Georgian Society for East Yorkshire

Canals: The Georgian Arteries of Trade

Before the Industral Revolution, inland towns that lacked access to a navigable river had to have their wares and wants transported over land. This mean trains of packhorses, trudging along roads which were often little more than mud tracks, barely passable in poor weather. The turnpike system, where the tolls of those using the roads would pay for their upkeep, provided little improvement and was inadequate for the explosion in the volume of trade brought on by the new industries and expanding populations.

The answer to this was the canal system. A canal would have sufficient depth for shipping, and could be protected by locks from tidal variation. A towpath allowed barges to be horse-drawn, and the tonnage of goods that a horse could pull on a barge was ten times what it could pull in a cart.

Parts of East Yorkshire were well served by the region's two rivers, the Hull and the Humber, but other parts were not. Driffield was an example of the latter, so in 1767 construction of a canal was authorised. Driffield Navigation opened in 1770, and linked the town with the River Hull.

A canal at Market Weighton originally came about as a drainage scheme, to reclaim the fens between the town and the Humber. An Act of Parliament was passed in 1772 allowing the construction of drainage works and a navigable waterway to the Humber. The canal was completed by 1782 and was used to carry agricultural produce and bricks between the town and destinations beyond the Humber.

Beverley had been served by its Beck since mediaeval times, but it had been subject to tidal variation, meaning it was unnavigable at certain times of the day. As part of the Beverley and Barmston drainage works, a lock was added to the Beverley Beck in 1802.

Later canals improved East Yorkshire's system. Leven was connected to the River Hull in 1805, and Pocklington, after a long wait, was linked to the River Derwent in 1818. But by this time, the railways were on the horizon, and the canals' days of usefulness were numbered.

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