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Canals. History’s Motorways On Water.

Once upon a time in England as the industrial revolution was underway a solution had to be found to transport goods around the country more directly and by a method that could carry more weight than a horse and cart. That solution became the extensive system of canals which criss-crossed much of the country and the horse drawn narrow boats which sailed up and down them to keep the factories and industry going. Think of a canal as the motorways of the industrial revolution.

As new, better and faster says to travel emerged over the years the canal system fell in to decline although there still remains a reasonable network of navigable canals in the UK with these magnificent feats of engineering and their ingenious lock systems for raising and lowering barges and narrow boats still used today though mainly for pleasure rather than to service industry.

To help preserve the history and lifestyle of when canals were king, the National Waterways Museum was founded in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire around forty years ago. It is maintained by the Waterways Trust helped by lottery funding. This means that the large collections of traditional narrow boats and their associated goods and chattels can be maintained for visitors to see what life was like for those who relied on the canals for their living.

The museum is open from 10am to 5pm almost every day very close to junction 9 of the M53 motorways. Good rail and public transport links mean it is easy to get to for all visitors eager to experience a bit of educational history. The site itself was once a working canal docks designed by Thomas Telford.

Now it boasts a large collection of historic canal boats and the waterways archive which has all kinds of historical records and other information about the canals systems. A blacksmith was essential to maintain and repair canal boats and you can see a working blacksmith at the museum working in his forge.

Porters Row cottages represent where the canal workers would live and give the visitor a look back in time to the more basic domestic arrangements of the day in Ellesmere Port. The Power Hall displays actual canal-related machinery such as various pumps and early hydraulic engines with the Pump House containing larger machinery and pumping engines.

You can even take a trip up the Shropshire Union Canal on a canal boat with the tour guide telling you what a working life was like back then along with the history of some of the landmarks or if something a little more substantial is your fancy then you may prefer to take the cruise up the Manchester Ship canal and learn about how that iconic waterway helped to shape life in the region.

A visit to the National Waterways Museum is just one of the many historical attractions to the Cheshire visitor. For example it is a short drive away from Chester and Liverpool both of which have much to offer the historian or shopaholic.


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