From the Blog

Transport by river and Canal


Long before roads were invented the most common way of transporting goods and people large distances was by boat. Sea travel enabled international journeys while the rivers gave an opportunity for boats to make trips all around a country. Before the invention of the steam engine boats were powered either by oars, or animals or by the wind. Evidence had been found that river trips were occurring as far back as 20,000 BC. River trips still occur today and many large cities are encouraging them while pursuing and implementing traffic policies that are aimed at overcoming congestion from within their centres.

A typical steamboat

As soon as the steam engine was invented at the start of the 19th century steam boats were built and became popular. This was certainly the case in the States where large steam boats would transport people and goods along the major rivers. These rivers included the Mississippi, the Ohio, the Missouri, the Colorado and the Columbia. The steam boats were designed to navigate the shallowest waters as the rivers all tended to have variable flow. The boats were powered by wood burning engines and a large paddlewheel was fixed on the back of the boat. During this period the most common form of river travel in the United Kingdom was along canals with barges. These barges would be powered by animals pulling the barge across the water.  When canals were being built a separated path along the bank was also constructed in order for the animals to walk down.

During the industrial revolution many cities were relent on the canal transporting large amounts of raw materials by barge. The building of the Trent and Mersey Canal joined the two rivers together. This was vital for some inland cities such as Stoke-on Trent, the home of the potteries. It meant that cups, plates and saucers that were being produced at factories such as Wedgwood’s could be transported long distances smoothly where as previously they suffered many breakages on the uneven roads. In time the Potteries benefited further from the canal as their supplies of clay started to run out. They were able to ship clay in from Cornwall to Liverpool, then down the canal to Stoke. The canals are no longer used as they were but are now home to a flourishing tourist industry. People will go on barge holidays in order to see the interior of the country.

Barge being animal powered

Barges are still used to carry heavy loads down the larger rivers of the world. Often these barges are pulled by other boats and this was the case in 2006 when a 565 short-ton catalytic unit reactor was transported in one piece all the way from Catoosa in Oklahoma down the Mississippi River to Pascagoula in Mississippi. Today rivers are used a great deal by both commuters and tourists. Many of the world’s cities have rivers running right through the heart of them. This means that there is no better way to get across a city than using a boat. In London the Thames Clipper service runs between Putney and Blackfriars each day, and in a year there are more than 6.5 million trips to work along the river.

Tourists also use the Thames to view London and its close attractions. Many of the city’s most famous land marks are located close to the river and so tourists can simply hop off at certain stops to view the sites. The same thing occurs all over the world with similar boat services being offered on the Seine in Paris and the Chao Phraya in Bangkok. The Chao Phraya has the added attraction of having floating markets than can be explored by the visitors. Once again rivers are appearing as popular ways of transporting both people and goods.