Bypassing the Thames

Canals That Never Were: NarrowBoat, Spring 2008

Richard Dean

Richard Dean details Brindley’s scheme for a canal from Isleworth through Slough to near Maidenhead

During the 18th century the River Thames was still a largely unimproved river where teams of men struggled to draw barges over shallows in drought, or against the current in floods, and a journey from London to Reading could take up to three weeks. As trade increased, the City of London commissioned James Brindley in 1770 to advise how the situation could be improved. Brindley’s answer was clear – ignore 35 miles of the river altogether and bypass it with 18 miles of canal from Isleworth to near Bray, which could be navigated by 100-ton Thames barges in hours rather than weeks, at a fraction of the cost. Initially unsure, the Corporation sent him back specifically to look at improvements to the river, which he boldly said would be five or six times the £47,000 needed for a canal, with a much less satisfactory result. Brindley’s canal, surveyed by his assistant Robert Whitworth, left the Thames at Isleworth and followed the south side of the River Crane, rising…

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