two years to build the canal which was completed in 1761. The canal had a series of tunnels which were linked directly to the coal mines. But its most famous section was the Barton Aqueduct which took the canal over the River Irwin.

The canal was a huge success as it made the duke a lot of money

The price of coal fell in Manchester by 50% therefore making it cheaper and the cheaper it was the more was sold. People could not get enough of the duke’s coal

Brindley gained fame and more work

Other people saw the success of the Bridgewater Canal and decided to do likewise thus opening up Britain even more with a series of canals that linked the major industrial centres of Britain.

Brindley designed and built nearly 400 miles of canals. His biggest project was the Trent and Mersey canal which linked two major industrial areas of Britain. He also found ways to get around certain natural problems which would make canals redundant.

Canals had to be perfectly flat or else the water would simply run away. Likewise, the canals had to be waterproofed…….for obvious reasons. Brindley used an old process called puddling which lined the sides and bottom of a canal with clay mixed with water. He tried to go around hills where possible but if this was impossible he used locks to move a canal barge up or down before it returned to a flat level.

Canals could make those who invested in them vast sums of money. In the 1790’s so-called “canal mania” took place when people invested their money into practically every canal project. Canals were good at moving fragile goods such as pottery and also heavy goods such as coal. They were actually faster than carriages and pack mules as once a horse got a barge moving, its own momentum would keep it going at a decent pace. By 1840, there were nearly 4,500 miles of canals in Britain. Yet within years their great days were over. Why ?

Different builders build different size canals so that different size canal barges were needed. One canal barge might not be able to use a canal built by another engineer. This, naturally, limited them a great deal.

Better roads had lead to better horse drawn carriages being developed. These were a lot faster than barges and passengers used these in preference to canals.

Food that rotted quickly could not be transported by canal as refrigerated units had yet to be invented.

Canals could freeze up in winter and a hot summer could literally dry them out if they were not topped up with water on a regular basis.

Trains were soon to take over the role played by the canals.

Commentary: Expansion of the Panama Canal benefits global trade

As a FreightWaves reader you know that FreightWaves is constantly pursuing coverage of the most important transportation issues in the world. To that end, its reporters frequently travel to strategic logistics sites to ensure a live-action view of what is going on. Recently I visited the Panama Canal and I am happy to report that things are running smoothly with some newly completed developments and some interesting projects on the horizon.

It seems like just the other day that the expansion of the canal, and whether that gamble would pay off, was the top news in logistics. But fast forward a few years and now the 6,000 th new Panamax (or Neo-Panamax) ship passed through the canal in April. It appears that Panama’s big bet that promised to keep the Canal and the country competitive with other shipping routes is doing just that. In fact, the Panama Canal now accounts for around 12 percent of the country’s economy. (If you are interested, read this Flashback Friday article about the history of the Panama Canal.)

The construction of the Panama Canal has been termed the greatest engineering feat of the 20th century.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

Currently around 12,000 ships pass through the Panama Canal annually, or about 32 per day. The expansion cost around $5.25 billion and allows the larger Neo-Panamax ships to move through the canal. The expansion occurred just in time to coincide with an unprecedented increase in international trade, especially in trans-Pacific shipping.

Designed precisely to be 1,200 feet long, 168 feet wide and 47 feet deep to ensure a fit in the newly improved canal, the Neo-Panamax ships are about 1.5 times the size of Panamax ships and transport twice the cargo. These ships can carry more than 14,000 20-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers. The expansion project, completed in June 2016, built locks that were 70 feet wider and 18 feet deeper than the original locks. The Panama Canal can now service over 96 percent of all ships in service and the project doubled the number of ships that can pass through the canal at any given time. But the Panama Canal Authority (Autoridad del Canal de Panama or ACP) isn’t finished yet.

The third bridge across the Panama Canal was just completed. It is called Atlantic Bridge and is located near the city of Colon on the Caribbean side of the canal. Construction of the fourth bridge across the Panama Canal began earlier this year. The new bridge is being constructed on the Pacific side of the canal near Panama City. This bridge is expected to help traffic congestion in and around the city, which will allow for freer movement of goods around the port as well. Some officials in Panama are hoping that the bridge – with its newly created traffic efficiencies – will provide an incentive for the building of a new port that is having trouble getting off the ground as well.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

In 2017, plans were scrapped for a new port in the Corozal section of Panama City. But some ACP officials are hopefully it will be the next project to begin after the new bridge is completed. The port would cover 635 acres and would be a free-trade zone. However, when bids were sought from the four pre-qualified operators in 2017, none of them submitted a proposal. It appears that the ACP is considering restructuring the plan and resubmitting it for proposals. The new port would be a $1.93 billion project that would further increase the capacity that can pass through the canal.

Currently, 6 percent of all world trade passes through the Panama Canal. The United States is the largest user of the canal the second-largest is China. Approximately 60 percent of all the cargo that passes through the Panama Canal either originates in or is destined for the United States. But despite being such a strategic “short-cut” for global shipping, the canal does have competition. The canal’s biggest competitors are Egypt’s Suez Canal, which does not have locks and is much cheaper to pass through, and the U.S. intermodal system, which is highly efficient and relatively inexpensive.

Photo courtesy of the Panama Canal Authority.

Costs have become the canal’s stumbling block, with an average passage priced at around $450,000. Ships pay about $99 per full container, $59 for empties and thousands of dollars more for tugboats, groundwires and ground assistants. Before the canal was expanded, the record paid for a single passage was $461,000. With the Neo-Panamax ships in play, the average jumped and so did the record, to over $1.1 million.

Since the United States relinquished its claim to the Panama Canal Zone, China has steadily crept into the void left behind. In Part 2 of this article, I will write about China’s relationship with Panama and the Panama Canal and what that means for the United States, the Western economies and global trade in general.

The Idea of Putrefaction in the Treatises

Arguments against Inflammation Theory

Although most theorists saw puerperal fever as inflammatory, a few adopted the opposing view that inflammation was a consequence and an appearance—rather than a cause—of the condition. Those physicians who were more interested in putrefaction than inflammation tended to play down the role of inflammation in the origin of the disease. Charles White, for example, observed that “it does not appear that this disorder can be ascribed to simple inflammation”. 101 William Butter and Philip Pitt Walsh also argued against the centrality of inflammatory theory. Butter saw all fevers as disorders of the 𠇏irst passages” (that is, the alimentary canal) 102 whilst Walsh argued that puerperal fever was essentially a “synochus”𠅊 disease of debility rather than excitability or inflammation. 103

Generally speaking, those theorists who favoured an explanation of puerperal fever grounded upon ideas about putrefaction were more likely to make use of “solidist” explanations. Furthermore, those physicians whose perspective was more clearly or “purely” solidist—such as Thomas Kirkland—were likely to refute inflammatory explanations of the origin of this disease. Kirkland accepted that spasms of the nerves and muscles during delivery did lead to obstructions of “small vessels”, yet emphasized that inflammation followed from rather than caused other events. 104 Nevertheless, in his treatise of 1774, Kirkland did state:

I believe it is a certain fact, whatever may be the cause of a puerperal fever, that within a limited time the whole abdomen is more or less inflamed because the belly always turns green and putrid, in a very short time after death. 105

Hence, inflammation still makes an important appearance in what Kirkland sees as the natural history of the disease. 106

John Alexander, writing in the 1830s, argued that puerperal fever was initially a disease of the abdominal nerves. 107 It could, however, “merge” into an inflammatory condition depending on other circumstances present at the time. Hence, if the patient had been constipated, inflammation of the intestines might ensue. If she had undergone a difficult or damaging labour, the uterus might become inflamed, and if she had been exposed to cold, the peritoneum might have become affected. These inflammations were not, however, in themselves puerperal fever. 108

Theories of Putrefaction

The idea of putrefaction was an important component of fever theory, and its extension was the notion of putrid effluvium, a subject explained by Kirkland and others in terms of the exhalation of the putrid matter into the air, and thence its conveyance to other individuals. 109 The basic cause of the symptoms, predominant among which were weakness, debility and fever, was the effect of acrid matter in the body, which in eruptive fevers, or exanthemata, was expelled, in part onto the surface of the body, to cause the characteristic rash. 110

The nature of putrefaction and of putrid effluvium was one that was given considerable attention by Matthew Dobson in his 1779 treatise, A medical commentary on fixed air. He describes putrefaction as:

the great process appointed by the CREATOR, for the resolution of animal and vegetable substances into the elements from which they were first formed. By this process, the oak and the bramble, the cedar and the hyssop, fruits whether delicious and nutritive, or acrid and poisonous, the most beautiful of the human species, and the most deformed of any of the other tribes of animals, are all reduced to one common lot. 111

Hence, Dobson speaks of nature as something which does not necessarily favour mankind it is, rather, an essentially rational, impersonal, impartial system, in which the bramble and the oak, the human being and the other animals will all meet the same fate𠅊 dissolution or disintegration into particles which will then be reformed into new beings. This essentially materialist and fatalistic viewpoint�spite several references to the will of God𠅎mphasizes that the system may work on its own without divine intervention.

The atomist theories which characterized this passage had throughout the early modern period been closely connected with atheism, and the dilemma for those scientists and philosophers who were interested in them𠅊mong them Descartes, Newton, Gassendi and Charleton—was whether there was a role for God in a mechanistic universe. This tension between natural philosophy and religion is still present in Dobson's writings, but Dobson is going beyond a purely mechanistic view of human functioning and adopting a more complex physiology, in which putrefaction is part of a vital process. 112 The most important element of this theory was the observation that the breakdown of living matter into particles was a dangerous process. As these particles entered the air they became a potentially damaging substance known as “putrid effluvium”.

A slightly more limited view was taken by William Fordyce, who saw putrefaction as a tendency possessed by some of the body fluids to a greater extent than others. Bile he saw as the fluid with the most dangerous putrefactive tendencies. 113 The theory espoused by Denis Doulcet and reported by John Whitehead led to a belief that any cure that could remove putrid substances from the alimentary tract—such as ipecacuanha—was useful. 114

In his preface to Albrecht von Haller's Dissertation on the sensible and irritable parts of animals, 1755, Samuel Tissot argued that most theories of fevers and inflammation drew upon ideas about the acridity and thus irritability of the blood. 115 Putrid matter was frequently described as �rid” by physicians, and hence could fulfil the role of irritant in the aetiology of puerperal fever. However, if acrid putrid matter caused inflammation which in turn led to the development of more pus—through the inflammatory process—the explanation of fever becomes cyclical, and the question remains: which comes first, inflammation or putrefaction?

Some writers still expressed ideas of putrefaction in terms borrowed from humoral theory. Henry Manning, for example, saw the disease as being essentially due to “putrid humours”. His description of the process by which the disease became putrid was similar to the more directly inflammatory theories of contemporaries such as Denman, but he placed more emphasis on putrefaction as the basis of the disease. He argued for the importance of the vomiting and diarrhoea, suggesting that “the matter discharged by those evacuations is what chiefly foments the disease”. 116 Similarly, writers such as White and Butter believed puerperal fever to be the result of poor lifestyle and “putrid effluvium” in the air. 117 White explained puerperal fever as being caused by the absorption of acrid matter from the uterus. 118 He also referred to the infectious or contagious nature of the disease and hence has received more modern attention than some of the other treatise writers. 119

The link between inflammation and putrefaction in the puerperal fever treatises is a difficult and somewhat complex one, and the impression is given that writers themselves were uncertain about how to draw this link. Denman provides a particularly interesting example of a writer whose perspective is developed over time—possibly as a result of reading the works of Hulme and Leake, as well as of his own increasing experience. In his Essays on the puerperal fever and on puerperal convulsions of 1768, he argued that puerperal fever began as an inflammatory condition, but progressed to a putrid disease after “some days”. His evidence for this progression was a brown coating on the teeth, nausea, petecchiae and sometimes vesicular eruptions and diarrhoea. He added that “the stools are of such a nature as might be expected, and such as are always found in bilious and putrid diseases”. 120 In his later and much altered edition of this work, the Essays on the puerperal fever of 1773, Denman offered a more detailed description of this transition to putridity, commenting in particular on the nature of the stools, which become “very fetid, of a green or dark brown colour, and working like yeast”. 121

The concept of putrefaction was important to all writers on the subject of puerperal fever. Most saw it more as a consequence than as a cause of the fever. Inflammatory processes could lead to suppuration of organs and tissues, whilst debility and laxity of fibres could result in the retention of putrid fluids. 122 White, however, saw puerperal fever as a disease which was fundamentally putrid. He related it to a number of factors affecting pregnancy, and argued that it could, in particular, be a consequence of prolonged constipation during pregnancy:

We must look back as far as the early months of pregnancy. At this period the tightness of the stays and petticoat bindings, the weight of the pockets and of the petticoats, press the womb, already enlarged by the foetus and its membranes, so strongly against the lower intestines as to prevent the descent and exclusion of the excrements. … This excrementitious matter being absorbed into the circulation undoubtedly occasions a great inclination to putridity. 123

The process of putrefaction which thus begins early in pregnancy is continued at the time of delivery, by the “profuse sweats” which the woman experiences and which are encouraged by the fact that her chamber is deliberately maintained in a hot, airless state, by the exclusion of draughts, the presence of many birth attendants and the maintenance of a large fire. The heat and presence of many people's breath renders the air 𠇏oul and unfit for respiration”, in a similar way to that in which the air of hospitals, jails and overcrowded accommodations is made unhealthy. The putrid fevers generated in such environments are almost invariably infectious. 124

As soon as she is delivered, if she is a person in affluent circumstances, she is covered up close in bed with additional clothes, the curtains are drawn round the bed and pinned together, every crevice in the windows and door is stopped close, not excepting even the keyhole, the windows are guarded not only with shutters and curtains, but even with blankets, the more effectually to exclude the fresh air, and the good woman is not suffered to put her arm, or even her nose, out of bed, for fear of catching cold. 125

Thus, White appears to believe that two sources of putrefaction fuel the puerperal fever. The first is the trapping of substances in the body which should normally escape, but which putrefy instead. The second is the air, which White appears to believe already contains substances which have a strong tendency to putrefaction, but which grows more dense and severe in overcrowded places, in places where there are already putrid wounds, and in 𠇎pidemical seasons”. White thus comments that,

The lochia stagnating in the womb and in the folds of the vagina, soon grow putrid for it is well known that the mildest humours in the human body, if suffered to stagnate, become so, as soon as the air has access to them. 126

This same air is breathed and re-breathed by the woman to the further detriment of her health. Furthermore, the putrefaction of humours in her body is made worse because women are “generally of a lax, seldom of a rigid, fibre, owing in some measure to their periodical evacuations, to their sedentary, inactive, and domestic way of life, and likewise to their muscles being surrounded with a much larger quantity of cellular membrane than those of men”. 127

Whilst the rich are affected by behaviours that will worsen their health, the poor are similarly affected, but by factors over which they have no control. If they live in cellars, their accommodation is overcrowded, damp and cold, and if in garrets, they are subject to human effluvia rising from lower floors and, in summer, to the heat of the sun on their roofs. Similarly, those who are obliged to enter lying-in hospitals will be subject to overcrowding and the unhealthy effluvia of other patients. 128

White cites Denman and Leake in support of his view both had previously referred to the movement around the body of putrid matter, sometimes occasioning abscesses. 129 Maintaining the woman in a horizontal position in the post-partum period𠅊s dictated by prevailing opinion at the time�uses more harm, by preventing the removal of putrid fluids and encouraging their further stagnation. It also makes it difficult to remove the placenta effectively. 130 White concludes that puerperal fever “manifests itself to be of the putrid kind … and is a malignant fever of the same genus as the jail or hospital fever”. 131

Butter witnessed what he described as an epidemic of puerperal fever in Derbyshire in the late 1770s. His treatise was not taken very seriously either by later physicians, or by modern historians, who tended to view the fever he described as a form of gastroenteritis, rather than a “true” puerperal fever. The symptoms of those affected were predominantly gastrointestinal ones and the case fatality rate appears to have been remarkably𠅊nd unusually—low. Nevertheless, Butter's work forms an important part of the puerperal fever 𠇌orpus” of writings, presenting as it does a clear exposition of this disease as a “putrid” disorder. Butter argued that all fevers were essentially disorders of the 𠇏irst passages”, or alimentary canal. 132 In common with White, he viewed constipation as an important predisposing cause, arguing that stools which were trapped in the body became putrid. It is for this reason that they were: �rk, slimy, clotty, very fetid, and often froth and ferment like barm: they always give relief to the patient and are the only salutary crisis of the puerperal fever”. 133

Kirkland cited the English physician, John Pringle, and the French physician, Philippe Peu, in arguing that putrefaction of any kind, whether from women with puerperal fever or individuals with suppurating wounds, would lead to further cases of fever among those lodged nearby. He argued that 𠇎very fever [arises] from acrimony the consequence of its irritating the medullary part of the nerves”. 134 For this reason, hospitals could be dangerous places:

I have sometimes been called to women in childbed, where the offensive effluvia arising from this kind of evacuation, pent up in a small, close room, at once evinced to what cause their fever was owing. 135

Whitehead, whose most famous contribution to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century theories of puerperal fever was his translation of the French physician, Doulcet's report on the use of ipecacuanha, viewed puerperal fever as a disease which could be either inflammatory or putrid, but which frequently took the latter form. 136 He observed that “the more the putrid character prevails, the more rapid and dangerous the disease appears in general”. 137 He offered the following classic description:

The putrid Puerperal Fever has all the essential characters of the Putrid Fever, the Typhus of Dr Cullen. The heat is not violent the pulse is small, weak and quick there is a sudden and great prostration of strength and the matters evacuated are highly foetid … This disease, like the Putrid Fever, is often epidemic and contagious it is most frequent and fatal in hospitals, in close confined and crowded situations where the air is foul it is increased by every thing which tends to generate a putrid miasma, from which I think we may conclude, that it is, in its essential character, a Putrid Fever. 138

A number of early-nineteenth-century authors observed that it was important not to neglect the putrid characteristics of puerperal fever and the contagious effects that could result from these. Among them was John Burns, who argued that, “The disease appears to depend on inflammation of the peritoneum, conjoined with the operation of some debilitating poison, probably, in most cases, more or less contagious”. 139 Burns pointed out that, in his view, it was important to distinguish puerperal fever from peritonitis, a much more obviously inflammatory condition. In puerperal fever, the patient's symptoms were characterized more by debility, betraying the more “nervous” nature of the disease. 140

South Sea Bubble

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South Sea Bubble, the speculation mania that ruined many British investors in 1720. The bubble, or hoax, centred on the fortunes of the South Sea Company, founded in 1711 to trade (mainly in slaves) with Spanish America, on the assumption that the War of the Spanish Succession, then drawing to a close, would end with a treaty permitting such trade. The company’s stock, with a guaranteed interest of 6 percent, sold well, but the relevant peace treaty, the Treaty of Utrecht made with Spain in 1713, was less favourable than had been hoped, imposing an annual tax on imported slaves and allowing the company to send only one ship each year for general trade. The success of the first voyage in 1717 was only moderate, but King George I of Great Britain became governor of the company in 1718, creating confidence in the enterprise, which was soon paying 100 percent interest.

In 1720 there was an incredible boom in South Sea stock, as a result of the company’s proposal, accepted by Parliament, to take over the national debt. The company expected to recoup itself from expanding trade, but chiefly from the foreseen rise in the value of its shares. These did, indeed, rise dramatically, from 128 1 /2 in January 1720 to more than 1,000 in August. Those unable to buy South Sea stock were inveigled by overly optimistic company promoters or downright swindlers into unwise investments. By September the market had collapsed, and by December South Sea shares were down to 124, dragging other, including government, stock with them. Many investors were ruined, and the House of Commons ordered an inquiry, which showed that at least three ministers had accepted bribes and speculated. Many of the company’s directors were disgraced. The scandal brought Robert Walpole, generally considered to be the first British prime minister, to power. He promised to seek out all those responsible for the scandal, but in the end he sacrificed only some of those involved in order to preserve the reputations of the government’s leaders. The South Sea Company itself survived until 1853, having sold most of its rights to the Spanish government in 1750.


Dr. Craig Cooper, a physician, is caring for his dying employer, Ridgeley Waterman. A wealthy old curmudgeon, Waterman is cared for at home by his daughter Victoria, and a live-in nurse, Miss Turner. Despite several attempts by Victoria, a nymphomaniac, to seduce Dr. Cooper, she has so far been unsuccessful. Dr. Cooper soon learns that an unnamed old connection is attempting to blackmail him for his providing of illegal abortions. The blackmailer is demanding $50,000 in hush money. During one of his house calls to examine Victoria's father, Dr. Cooper expresses to Victoria that he is suffering "tax" problems. She tells him that she can acquire the money, and seduces him. Their affair consummated, Victoria proceeds to poison and kill her father with the motive of paying Dr. Cooper's debt with her father's estate.

With Dr. Cooper's assistance, Victoria avoids suspicion (Cooper rules the death a stroke) and her estranged younger sister Gail returns from New York City for the reading of their father's will. With Gail is Kate, a middle-aged woman who lives with Gail, and who has an unspoken, unreciprocated sexual interest in her. The group meet for the reading of the will by the family lawyer, and much to Victoria's surprise, Gail is the primary beneficiary of the estate. The will leaves Victoria only with the use of her deceased father's house and a small living allowance. Distraught, she becomes bedridden.

While caring for Victoria, Dr. Cooper learns of Gale's new status as a wealthy heiress, and begins seducing her. When Kate realizes Gail and Dr. Cooper have begun a relationship, she dejectedly packs her things and returns to New York.

After spending an evening out with Dr. Cooper, Gail returns home, and offers to split the estate with Victoria, who refuses. Gail reveals that she has already offered to help Dr. Cooper with his "tax" issues, and Victoria learns of the budding relationship between her lover and her younger sister. She bludgeons Gail to death with a lamp in the bathroom. Dr. Cooper soon returns to the house and finds Gail dead, with Victoria stoically painting a canvas in the next room with her sister's blood. In the bathroom, he finds Gail's corpse in the shower. Attempting to help cover up the crime, he carries Gail's body to the car, placing it in the trunk.

Returning to the house, Dr. Cooper embraces Victoria just as she sees an apparition of Gail's corpse standing behind the door. It fades, revealing Dr. Cooper's blackmailer, grinning menacingly as the painting is revealed, showing Dr. Cooper with a skeleton draped across his arms.

  • Peter Carpenter as Dr. Craig Cooper
  • Maria De Aragon as Victoria Waterman as Gail Waterman as Cheryl as Kate
  • Leslie Simms as Nurse Turner as Lawyer
  • Eric Allison as Ridgely Waterman
  • Arell Blanton as Blackmailer
  • Reid Smith as Pool Boy

Blood Mania was shot over a period of twelve days in Los Angeles, California director Robert Vincent O'Neill, originally a props master, had begun directing after working as the props head on Easy Rider (1969), and became involved with the project after the original director dropped out of the production shortly before shooting began. [5] According to star Vicki Peters, the house the film was shot in was formerly owned by Bela Lugosi. [4]

Commenting on the shoot, production manager Gary Kent said: "Robert was a prop man to begin with. I had no idea he was a director. The next thing I knew he was doing it, and he called me in as a production manager. It was fun. He took it seriously, so you never got the feeling he was just in it for the bucks. I thought it just took him forever to get a shot. He was always fussing over it. It was murder. His movies were long and arduous, but nonetheless I had some affection for Robert." [6]

Television cut Edit

According to star Leslie Simms, a year after production had commenced, she was called back to complete re-shoots for an alternate cut of the film intended for television broadcast. [4] In order for the film to be shown on cable television, the nudity and violence had to be excised from the theatrical version. In order to remedy this, a subplot was introduced which had Nurse Turner in cahoots with the blackmailer in place of the murder sequences, new footage was shot in which Nurse Turner reports her witnessing of the murders to the blackmailer. [4]

Critical response Edit

Michael Bate of the Ottawa Citizen compared the film to a soap opera, writing that "by skimming over the film's few tense moments, director Robert O'Neill fails to inject his work with any sense of terror." [7] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times deemed the film a "glum and tedious exercise," though he praised the cinematography for providing a "rich, sensuous look" and also noted the "eerie score." [8]

Scott Weinberg of gave the film a negative review, calling it "stunningly drab" and noting that it offers "nothing more than three or four gauzy love scenes offset by a nonstop deluge of "Let's kill so and so for his fortune" schpiel. I instantly and involuntarily tuned out every time the characters spoke." [9]

Home media Edit

Blood Mania was released as a double feature DVD by Code Red, paired with Land of the Minotaur, in 2012. [10] On January 31, 2017, the film was released as a double feature on DVD and Blu-ray with Point of Terror (1971), also starring Carpenter, by Vinegar Syndrome. [11] The first 3,000 units of the release also feature a bonus disc containing the television cuts of each film. [11]

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