Today, canals are mainly used for our leisure and pleasure. There’s nothing lovelier and more British than pottering up and down on a canal boat on a summer’s evening taking in the idyllic countryside but, during their ‘golden age’, canals served a more serious purpose.
They were used for trade and acted as a catalyst to the industrial revolution between 1770s and 1830s, making a major contribution to transformation of the country.
A new BBC programme, Canals: The Making of a Nation, is set to explore canal routes to tell a deeper story of how our waterways helped change our lives – and how that legacy lives on today.
Presented by Liz McIvor, an expert in industrial history and curator at Bradford Industrial Museum, viewers will be taken on a journey that shows just how instrumental canals were in shaping our modern world and how they came to be.
Liz says: “The canals have been covered by television programmes before, which have lately tended to focus on them as pleasureways. This is how most of us know and love them today… but not so long ago they were used for the opposite of leisure and were not the rural idyll they now seem.
“Although so many use them, it can be hard to see how they relate to each other and get a sense of the rich history and culture they were, and remain, a part of. We wanted to open up the subject and act as a way in for people who were neither boat owners nor historians.”
She adds: “Each canal has its own special interest story and each region covered gave a chance to explore a different angle of a massive story.”
There are six episodes in total with themes including engineering, geology, capitalism, heritage, geology, the boat people and the workers.
If you would like to find out more about Britain’s canal network, visit the Canal and River Trust.
Canals: The Making of a Nation will broadcast regionally on BBC One on August 28 at 7.30pm, with each region showing their relevant episode. The series of six episodes will be shown weekly on BBC Four starting on 1 September at 8pm.