The Grand Union Boat Control System

Traditional Techniques: NarrowBoat, Winter 2014

David Blagrove

David Blagrove explains how boats were monitored on the waterways between the Midlands and London

A common misconception about the canal-carrying industry is that it was hopelessly old fashioned, outdated and technically obsolete. To some extent this may be laid at the door of L.T.C. Rolt’s Narrow Boat, although Tom Rolt more than compensated for such a view in his later Inland Waterways of England. Nevertheless, a common view of commercial carrying in the past is one of gaily painted boats moving behind plodding horses along a sunny, winding, willow-bordered rural canal. In fact even the Oxford Canal south of Napton was operated efficiently in pre-nationalisation days, and of course in industrial areas such as Birmingham or Manchester traffic moved briskly and with dispatch. However, few of the pre-nationalisation canal companies operated their own fleets, and by the 1930s the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company’s was the largest and had the most complex area of operations. Traffic control on, say, the Oxford and Coventry canals was relatively simple because, apart fr…

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