to World Canals, 1986, by Charles Hadfield

Before I had written anything about British canals, I had in 1938 bought my first books about those abroad : Vernon-Harcourt's engineering classic Rivers and Canals in its 1896 edition and Roberts's The Middlesex Canal, then newly published by Harvard University Press. Thereafter I began to collect books and ephemera, and to file material, against the time when I could see, maybe one day travel on, some of the world's great waterways. I saw the Nile in 1950, travelled briefly on the Congo in 1960, and in 1961 looked for the first time from the deck of a Köln-Düsseldorfer cruise boat at the traffic passing through the Rhine gorge before the Binger Loch had been removed. That did it. My wife and I set out to spend waterway holidays overseas : the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Portugal, France, the Rhine again, the Danube, the United States and Canada. So it went on until Ron and Joan Oakley of the Inland Waterways Association began to organise regular waterways explorations abroad : then we went with them.
Books begin as ideas. Some remain so, but others move on to become shapes, which with luck develop into patterns. I cannot now date when the idea of writing an account of world inland navigations first became a pattern, but my wife noted in her diary that I began to write it on 22 November 1971. One drafts and redrafts synopses, clarifies and edits pieces of the pattern, till slowly a whole emerges. But because one only learns about the pattern by working at it, so one rewrites over and over again—until one day it is done.
World Canals tries to give the reader—perhaps already a canal enthusiast—an impression of the pattern that waterway transport has imposed upon time and space. To do more would be beyond my ability to write, the limits of words, maps and illustrations laid down for me by my generous publisher, and, probably, readers' pockets.
The result, I fear, is only too easy to criticise : "What a pity Mr Hadfield has not...", "It is difficult to credit that Mr Hadfield has not even mentioned...", "If only Mr Hadfield had taken the trouble to study..." All are painfully true. I can only plead that to my knowledge no one has previously attempted what is here offered, at any rate in English. L. F. Vernon-Harcourt in Rivers and Canals (1st ed, 1882, 2nd ed, 1896), J. S. Jeans in Waterways and Water Transport (1890) and Robert Payne in The Canal Builders (1959) showed the way.
I have faced many practical difficulties : changes of political boundaries, of place names and orthography, of units of weight and currency, and have tried to solve them sensibly if not always logically. In one respect I have failed to find a solution, and so decided to use the metric system throughout the Old World chapters, but imperial measurements for the New, though I know both Canada and Latin America are metricated. In The Old World the abbreviation "m" stands for "metres", in the new for "miles", but "M" for "million" throughout.
Given my limit of pages available, and because I was writing for the general reader, I sadly chose not to give references, except when quoting verbatim, or provide a bibliography.
Elsewhere I have tried to thank some of the very many who the years have helped me. But two debts should be paid here. In 1938, I bought those first two overseas waterway books from the red-headed girl whom I afterwards married. Since then she has been taken half round the world to look at canals and rivers, barges and ships, locks, inclines and lifts, and to meet people who have only one thing in common—talk about inland waterways. She encouraged me to start, work at, and indeed finish this book. Greater love has no woman than that she marries a canal man.
My other debt is to my subject. could any writer wish for better ?

Charles Hadfield

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