Taking Their Toll

Traditional Techniques: NarrowBoat, Spring 2008

Christopher M Jones

Christopher M. Jones investigates the complex ways by which carriers were charged for using the canals

For most people today, the waterways are synonymous with pleasure, whether it be boating, walking, fishing, industrial history or one of the many other aspects of leisure. But for the original canal companies, merchants, traders, carriers and boatmen, such a leisure ethos would be a total anathema. Canals were commercial undertakings and their use was solely for that purpose. Using them for pleasure was not understood, and in some cases actually discouraged. Most canal companies considered themselves ‘toll takers’, and anything other than commerce had no place on their waterways. The means by which canal companies gained their revenues was by allowing commercial carrying craft to pass over the whole or a portion of their waterway, and charging carriers or the cargo owner a toll, usually based on the type and weight of goods carried and the distance covered. This toll was ascertained by several means, usually by gauging boats to determine the weight of cargo, but sometimes …

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