Napoleonic-era Narrowboats

Unearthing History: NarrowBoat, Autumn 2016

Mike Clarke

Mike Clarke presents a rare view of early narrowboats and their construction through the eyes of Austrian engineer, Sebastian von Maillard, who visited England in 1795, recording details of boat traffic, planking, legging boats and bulk-carrying cargoes.

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries many European countries wanting to develop their industries and economies looked to England’s growing canal network for inspiration. Top engineers from various countries across the continent were encouraged by their governments to visit Britain to pick up ideas from the waterways and the industries they served. In spite of being at war with Britain for much of this period, even the French carried out this practice, being particularly interested in our narrow and box-boat canals. In the Prussian State Archives in Berlin, there are technical reports from 63 such visits between 1775 and the 1830s. Few have been translated into English, but those that have often illuminate aspects of English technology that have gone unrecorded over here. This is mainly due to foreign canals being the concern of governments and therefore well documented, unlike in England where private businesses preserved few records. Narrow canals One such author wa…

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