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Leeds & Liverpool Canal Cargos

The merchants that provided the money for the Leeds and Liverpool Canal thought that more limestone than anything else would be carried by canal boats. In fact, when the canal was cut, it was thought that ten times more limestone would be carried than coal. Actually, it was exactly the other way round! According to Mike Clarke's brief history:

1,879,721 tons of coal were carried on the canal in 1865.

One million, eight hundred and seventy nine thousand, seven hundred and twenty one is the kind of number people don't care to think about. I mean, what does 1.9 million tons of coal look like, anyway? Let's see if we can work it out...

This boat, the Kennet, is an old Leeds and Liverpool canal "Short boat”, which delivered coal to Liverpool for all of its working life. It would normally carry 30 tons of coal.

In those days, the boatmen always took Sunday off to go to church, and took Christmas day off too. That means they would be working 312 days of the year. Can you work out how many tons of coal they had to move each day? ( Answer)

How many boats would have to leave the coal mines each day? (Answer)  

Of course, the boats had to make a return journey and can only travel one way in a day, so you would need twice as many boats to keep the conveyor line going.

If we assume that about half of that coal was bound for Liverpool, then you would always be in sight of a coal boat like this anywhere on the towpath  between Liverpool and Wigan. Or would you?

Just a thought…

There were a lot of swing bridges on the canal between Wigan and Liverpool. So many that it wouldn’t be practical for each boat to open and close the bridge just for itself, so it’s quite likely that either swing bridges were manned, or the boats travelled in convoy. The crew of the first boat would probably tie up and operate the bridge, then catch up with the back of the convoy.  That way, each crew would take a turn at operating the bridges.

Mike Clarke has an interesting page about where coal was moved from and to on the canal. He provides similar pages for Limestone, generally shipped from Yorkshire and Grain, generally imported through Liverpool Docks.  Mike has analysed the canal movement of 8 major bulk cargos including:

There were other bulk cargoes, such as milk, delivered daily from dairy farms to the cities, and of course, there were all sorts of foodstuffs and other manufactured products.  Within Liverpool and Bootle, there were many factories producing a wide variety of products from sweets to tar.  Perhaps the most surprising cargo was… people!