Patent Fuel Boats of the Glamorganshire Canal

Working the Waterways: NarrowBoat, Winter 2017

Stephen Rowson

Stephen Rowson examines the predominant, post-railway era traffic on this South Wales waterway.

The Glamorganshire Canal originally ran for 25 miles between Merthyr Tydfil and Cardiff. In spite of being a hugely successful waterway in the first half of the 19th century, by the early 1950s it had completely closed to navigation, and it has now become the sole preserve of cyclists, walkers and the speeding traffic of the A470 dual carriageway built directly over much of its course. Tonnage figures suggest it was still flourishing in the opening years of the 20th century. Excluding the import and export traffic that used its southernmost Sea Lock pound, the total tonnage carried on the canal in 1905 was 249,657 tons. In reality though, a large portion of this figure –180,101 tons – was patent fuel transported on a very short stretch of the route, making this a perfect example of why tonnage isn’t a reliable indicator of the health of a waterway. From the 1870s, as almost all the canal’s iron and coal cargoes came to be transported by rail, this short-distanc…

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