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Changes in transport

Roads :

For longer than people could remember, our roads were nothing more than dirt tracks that turned to mud in the winter and baked rock hard in the summer. Either way, movement along these tracks was difficult and at certain times of the year, practically impossible.

By law, every parish had to look after the 'roads' that ran in it. Men were meant to work for 6 days every year to maintain and repair them. However, very few villagers travelled, therefore they were not particularly interested in doing this task especially as it seemed to offer them no benefits. But the growth of the Industrial Revolution needed a good transport system and in 1663, Parliament passed what was known as the Turnpike Act. This was originally only used in three counties to see if it worked. The act allowed magistrates in these three counties to charge people for using roads in these counties and the money raised was spent on properly maintaining these roads. The success of this scheme meant that the 1663 Act was the first of hundreds throughout the country.

Private companies called Turnpike Trusts were established. The first one was created in 1706. The public was given the opportunity to invest in these companies. The money raised by charging people to use them was split between profits and the cost of maintaining the roads in the control of the trust. People had to pay what was called a toll to use the roads. Toll gates were established through which people and carriages had to pass before continuing with their journey.

Before turnpike trusts, people had been used to using what passed for roads for free. Now, the roads may have been better but many people objected to paying a toll. Some would jump over the toll gate to avoid paying the toll. To decrease the chance of this happening, spikes (or pikes) were put at the top of the gates - hence the title turnpike trusts. In some parts of the country, the toll gates were so unpopular, that they were destroyed. parliament passed a law that meant execution for anyone who was caught destroying a turnpike. Those in power in Parliament were also those who had invested large sums of money in turnpike trusts - hence why the sentence for those who destroyed turnpikes was so savage.

Two men are credited with improving the roads of Britain - Thomas Telford and John McAdam. Telford believed in building roads that would last and needed little repair. His roads cost a lot of money and they took a long time to build - but they lasted. McAdam's roads were cheaper as they were not as 'fussy' as Telford's. McAdam's were hard wearing and he believed that the weight of the traffic using his roads would press down the road and make it stronger. As his roads were cheaper, they were more in demand by the turnpike trusts. To this day, McAdam's input into improving our road system, is remembered with his name being 'given' to tarmac.

Did the new roads benefit the country ? The new manufacturing class - those who needed an improved transport system to move their finished products around  - were pleased as they had most to gain. Those in the cities were less pleased, as turnpikes increased the cost of getting livestock to markets in the cities and the price of transporting them was added to the final cost of the meat. Hence, the cost of living increased and this hit the poorest the most.

Canals :

The Industrial Revolution was creating huge amounts of heavy produce which had to be moved. Roads simply could not handle such weights and the vehicles needed to move this produce did not exist. The answer to moving heavy objects large distances lay in canals. 

Canals were man-made rivers which were deep enough to cope with barges which were capable of moving nearly forty tonnes of weight. This was far more than a pack of mules could carry or a horse and carriage.

The man most associated with early canals was the Duke of Bridgewater. He owned coal mines in Lancashire but he needed to get the coal to the big market of Manchester which was nearly six miles away. The duke gave the task of designing and building the canal to James Brindley - an engineer who at this time had never built a canal before. As such, the duke was taking a great risk and he even had to borrow 25,000 to pay for the project. 

It took two years to build the canal which was completed in 1761. The canal had a series of tunnels which were linked directly to the coal mines. But its most famous section was the Barton Aqueduct which took the canal over the River Irwin.

The canal was a huge success as

it made the duke a lot of money

the price of coal fell in Manchester by 50% therefore making it cheaper and the cheaper it was the more was sold. People could not get enough of the duke's coal

Brindley gained fame and more work

other people saw the success of the Bridgewater Canal and decided to do likewise thus opening up Britain even more with a series of canals that linked the major industrial centres of Britain.

Brindley designed and built nearly 400 miles of canals. His biggest project was the Trent and Mersey canal which linked two major industrial areas of Britain. He also found ways to get around certain natural problems which would make canals redundant.

Canals had to be perfectly flat or else the water would simply run away. Likewise, the canals had to be waterproofed.......for obvious reasons. Brindley used an old process called puddling which lined the sides and bottom of a canal with clay mixed with water. He tried to go around hills where possible but if this was impossible he used locks to move a canal barge up or down before it returned to a flat level.

Canals could make those who invested in them vast sums of money. In the 1790's so-called "canal mania" took place when people invested their money into practically every canal project. Canals were very good at moving fragile goods such as pottery and also heavy goods such as coal. They were actually faster than carriages and pack mules as once a horse got a barge moving, its own momentum would keep it going at  a decent pace. By 1840, there were nearly 4,500 miles of canals in Britain. Yet within years their great days were over. Why ?

different builders build different size canals so that different size canal barges were needed. One canal barge might not be able to use a canal built by another engineer. This, naturally, limited them a great deal.

better roads had lead to better horse drawn carriages being developed. These were a lot faster than barges and passengers used these in preference to canals.

food that rotted quickly could not be transported by canal as refrigerated units had yet to be invented.

canals could freeze up in winter and a hot summer could literally dry them out if they were not topped up with water on a regular basis.

Coaches :  

The improvement in roads lead to an improvement in coaches. Before turnpike trusts, coaches had been un-sprung and any journey in them was very uncomfortable as there was no suspension. By 1800, coaches were suspended on a C-spring. This was as it sounds - a large C-shaped piece of metal from which hanged a carriage. This was a form of suspension. By the 1830's these had been improved with the elliptic spring. These were shaped like a rugby ball and each wheel had one. They greatly improved the quality of the ride. 

One of the benefits of this was that it made the country 'smaller' in that it took less time to do things - mail, for example, was quicker to send for those who could afford to do so. John Palmer started the first mail coach service from London to Bristol. His service halved the time it usually took to do the journey. Palmer was a great planner - he had his coaches carry a horn to warn toll gate keepers of their arrival so that the gates were already opened when the coaches arrived. The toll was paid at a later date direct from Palmer's company - the toll keepers simply kept a record of the number of times his coaches had gone through a toll gate. His coaches also had to carry repair kits to allow basic repairs to be made rather than wait for someone to come out. Mail coaches also carried passengers.

To assist the growth in coaches, coaching inns grew up along the route where fresh horses were kept and passengers and drivers could refresh themselves. The time taken to do a journey was greatly cut. In 1750, it could take 6 days to get from London to York. By 1830, it took a day. London to Manchester fell from 5 days to one day in the same time span.

Railways :

Railways meant the end for canals and coaches. Railways were to transform Britain in the nineteenth century. Wagons pulled along on tracks had existed for some while, but these wagons had been pulled by horses. Advances in railways took place throughout the nineteenth century but there are a number of key dates in the history of railways.

1804 : Richard Trevithick built a steam locomotive for his iron works at Penydarren in Wales. It was essentially built for a bet but it did manage to pull ten tonnes of iron. However, like most first models, it was highly unreliable. However, what he did encouraged others to improve on his design.

1811 : John Blenkinsop invented a steam engine which had cogs on one of its wheels. These gripped an extra rail laid down on the normal rail line and gave his engine more grip.

1813 : The "Puffing Billy" was built by William Hedley to pull coal wagons at the Wylam Colliery in Northumberland. It was so reliable that it was used for fifty years.

A man called George Stephenson lived in Wylam. His father looked after the pumping engine at the colliery. By the time George was fifteen, he was working on the same engine as his father. George Stephenson was fascinated by steam engines and in 1821 he was made engineer for the colliery. The owners of the colliery decided to build a rail line from Stockton to Darlington so that they could move their coal to a large market with more ease. Stephenson was given to job of building this line.

1825 : the Stockton to Darlington rail line was opened. Two locomotives were used (the "Experiment" and "No 1") and they could pull 21 coal wagons 25 miles at 8 miles per hour. This was unheard of at the time and soon the line was in profit. Passengers were soon carried but steam trains did not operate on the line for passengers until 1833. In many senses, 1825 is seen as the start of the Age of the Railways.

1826 : George Stephenson was given a much bigger task  - to build a railway between Manchester and Liverpool. However, the company financing the scheme was not convinced that steam trains would worked properly on this rail line. They organised a competition to find out what train and which type of train would be best for their line. The competition was to be held at Rainhill near Liverpool. 

1829 : the Rainhill Trials took place. The winning train was the legendary "Rocket" built by George Stephenson. He won 500. The "Rocket" travelled at 46 kph - about 30 mph.

1830 : the Liverpool to Manchester railway opened

The success of Stephenson's train caught the public's imagination and so-called "Railway Mania" took place. Railways were seen as a way of earning a fortune. Between 1825 and 1835, Parliament agreed to the building of 54 new rail lines. From 1836 to 1837, 39 new lines were agreed to. By 1900, Britain had 22,000 miles of rail track.

Railways greatly helped industry. But not everybody approved of them. The Duke of Wellington - famed for leading Britain to victory at the Battle of Waterloo - feared that trains might encourage the poor and undesirables in society to come to London and that any trains coming from places such as Bath and Bristol had to pass near to Eton School and that the pupils there might be disturbed !! Some farmers believed that trains could cause cows to produce stale milk but trains did allow farmers to get their products to market quicker and this was very important to farmers producing perishable goods.   

1838 : Robert Stephenson, the son of George, completed the London to Birmingham rail line.

1841 : Isambard Kingdom Brunel completed his London to Bristol line - the Great Western Railway. This was such a stunning achievement that people used the rail line's initials (GWR) to call it "God's Wonderful Railway")

How did railways change society ? 

rail travel, despite the investment made into making rail lines, was 50% cheaper than coach travel.

it was also a lot quicker and opened up Britain in a way that coach travel could not do. Seaside fishing villages suddenly became fashionable and popular as day trips to the coast became common.

even the poor could afford rail travel as three different classes of travel existed - third class meant travelling in open topped carriages but the price was such that the less well off in society could use trains.

towns and cities had cheaper food as farmers could get their perishable products to market quicker and cheaper. Inland towns could now get fresh fish !!

Many thousands of miles of rail were built and they transformed Britain. The heavy work of building was done by men who became known as navvies.  


MLA Citation/Reference

"transport". 2014. Web.

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