Gauging Boats on the BCN

Traditional Techniques: NarrowBoat, Summer 2007

Ray Shill

How canal companies made their money - and the background to the Tipton Gauging Station, currently subject to redevelopment plans

Tolls were essential to the existence of any canal company; the revenue they generated provided the bulk of the funds for maintenance, wages, and dividends to the shareholders. Tolls were charged for all commodities carried, varying with the cargo, but were frequently complicated by drawbacks and concessions granted for specific consignments. Amount, commodity and distance were combined by mathematical calculation to determine the charge, generally so many pence per ton per mile. Every steerer navigating a canal, on passing a tollhouse, had to present the toll clerk with a written statement of the weight and destination of his load. From this the charge for the journey along the canal was calculated. However, methods had to be devised to verify the weight of goods on board. The accepted means was the boat ‘index’, comprising sets of calibrated copper (or iron) strips fixed to both sides of the vessel, which the toll clerk measured with a gauge stick or rod. Aligning the ro…

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