Burton's 18th-century Navigation

A Broader Outlook: NarrowBoat, Winter 2022

John Dylan Parry tells the story of the Upper Trent Navigation and Burton Boat Co, which predated the construction of the Trent & Mersey Canal

A panorama of Burton in 1753, before the coming of the Trent & Mersey Canal. The advent of inland waterborne transport played a crucial role in Britain’s Industrial Revolution, and is generally considered to have started with the canals of the 1760s. Yet, by 1712, a commercial waterway was already open that was 130 miles long. And the key town was Burton-on-Trent. The waterway was the River Trent and it was navigable all the way from the Midlands to Hull. The roads of the time were so abysmal and, consequently, road transport so expensive, that it was preferable to send goods to London via transhipment at Hull for an East Coast journey by sea to London, rather than directly by road. In 1756, Kings Mills Lock was rebuilt with fine dressed stone, and the Earl of Leicester described it then as “the best lock ever seen”. This is now the last reach of the river to Wilden Ferry, where another chain ferry operated until 1760, when the Cavendish Bridge opened. …

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