Friday, June 16, 2017

"A Scotch job"? - the Caledonian Canal


Neptune's Staircase at Banavie
Today, it's regarded as a national treasure: a jewel in the built heritage crown worthy of millennial and lottery largesse. But in the 1820s the Caledonian Canal was the Edinburgh Trams of its day - over budget, behind schedule and nowhere near living up to original expectations. At least the capital's trams have never posed a danger to anybody but in the 1830s there was a risk that, due to poor workmanship, the Caledonian Canal could have caused flash flooding with the potential for massive damage to property and loss of life: the canal was under such a dark cloud that decommissioning the whole thing was seriously considered.

I hadn't planned to write about the Caledonian Canal. It's one of these things that's just so sort of big and ubquitous (like St Kilda and the Waverley) that I'm not as interested in it as I should be. But the discovery that the canal has a chequered past piqued my interest. And it shows there's nothing new under the sun when it comes to Government prevarication over large engineering projects (think third runway at Heathrow) or trying to get things done on the cheap via privatisation. This is the story.

The Caledonian Canal at Fort Augustus - Copyright Canmore

The earliest mention of a canal through the Great Glen seems to have been in the 1730s when Edward Burt, an army officer stationed at Inverness and author of "Letters from a Gentleman in the North of Scotland to his Friend in London", mentioned "several projects" for a canal (Letter XXVI). In 1773, the Trustees of the Forfeited Estates (properties confiscated from people involved in the Jacobite Risings) commissioned a survey from James Watt who at the time was earning a living in civil engineering while waiting for his groundbreaking inventions in the field of steam engineering to bear fruit. Watt reported favourably but the idea was not taken up. Nor was anything done following a further survey in 1793 by the designer of the Crinan Canal, John Rennie, for the British Fisheries Society (which had established the villages of Tobermory and Ullapool). It was not until Thomas Telford's report of 1803 described in my last post that the Caledonian Canal was at last progressed and work commenced the following year.


It wasn't just local traffic (e.g. fishing boats passing between Moray Firth ports and the fishing grounds off the west coast) the Caledonian Canal was planned to accommodate. Not only did international traffic (sailing ships in these days, of course) between the Baltic and ports in the north west of the British Isles such as Liverpool, Dublin, Glasgow and Belfast have to run the gauntlet of the Pentland Firth between Caithness and Orkney with its contrary winds and ferocious tidal currents, so too in the pre-railway era did any load bigger than could be slung over the backs of a train of pack horses which had to be moved from coast to coast within Great Britain - a cargo of Ballachulish slate for Dunbar, for instance, or salt from Liverpool to Banff. The Forth & Clyde Canal had opened in 1790 but, crucially, it was not big enough to accommodate sea-going vessels: cargoes had to be trans-shipped into canal barges (known as "lighters": later in the 19th century these were equipped with steam engines and began to sail outside the canal known as "puffers") with consequent delay and expense. But the Caledonian Canal was conceived on an altogether grander scale to allow the largest sea-going vessels through. When work began in 1804, Telford estimated it would take seven years and cost £475,000 to complete.

By the time seven years had passed, in 1811, the canal was still a long way from complete. In fact, the central section, from Loch Ness to Loch Lochy, hadn't even been started yet so it was hardly a surprise it was still unfinished two years later when the estimate of £475,000 was exceeded. In fairness, the cost of labour and materials had soared during the first decade of the 19th century due to the Napoleonic Wars but it's probably also the case that there just wasn't enough practical experience of such large projects to be able to estimate them accurately. There were also formidable engineering challenges of which it will suffice to mention just one - the sea lock at Clachnaharry where the canal enters the Beauly Firth at Inverness pictured below.



The sea lock had to be placed so far out from the natural shoreline to find deep enough water because the bed of the firth deepened at such a shallow angle. As the embankments out from the shore towards the site of the sea lock were being built, they were discovered to be sinking under their own weight into the soft mud of the seabed: how on earth would it support the weight of the masonry of the lock itself? The solution hit upon was to carry earth out from the shore and pile it up in a mound where the lock would go. The stone for building the lock was then piled on top of this mound and it was left to settle and find its natural level. This proved only partially successful, however, for it was discovered some years after the lock had been built that it had sunk by 18 inches! The only saving grace was it had all sunk at the same rate so at least there was no distortion or cracks in the structure.

In 1822, now 11 years behind schedule and with nearly twice the original estimate having already been spent, the locks were mostly all finished but there was still much work to be done on the canal itself to achieve the planned depth of 20 feet to accommodate the largest seagoing ships. In some places this involved further excavation while in others it involved the expensive process of "puddling", that is, lining the banks with waterproof clay to prevent the water leaking out through porous soil. With the canal already being denounced by its detractors as "a Scotch job" (job in the archaic sense of a dodgy political deal: pork barreling we'd call it nowadays), Parliament was exasperated to be told it was going to take another £37,000 to finish, exclusive of unquantified claims from landowners for land take and damage to amenity etc. With the return of peace after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, some of the factors which had led to the canal being sanctioned at public expense (employing potential cannon fodder to prevent it from emigrating and protecting shipping from enemy attack) had disappeared. Faced by calls to abandon it altogether, the legislature sanctioned only another £25,000 to complete the canal to a depth of just 12 feet rather than the 20 feet originally planned. And so, in this attenuated state, the Caledonian Canal finally opened for traffic from sea to sea in October 1822.

Key locations on the Caledonian Canal


But still the haemorrhage of public money continued. Attracting only a tiny fraction of the anticpated traffic (in 1838 it was estimated the canal was attracting only a fortieth of the traffic going "northabouts" through the Pentland Firth), it couldn't even cover its maintenance costs. And it wasn't long before the canal works began to deteriorate due to the skimped workmanship carried out in the latter phases of construction in a desperate attempt to keep costs down.

Matters came to a head in December 1837 when one of the locks at Fort Augustus collapsed. The beleaguered Canal Commissioners reported this to the Treasury in London along with their concerns about the potential for a far more serious accident due to the state of the canal south of  Loch Lochy. On the stretch known as the Banavie Reach between the lock at Gairlochy at the south west end of Loch Lochy and the top of the flight of eight locks at Banavie known as Neptune's Staircase, there were several culverts (acqueducts) carrying the canal over streams coming down off the hills to the west. The condition of these culverts was giving cause for concern: if any of them collapsed, the threat was not just that all the water in the Banavie Reach would flood out (which was bad enough) but that, due to the defective masonry they were mounted on, the gates of the lock at Gairlochy, deprived of the counterweight of the water in the canal below them, would not be able to hold back Loch Lochy (the level of which had been raised by 12 feet during the course of construction of the canal). If these gates failed, the waters of the loch would gush out in a torrent which would not stop until the loch had drained down by 27 feet (i.e. the vertical distance between the level of Loch Lochy in a flood and the bed of the canal below), a release of about 13 million cubic metres of water with the potential to cause immense damage and, possibly, loss of life.

One of the troublesome culverts on the Banavie reach

The Treasury responded to these concerns by commissioning Thomas Telford's successor as President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, James Walker, to report on both the works immediately necessary to make the canal safe and those desirable to make it viable in the longer term. In the short term, Walker recommended the insertion of a second lock at Gairlochy and work to improve run-off from Loch Oich costing a total of £17,000. To make the canal viable in the longer term, he recommended that it be deepened to 17 feet (he didn't consider the originally planned 20 feet worth the extra cost), principally by additional excavation and puddling (waterproofing) to prevent the water in the canal leaking away at the rate of nearly 700 cubic metres a minute as it did from the Muirtown Reach: with various other works, including radical surgery on some of the locks, this was all estimated to cost £104,490.

Walker's report was referred to a select committee of the House of Commons. By now the question was whether to complete the canal in accordance with Walker's recommendations or abandon it altogether: patching it up to enable it to limp along attracting such a tiny fraction of its potential traffic was no longer an option. After hearing that the cost of demolishing the canal could be almost as much as completing it, the Committee reported in August 1839 that it had no hesitation in recommending that the canal be completed to 17 feet depth in accordance with James Walker's report. This was despite the fact that, due to further deterioration of the canal works in the interim and in light of the history of consistent under-estimation of costs associated with the Caledonian Canal, Walker had advised the committee to be prepared for a total outlay of up to £200,000.

A ship being towed along Loch Oich by its own boat in 1836

You can read the Select Committee Report here. James Walker's Report is Appendix 1 and also worth reading is a report on the canal and its history by its resident engineer, George May, which is Appendix 3. They all highlight another huge problem with the Caledonian Canal, greater even, perhaps, than its inadequate depth and collapsing masonry: the three lochs - Ness, Oich and Lochy - which make up nearly two thirds of its length. The feature which appeared to make construction of the canal feasible by nature having already built so much of its length was actually its greatest weakness in the age of sail. This was because the wind blows either up or down the Great Glen but never across it: a sailing ship can't sail into the wind and a tow path to enable one to be towed upwind by horses can't be built along the shore of a loch as it can along the banks of artificial cuttings. Ships entering the canal, therefore, regularly had to wait for weeks for a fair wind completely negativing any time advantage over sailing "northabouts" through the Pentland Firth. This syndrome had been apparent even to Edward Burt back in the 1730s ("would render the navigation so precarious that hardly anybody would venture on it" he said) and it's something of a puzzle why it eluded Thomas Telford but, fortunately, by the 1830s technological progress had intervened to provide a solution: steam tugs. These would enable a sailing ship to pass through the canal in just three days, even against an adverse wind, a considerable saving on the passage "northabouts". Provision of steam tugs, therefore, formed a key part of Walker's recommendations.

Not on the Caledonian Canal but the most famous steam tug of all - that depicted in Turner's 1839 classic "The Fighting Temeraire"

The Government's response to the Select Committee report was to try to privatise the canal: an Act of Parliament passed in August 1840 authorised it to lease the canal for up to 99 years at a peppercorn rent to a private operator who would undertake the improvements. But there were no takers and, before committing another six figures of taxpayers' money, the Government decided it wanted to hear the opinion of a mariner (as opposed to a civil engineer) on the vital question of whether, if the canal were completed to Walker's specifications, it would actually be used. The task was entrusted to Arctic explorer Captain Sir Edward Parry, RN. As well as inspecting the canal itself, Parry covered 1,600 miles visiting ports from Liverpool round to Hull gathering evidence from over 100 merchants, ship owners and seafarers. He submitted his report in January 1842. You can read it here. Noting the canal's present "wretched state of inefficiency", the man who had braved polar winters in pursuit of the North West Passage echoed Burt by observing: "I could not help wondering not that so few had ever availed themselves of this navigation, but that any had ever been bold enough to attempt it".

That said, Parry's conclusion was that, if duly improved (principally by deepening to 17 feet, the provision of steam tugs and various other improvements listed in Appendix 118 to his report), the Caledonian Canal would provide a quicker, safer and therefore cheaper passage than going "northabouts": Parry reckoned on an average saving of nine and a half days and - taking into account factors such as lower insurance - a financial saving of the order of £40 (about £4,000 in today's money) per passage for a 300 ton ship even if the canal dues were doubled. This being so, he believed it would be used by a large proportion of the ships going through the Pentland Firth and perhaps even by some going from west to east by the English Channel.

The Government appointed another Select Committee to consider Parry's report. This reported in May 1842 by endorsing the 1839 Committee's conclusion that the works on the canal should be proceded with. But then, in the winter of 1843 while the Government continued to dither, the long anticipated disaster at Loch Lochy was avoided by the merest stroke of good fortune. In January, a portion of masonry at the lower lock gates at Gairlochy failed during a storm. Fortunately, the upper gates held but urgent repairs had to be undertaken in atrocious conditions involving building a temporary dam across the canal to hold the loch back (which at its highest reached 2' 6" above the level of the lock gates) while work was carried out on the lock. The work was completed in February leaving the lock in a sounder condition than it had been for many years. Which was just as well because in March, one of the culverts on the Banavie Reach collapsed and all the water in the reach emptied out. If that had happened before the Gairlochy lock had been strengthened, it would almost certainly have failed with catastrophic results.

Plan from the Canal Commissioners' 16th Report (1819) showing the vulnerable lock at the foot of Loch Lochy. The canal occupied the bed of the River Lochy which was redirected into an artificial cut draining into the River Spean.

The scare appears to have galvanised the Government into action for in August 1843 it at last gave the go ahead to complete the canal and a contract was let for £136,089 to carry out the improvements recommended by James Walker over a period of three years. Work began in September and, this time, was completed only seven months behind schedule (and a mere £22,500 over budget) and the Caledonian Canal reopened from sea to sea, complete with two steam tugs (with another two on order) on 1 May 1847.

But it was too late. Despite some promising early signs, the canal never captured the volume of trade it had been designed to accommodate. The reason again was steam power which, from being the canal's saviour in the shape of steam tugs, soon became its enemy attacking it on two fronts. Firstly, from their beginnings in 1812 through the second quarter of the 19th century, steamships had been confined to niche short range applications (such as tugs and ferries) while cargos and long distances continued to be the domain of the sailing ship: this was simply because ships of typical early 19th century size couldn't carry enough coal to take a heavy load very far. But that changed in the second half of the century with the advent of larger, iron steamships, too big for even the Caledonian Canal's generously sized locks and for whom a passage northabouts through the Pentland Firth held no fears anyway. Secondly, the rise of the railway from the 1840s took away much of the coast to coast trade. (Parry had actually considered the issue of railways in his report but concluded they didn't pose a threat to the canal. He was proved wrong.) And so the canal's traffic came to be confined largely to fishing boats and smaller, local coasters. In 1860, another attempt at privatisation failed while in 1868 the costs of decommissioning were looked into by the engineer later to be responsible for the Forth Bridge, Sir John Fowler, and estimated at a £1,000,000 (about a Billion Pounds in today's money). "Practically obsolete" was how witnesses described the canal to a 1906-09 Royal Commission on Canals and Waterways which refused to endorse any public expenditure on schemes to enlarge it. Whether or not it was a "Scotch job", the Caledonian Canal was destined always to be a white elephant.

An early 20th century proposal for enlarging the canal superimposed on an actual cross section. Unsurprisingly, it was not taken up.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thomas Telford's report - canals unbuilt

In the immediate aftermath of the Jacobite rebellion of 1745/46, Government would, were it possible, have cheerfully transported every single Highlander abroad. But 50 years later, when the clansmen had transformed themselves into very useful Imperial cannon fodder, the powers that be were getting distinctly alarmed at the rate of emigration from the Highlands & Islands.

Thomas Telford 1757-1834






















In July 1802, the Treasury wrote to the civil engineer Thomas Telford - best known, perhaps, for the Menai Suspension Bridge and Edinburgh's Dean Bridge - seeking his views on the matter. He was forthright in his reply:- 

I shall not encroach upon Your Lordships’ Time by investigating all the remote or unimportant collateral Causes of Emigration, but shall proceed to that which I consider to be the most powerful in its present Operation; and that is, converting large Districts of the Country into extensive Sheepwalks.  

Responding to what might done about this, Telford was more diffident. It wasn't the done thing in these days to tell landlowners what they could or couldn't do with their property and in any event, Telford thought, the current mania for sheep farming was a bubble: the market would soon be saturated and a more balanced and labour intensive kind of mixed farming involving sheep on the uplands and cattle on the lowgrounds of smaller farms of the type found and admired by Telford on the north side of Loch Tay would emerge in its place. (He was wrong about that, sadly: when the sheep bubble burst several decades later, it was replaced by deer-stalking.)


Where Telford felt himself on safer ground was in recommending that, if Government were disposed to embark on a programme of public works, now would be the time to do it in order to employ the displaced tenantry and allow them to build a little capital with which to branch out into non-agricultural industries at home rather than emigrate. Foremost among the Government's hopes for diversifying the Highland economy was the under developed west coast herring fishery. This had a been a bit of a holy grail to the Scottish authorities for nearly two centuries so prominent among Telford's recommendations was construction of the Caledonian Canal in order (amongst other benefits) that east coast fishing boats might reach the west coast without the hazard of a passage through the Pentland Firth.

Less well known than the canal, Telford also recommended the construction of roads and bridges in the Highlands at the joint expense of Government and the landowners through whose estates they would pass. These would facilitate the sort of mixed farming he aspired to by greatly easing cattle and sheep droving to southern markets and also benefit the west coast fishery, not by assisting the transport of the product to market as with farming (the fish would continue to be shipped south by sea) but by allowing more rapid communication of intelligence about where shoals of herring were appearing the fishers could respond to.

Fishing boats in Loch Hourn in 1815 by William Daniell

Telford's report was endorsed by a select committee of Parliament and the result was two Acts of Parliament passed in 1803, one of them to build the canal and the other creating the Highland Roads and Bridges Commission. By 1820, this had overseen the building of 875 miles of road, nearly all of it still in use today, as well as ten major bridges at a total cost of about £450,000 (about £30 million in today's money). I'm going to come back and write about the Commission again in future posts but I'll conclude this introduction to the topic by noticing two canals Telford considered but which didn't get built.

The part of the west coast considered most ripe for development of its fishery was what Telford called "the lochs at the back of Skye", that is the coast north from Ardnamurchan and including sea lochs such as Loch Hourn pictured above. To ease the passage of fishing boats there from the east coast it was seriously asked whether it might be possible to make another canal from the Caledonian to the west coast through either Glen Garry to Loch Hourn or Glen Moriston and Glen Shiel to Loch Duich. Telford dutifully walked both glens, out via Garry ("a very rugged and precipitous track") and back via Shiel and Moriston ("along the vestiges of a military road"). His conclusion was that it would be possible to make roads through these glens but dismissed the idea of "water conveyance" through them as "altogether unadvisable". I expect that's because the watershed of the lower of these two passes, Glen Garry, is at 718 feet only 2.6 miles from the west coast at Kinlochourn. On analogy with the numbers of locks to the summit levels of the Caledonian and Crinan Canals (106 & 64 feet respectively), that would have meant something like 90 locks in that 2.6 miles! It's interesting, though, that the very geography which made these glens impractical for canals (high summits close to the sea) was what made them ideal for hydro-electric development a century and a half later (see here).

A bit less of a no hoper in the canal stakes was one (red on the map above) just five miles long from the sea at the head of Loch Eil to Loch Shiel (a fresh water loch) which the fishing boats could then sail down and enter the sea again at Loch Moidart via the River Shiel and thus avoid a longer route down Loch Linnhe, up the Sound of Mull and round the Point of Ardnamurchan.

Telford performed some measurements and found that Loch Shiel was only 7' 7" above sea level and the summit level between between it and Loch Eil was only 43' ASL. So far so good in canal building terms except there was no river or burn at the summit level to keep the canal full of water. It could only be supplied by Loch Shiel itself so the bed of the canal would therefore have to be on a single level 12' below Loch Shiel and 6' 5" below sea level to give vessels entering sufficient depth at low tide. But that would mean digging 47' 5" down from the summit over a distance of about a mile. Telford suspected rock would be encountered and concluded regretfully that it wasn't feasible. He didn't rule out revisiting the proposal once the Caledonian Canal had opened, though, and it was obviously a still a live enough proposal to be included on a map published seven years later in 1810 (below). But by the time the Caledonian Canal finally opened in 1822 - to lower specifications than planned but nevertheless over budget and behind schedule (Sound familiar? Another subject I may come back to!) - the enthusiasm for canals had cooled and the Loch Shiel Canal was never heard of again.

Kirkwood's map of Scotland, constructed and engraved from the best authorities, 1810

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Crossford Ferry

Still on the Clyde but much further upstream, I've posted before about legal aspects of ferries: how the LMS Railway Company interdicted a rival service to Skye across Kyle Akin (here) and MacBrayne's in the dock over a Ford Popular totalled in the sinking of the Lochiel (here). Well, here's another instalment of ferry law I chanced across the other day. It has some revealing historical and human interest insights. 

Today, we take bridges across rivers absolutely for granted. But you couldn't two hundred years ago when, often as not, rivers had to be crossed by a ferry. They explain the frequent "Boat of" names of which best known is Garten and the most bizarre Boat o' Brig: I gather it's because there had once been a bridge which was washed away and not replaced so the ferry was resumed.


One such river ferry crossed the Clyde at Crossford between Lanark and Hamilton. In 1810, its owner, one Archibald Martin, increased the fare for a passenger from a halfpenny to a penny. This prompted a complaint to the local Justices of the Peace who in these days had jurisdiction over ferries in terms of an Act of Parliament in 1669 expressed thus:-

With power also to the saids justices to visite the ferries in ther shire and, wher the ferries ly betuixt tuo shyres, that they correspond with the justices of the other shyre to the end they may appoint fit and sufficient boats and convenient landing places; and so to regulate all things concerning the ferries, as his majesties' leidges may be readily and conveniently served, and at reasonable rates, and to punish all such as shall neglect or transgress the rules set doun be them for the effect forsaid. 

In the Crossford Ferry petition, the Justices decided that, despite the 100% increase, a fare of 1d was "not unreasonable in respect of the expense incurred by the respondent [Martin] in fitting up a boat and otherwise of the present advance of the price of every article which has taken place in the country." Nevertheless, a compromise was reached that "work-people" going to and from their work should continue only to pay 1/2d.

A meeting of Irish Justices of the Peace in 1853 - closest I could find to Scotland in 1810.

There matters rested until 1827 when local residents presented a new petition to the Justices alleging that "under existing circumstances [not explained], the fare of a penny exacted from foot-passengers was exorbitant" and asking that the fare be reduced to 1/2d for everybody, not just work-people.

The justices ordered Archibald Martin, the owner of the ferry, to lodge a copy of the 1810 procedings but he dragged his heels over this and then, as a further delaying tactic, appealed to the Quarter Sessions challenging the Justices' jurisdiction over his ferry. The Quarter Sessions upheld their jurisdiction and appointed a committee "to inquire into the facts of the case, and the profits, or probable profits, of the ferry, and the rates of other ferries on the Clyde, and into all other facts bearing on the case; and to report to the next Quarter Sessions."

The committee duly carried out a site visit but Martin didn't turn up. In his absence, the committee felt that it hadn't been able to make "such minute inquiries as they could have wished" but nevertheless reported that they considered 1/2d an adequate fare for a foot passenger although a double fare could be charged for crossings between 10pm and 5am (8pm to 7am in winter) or when a passenger was carrying excess baggage. The committee added:-

"that though the establishment of a large horse-boat which had been set up by Martin was expensive, yet as it was a voluntary concern, such expense should not be taken into view, and that the proprietor of a ferry was not entitled to make it a source of private revenue, or to more than a merely remunerating rate." 

There are some interesting insights there: it's implied that the ferry operated 24 hours a day but Martin was not allowed to have the bread and butter clientele of foot passengers subsidise his horse boat which was a private venture at his risk. I don't know but the horse boat may have been like the one across the Clyde further upstream at Lampits near Carstairs Junction which operated until 1914: like the Erskine and Renfrew Ferries, it was hauled along a chain across the river:-

Lampits Ferry over the Clyde looking towards the north bank. The cottage has gone now: picture credit Hidden Glasgow

At the Quarter Sessions in August 1828, the Justices received the committee's report and Martin, having declined to participate in the site visit, now requested to see the report and time to respond to it. This the Justices were bound by natural justice to allow but, mindful of the ferryman's constant prevarications, they ordered the reduction in fare to 1/2d to take effect immediately on an interim basis pending decision of the case. Unfortunately, this merely gave Martin a golden opportunity for another stalling tactic: he appealed to the Court of Session in Edinburgh. There, the judge brushed aside Martin's renewed objection to the Justices' jurisdiction and ruled that the imposition of an interim reduction in fare was a reasonable step in the face of his prevarications. Thereupon Martin appealed again to the Inner House of the Court of Session, the Scottish equivalent of the Court of Appeal.   


Four judges heard the appeal and unanimously ruled that the interim reduction in fare to 1/2d was illegal. This was because the Quarter Sessions had ordered an enquiry into fares on other ferries over the Clyde but had acted precipitately without receiving that information (Martin's non-participation in the committee's site visit not preventing it being gathered). Lord Cringletie remarked:-

"If this ferry had been on the Tweed, I would have thought the Justices infected with Jeddart justice, as they decide first, and investigate afterwards." 

Martin's appeal to the Court of Session was what would be called nowadays a judicial review - that is it's not a decision on the merits of the case (what was the appropriate fare for the ferry) but a ruling that a decision (the interim reduction) has been made without due process and is therefore quashed. The result, therefore, was that the Court of Session remitted back to the Quarter Sessions to make a decision on the merits after they had received a full report from the committee in terms of its remit (including fares on other ferries). Nevertheless, one of the judges (the Lord Justice Clerk, Scotland's second most senior judge) strayed off into the merits a bit when he remarked:-

"They [the committee] report that the expense of the horse-boat should not be taken into view. Now the improvement by the large boat is the most important that could be suggested in regard even to foot passengers. Where a river is liable to floods, and where there is a large boat, individuals are entitled to insist on going in it when there is risk in the small one."  

The Caputh Ferry over the Tay in 1903 - it had a passenger rowing boat (left) and chain hauled horse boat (centre).

After typing the above, I remembered to consult my copy of "Ferries in Scotland" by Marie Weir (1988) which contained some more background information about the Crossford Ferry.  It appears Archibald Martin was a descendant of earlier ferrymen and acquired the ferry rights with some land he bought in the neighbourhood in 1809. Apparently the ferry had been in disuse for about 30 years previously and he resurrected it in, according to Weir, 1817 although that date doesn't square with the legal procedings previously described. But it's consistent with Martin having invested in the revived ferry and raising the fares to recoup his outlay. It also appears he was no stranger to the Court of Session having had to resort there previously to prevent an interloper from offering rival ferry services just down stream (much like the LMSR at Kyle Akin as described here). So perhaps instead of the obstructive recalcitrant I've painted him as, Archibald Martin was more sinned against than sinner in the legal field: he'd bought the ferry rights to revive and improve the service only to find himself beset by interlopers and busybodies.       

The Justices of the Peace's final decision about the fare for a foot passenger across the Crossford Ferry after it had been remitted back to them by Court of Session in 1830 is not recorded - the law reports tend to deal with the points of order of general applicability rather than the decisions on the particular facts - but it was shortly to be overtaken by the building of a bridge over the Clyde at Crossford four years later. (Note that there appears to be a mistake in the bridge's Canmore entry saying it was built in 1793.)  

Crossford Bridge viewed from upstream: picture credit Stevie C via walkhighlands

The bridge didn't mean the locals got a free passage across the river, however. That was because it was a turnpike bridge, that is one for which a Private Act of Parliament was obtained to create a body of trustees with power to raise money to build and maintain the bridge and finance this from tolls paid by users. Amongst other outlays, the bridge trustees would have had to compensate Archibald Martin for his redundant ferry rights. I don't know what the bridge toll was for a foot passenger but the 1859 Report of the Commissioners on Public Roads in Scotland (scroll up to page cxix) contains some interesting information about the bridge's finances: it had cost £2,650 to build (that would include Martin's compensation) of which £1,800 had been borrowed (and, by 1859, repaid) and £850 subscribed (i.e. invested by local landowners and businesses in expectation only of interest at 5% but not repayment). The bridge trustees didn't collect tolls themselves but, as was very common with turnpike roads and bridges, let that privilege annually to a "tacksman" (old Scottish word for a tenant or lessee) who a paid a fixed annual amount. In 1859 that was £108 which was enough to cover the bridge's overheads of £30 repairs, £10 clerk & treasurer's salary and £42:10s interest to the subscribers. No debt and revenue in excess of outgoings meant Crossford Bridge was in a pretty good position compared with many turnpikes but there was absolutely no room for complacency because the income had plummeted from £300pa two years earlier due to competition from the recently opened Lesmahagow branch of the Caledonian Railway - a common problem for turnpike roads and bridges in the mid 19th century.

OS 6 inch map surveyed 1858-69 showing the relative positions of the ferry and bridge at Crossford

The Public Roads Commission recommended the abolition of turnpikes and tolls and that all roads and bridges be paid for by the rates and that was achieved by degrees between 1878 and 1890. But it struck me that many of the issues thrown up by Crossford Ferry and its successor Bridge nearly 200 years ago still resonate today: Archibald Martin not being allowed to have his foot passengers subsidise his horse ferry reminded me a bit of Caledonian MacBrayne a few years back not being allowed to use a subsidy for carrying foot passengers between Gourock and Dunoon in effect to subsidise carrying vehicles on the same vessel because vehicle carrying was adequately being done in the private sector by Western Ferries. More generally, there's the issue of the role of the private sector and market forces in delivering vital public services. Replacing a ferry with a bridge you'd still have to pay for was famously played out at Skye twenty years ago. The difference was nobody was looking to make a profit out of Crossford Bridge (except perhaps the interest on the subscriptions) and the notion of not for (too much) profit local bridge trusts (or harbour trusts like the Clyde Navigation Trust or anything trusts) are perfectly in keeping with today's trends towards community ownership. I could ramble on in this vein but instead shall conclude with the more practical observation that, looking over the parapet of Crossford Bridge downstream to where the ferry used to be (here) ...

Looking down the Clyde from Crossford Bridge: the house on the left was the toll house
 

... the River Clyde looks scarcely deep enough for a rowing boat never mind a horse boat. Perhaps it's another ferry, like the Boat o' Brig, where the clue to more ancient history is in the name: Crossford. 

EDIT - I should have checked this before but I've just noticed that Taylor & Skinner's Survey of 1776 shows "Crossford Boat":-

Click to enlarge
 
Note how in 1776 there was no road along the west side of the Clyde between Lanark Bridge and Crossford as there is today. That means the ferry used to carry the main road from Lanark to Hamilton and was therefore a much more important crossing of the river than it is today. I think from the Public Roads Commissioners Report linked to above (page cxxii, No. 14 "The Lanark and Hamilton, or Clydeside Turnpike") that the road along west side of the Clyde from Lanark Bridge to Crossford (today's A72) may have been built at the same time as the Crossford Bridge in 1834. If so, the bridge came at the same time as the crossing being greatly diminished in importance to just being a local traffic link north to Carluke.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

King George V Dock



Picture credit Robert Orr

The picture above came up in my Flickr contacts feed captioned as a ship going up the Clyde with wind turbine blades to King George V Dock.

In my ignorance, I was surprised to learn the KGV dock was still in operation considering the general rundown of shipping on the Upper Clyde. But Google Earth imagery (dating as recently as August 2016) showed a few ships in and a lot of turbine blades lying around.


A quick Google search brought me the picture below:-

KGV Dock looking east: Picture credit The Glasgow Story

Note how the dock slices through Renfrew Road running from Govan to Renfrew leaving Shiels Farm visible just this side of the dock at the end of a cul-de-sac. The house in the foreground is Braehead House and all that's now covered by Braehead Shopping Centre etc.  In fact Shiels Farmhouse is still standing in amongst the retail park, just east of the Sainsbury's petrol station:-

Shiels - looks to have been quite posh for a farmhouse: Picture credit Thomas Nugent via Geograph

This is calling out to be viewed then and now on the National Libraries of Scotland Georeferenced Map Viewer (use the transparency of overlay slider):-

OS 6 inch map 1857

On the 1 inch map below, note how at the date of survey the road diversion must have been built but not yet the dock itself:-


And I enjoyed this picture taken in 1977 before the shopping centre etc. was built of a stretch of the Old Govan Road, now the cul-de-sac to Shiels west of the KGV Dock, with the tramlines still in it:-

Old Govan Road looking west: Picture credit David Douglas via Geograph

This isn't the only point at which the road along the south side of the Clyde from Glasgow to Govan and Renfrew had to be diverted to accommodate new docks. It also had to be moved to loop round Prince's Dock built in the 1890s. (An earlier scheme involved Govan Road continuing on its original line and being carried across the entrance to the dock by a swing bridge. But this was later abandoned, not uncontroversially, as you can read here.):-

1859 6 inch map superimposed over 1920s 1 inch map when the Prince's Dock still existed

Back at the KGV Dock, it was built in 1931 to accommodate the increasingly larger ships that were getting too big for the Prince's and Queen's Docks further upriver so it was the last major development of Glasgow Harbour. It was originally intended that there be two more similar docks to the west but the economic downturn of the 1930s stopped them going ahead: you can see their outlines on the plan below of land belonging to the Clyde Navigation Trust (click to enlarge):-

Picture credit Ballast Trust

There are lots of fascinating aerial pictures, old and new, on the KGV Dock's Canmore entry. The one below is my favourite:-

KGV Dock looking north east: Picture credit Canmore

This led me into a bit of a digression about the history of Glasgow Harbour generally. My bible on this is Glasgow's River by Osborne, Quinn & Robertson which I've not looked at for a while. It's out of print now but you can get it second hand off Amazon - see here and 6,95€ including postage is well worth it.


Anyway, a thumbnail sketch of the history is that, in the 17th century, the Clyde was too shallow for seagoing ships to get up to Glasgow so, in 1662, with the city's international trade developing, the magistrates bought 13 acres of land downstream at Newark and built Port Glasgow. The following century, efforts were directed to deepening the river up to Glasgow by building groynes (dikes) out from the banks to narrow the flow of water but speed it up so that the river would scour itself deeper. This began in 1775 and in 1806 work began on joining the ends of the groynes with walls so as to canalise the river. Between the scouring effect and a lot of dredging, foreign going ships were able to reach the Broomielaw by 1818.

Glasgow around 1780 with ships at the Broomielaw to the west of Jamaica Street Bridge: Picture credit The Glasgow Story

These works were carried out under Acts of Parliament which were consolidated in 1858 to create the Clyde Navigation Trust charged with running and developing Glasgow Harbour. In 1966, this venerable institution, headquartered at 16 Robertson Street, was merged with Greenock Harbour Trust and the Clyde Lighthouses Trust (which built and maintained the Cumbrae, Cloch and Toward Lights) to form the Clyde Port Authority.

The CPA (which had acquired Ardrossan Harbour in 1968, I think), in turn, was privatised in a management buyout in 1992 to become Clydeport PLC. (Trust ports like the CPA were an interesting sub-set of the privatisations of the 1980s and 90s in that they were given power to privatise themselves if they wanted to unlike the big utilities which were privatised compulsorily.) During the passage of the privatisation legislation through the House of Lords in 1991, the Viscount of Oxfuird (a forklift truck sales executive during the day) gave a thumbnail sketch of the decline of the Clyde as a port which caught my eye:- 

It is important to concentrate for one moment on the changing patterns of trade over the recent past. What has happened is entirely beyond the control of the [CPA]. Some 73 per cent. of Britain's trade is now with Europe. That trade has shifted across from the west to the east and south coasts of England. Scottish industry is now based mainly on financial services in the high-tech province which is concerned with high value and low volume and is serviced by air freight or containers. There has been the advent of North Sea oil. Some 12 million tonnes of crude oil trade from the Middle East has been lost to the Clyde.

Scotch whisky used to be made from maize and corn from the United States and Canada. Today, except for a few tonnes of maverick imports from France, it is made from home-grown barley. Britain was formerly a net importer of 30 million tonnes of grain and cereals per year. The European common agricultural policy has changed that. We are now essentially self-sufficient. If anything, we are a modest net exporter.

In 1970 the Clyde exported 1.6 million tonnes of general cargo, mainly to Australia, New Zealand and the Far East. Containerisation changed all that. The trade was lost. Nevertheless the Clyde managed to convert some of it into 750,000 tonnes of container traffic.

Anyway, the newly privatised Clydeport bought the Hunterston Ore Terminal from British Steel in 1993 and the following year sold the land at Braehead once earmarked for the extension of the KGV Dock to a joint venture between Marks & Spencer and Sainsburys for £11m for the shopping centre.

In 2003, Clydeport was taken over by the Peel Group which also owns, amongst other things, Liverpool Docks and Airport as well as something else I was surprised to discover is still operational: the Manchester Ship Canal. 

Peel's red branding in evidence at the Renfrew Road entrance to the KGV Dock

So changing patterns of trade have transformed the KGV Dock from having been the Clyde Navigation Trust's furthest down-river facility for its biggest ships to its successor's furthest up-river facility for its smaller ships. And though not as busy as in its heyday, it's good to see some ships (apart from the Waverley) still going up the Clyde. And it's pleasing to know that, despite all the changes, Clydeport is still headquartered at 16 Robertson Street.

The M/S Abis Breskens proceeds up the Clyde to KGV Dock. The crane in the background is at the old John Brown's site in Clydebank (see here) Picture credit Robert Orr