Canals, 1986, by Charles Hadfield
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 againuntil
one day it is done.
World Canals tries to give the readerperhaps already
a canal enthusiastan 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'
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
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 commontalk 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