Transport — canals and railways

Transport — canals and railways

Transport in Changing Britain (1760-1914)


  • Instrumental in the Industrial Revolution, canals became the vital transport arteries of Britain in the 18th century.
  • The Bridgewater Canal (opened in 1761), is considered the first true canal in Britain. It was commissioned by Francis Egerton, the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, to transport coal from his mines to the industrial areas of Manchester.
  • Canals provided an efficient way to transport heavy goods like coal, iron, and cotton, eliminating the difficulties posed by roads.
  • The creation of the Canal Mania in late 18th century led to a rapid expansion of canals, but they were eventually superseded by railways due to their speed and capacity.


  • The development of steam locomotive technology revolutionised land transport. George Stephenson is widely recognised as the ‘Father of Railways’ for his pioneering work.
  • Railways provided a faster, more efficient means of transportation compared to canals and roads, essential for the delivery of raw materials and goods during the Industrial Revolution.
  • The opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830 marked the dawn of rapid railway expansion, known as Railway Mania.
  • The Railway Acts of the 1840s imposed regulations on railway companies, ensuring safety and standardisation of aspects like track gauge.
  • Along with goods transportation, railways also started passenger services providing mobility for workforce, and encouraging tourism.
  • Railways spurred urbanisation, as towns and cities grew up around the new railway stations, shaping the industrial landscape of Britain significantly.
  • The boom in railway construction led to foreign investment, contributing to the global spread of the technology and solidifying Britain’s position as a leading industrial nation.