| At the National Archives of Scotland
(NAS) the records of canals are found in a number of different series.
The original impetus for the development of canals was to improve
transport and revitalise local trade routes. Scotland's natural waterways
were notoriously difficult to navigate and land transport was slow
and unreliable. By the mid 18th century the expansion of trade made
transport improvements a necessity. The Forth and Clyde Canal was
the first to be completed, in 1792, and the next four major canals
that followed were all completed by 1822.
After nationalisation of all waterways on 1 January 1948, there was
growing pressure for canal closure. In 1958 a Committee of Inquiry
into Inland Waterways reported on the future of the canals (The Bowles
Report). The NAS holds government records relating to this. (NAS ref.
DD12, DD17 and AF62).
Up until recently the Caledonian and Crinan Canals were the only
ones that remained navigable. Parts of the lowland waterways were
filled in. These waterways were also used for supplying local industries
with water. All are now used principally for leisure purposes. In
2001, as part of a multi-million pound project, the Edinburgh and
Glasgow Union Canal was re-opened.
The Caledonian Canal
Surveys for a canal from the Moray Firth to Loch Linnhe were made
in 1773 and 1793. In 1803 Thomas Telford reported on the feasibility
of a canal through the central Highlands of Scotland in his Survey
and Report of the Coasts and Central Highlands of Scotland. An Act
of Parliament establishing the Caledonian Canal Commissioners was
passed on 27 July 1803. The canal finally opened to traffic in 1822.
In 1848 the Commissioners were made a corporate body. The Caledonian
and Crinan Canals were leased to private undertakings in 1860. Both
were transferred to the Ministry of Transport in 1920, when the
Commissioners ceased to exist (see NAS ref. MT1). In 1947 the canals
were transferred to the British Transport Commission. The British
Waterways Board took over responsibility under the Transport Act,
The main series of records in the NAS cover the period 1804 - 1907
(NAS ref. BR/CCL). Correspondence and other papers, 1803 - 1921 are
in the Ministry of Transport papers (NAS ref. MT1).
The Crinan Canal
A survey for the Crinan Canal was made by James Watt in 1771. An
Act of Parliament of 1793 established 'The Company of Proprietors
of the Crinan Canal'. The construction of the canal, from Ardrishaig
to Loch Crinan in Argyllshire, commenced in the same year on plans
prepared by John Rennie. The canal, though incomplete, finally opened
in 1801. From the beginning it was beset by financial problems.
In 1811, a heavy gale washed away the principal embankment of a
reservoir to the Crinan at Glen Clachaig and water rushed into the
canal, sweeping away part of the road, closing it to navigation.
This and persistent repair work meant that between 1799 and 1816
several statutes were required to authorise advances of public money
(£74,400 in all) towards the completion and improvement of
the canal, the revenues of which were assigned to the Exchequer.
(See NAS ref. E307/15, E307/20-21 and E307/26-28). The final advance
was made to the Caledonian Canal Commissioners, who were to oversee
the expenditure of the money. By an Act of Parliament of 1848 the
Crinan Canal was vested in the corporate body entitled the Commissioners
of the Caledonian Canal.
Both the Crinan and Caledonian Canals were transferred to the Ministry
of Transport in 1920, when the Commissioners ceased to exist (see
NAS ref. MT1). In 1947 they were transferred to the British Transport
Commission. The British Waterways Board took over responsibility
under the Transport Act, 1962.
The main record series held by the NAS covers the period 1792 -
1935 (NAS ref. BR/CRI). Correspondence and other papers, 1803 -
1921 are in the Ministry of Transport papers (NAS ref. MT1).
The Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal
The canal was incorporated under an Act of Parliament of 1817. In
1849 the canal company was vested in the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway,
which then amalgamated with the North British Railway in 1865. The
NAS holds the main series of minutes of the Committee of Subscribers,
1813 - 1922 (NAS ref. BR/EGU/1/1-9).
Forth and Cart Junction Canal
The canal company was incorporated under an Act of Parliament of
1836 to construct a canal extending from the Forth and Clyde Canal
at Whitecrook to the River Clyde, opposite the River Cart. Work
on this short stretch of canal was transferred to the Forth and
Clyde Canal Company which became vested in the Caledonian Railway
in 1867. The canal closed in 1893.
The NAS has a notice to shareholders of the Forth and Cart Junction
Canal about the proposal of the proprietors of the Forth and Clyde
N to purchase their canal, 1855 (NAS ref. BR/FCC). This notice includes
brief remarks on the history and purpose of the canal.
Forth and Clyde Canal
The earliest and fullest set of canal company minute books in the
NAS date from 1767. These are minutes for the Forth and Clyde Canal.
As early as 1707 John Adair, the cartographer, had put forward detailed
proposals for a canal between the Forth and Clyde. In 1763 the Board
of Trustees for the encouragement of Fisheries, Manufactures and
Improvements in Scotland (NAS ref: NG) asked the engineer John Smeaton
to carry out his own survey. His reports of 1764 and 1767, with
other papers on the canal, are in the Clerk of Penicuik papers (NAS
ref. GD18). After its completion in 1792, the Forth and Clyde Canal
was seen as a great engineering achievement and a significant contribution
to the economy of Scotland.
Although meetings were held in both London and Edinburgh until 1787,
management of the company after 1775 was mainly exercised from Glasgow
and minutes and reports were simultaneously produced in all three
places, often duplicating each other. The surviving minutes, 1767
- 1850, are now amalgamated under the reference BR/FCN/1/1-97.
The Glasgow Paisley and Johnstone Canal
The canal was incorporated by an Act of Parliament of 1806 as "The
Company of Proprietors of the Glasgow Paisley and Ardrossan Canal".
In 1826 the company received powers to form a railway, but in 1840
an Act separated the railway from the company. The company was then
styled "The Glasgow Paisley and Johnstone Canal Co." In
1868 it was vested in the Glasgow and South Western Railway.
The NAS holds the company minute books, 1815 - 40 and records relating
to undertakings, reports, rates etc (NAS ref. BR/GPA). An earlier
minute book, 1805-17, is among the Court of Session papers (NAS
The Monkland Canal
The Monkland Canal gave Glasgow access to the mineral resources
of North Lanarkshire. It was projected to provide the city with
a plentiful supply of coal. James Watt began work on the canal in
1770. Work was finally completed by William Stirling & Sons
of Glasgow in 1789. In 1790 an Act of Parliament was procured to
allow the construction of a junction between the Monkland and the
Forth and Clyde canals by a cut from the Forth and Clyde basin at
Port Dundas to the monkland Canal basin. The Monkland canal was
bought in 1846 by the Forth and Clyde Canal company (taken over
by the Caledonian railway in 1867). The Monkland Canal was closed
to commercial traffic in 1935 and was abandoned in 1950.
The records which the NAS holds on Scottish canals are scattered through
the following archives.
British Rail (NAS ref. BR)
Many canal companies were taken over by railway companies. The records
may include minute books, deeds and contracts, reports, letter books,
cash books, stock and share registers, lists of tolls, charges and
classifications of merchandise, canal and wharf dues and public
British Waterways Board (NAS ref. BW)
Successor to the Caledonian and Crinan Canal Commissioners and the
Ministry of Transport. Many records remain with the British Waterways
Board. A catalogue of these records is available at General Register
Crinan Canal records, 1878 -1959 (NAS ref. BW1)
Ministry of Transport (NAS ref. MT)
Papers of the Caledonian and Crinan Canal, 1803 - 1921 (NAS ref.
Exchequer records (NAS ref. E)
Records of the estates forfeited from the Jacobites (NAS ref. E700
- E788). Listed under each estate.
Crinan Canal Papers, 1799 - 1844 (NAS ref. E331)
Private family and estate collections (NAS ref. GD)
A source list of canal records in private collections is available
in our search rooms.
Register House Plans (NAS ref. RHP)
Maps and plans recording proposed canal sites and improvements.
Scottish Government files
Some files relating to canal affairs appear in the papers of the
Court of Session and Sheriff Court papers will include material relating
to legal cases.
||BR/CCL,MT1, E331, GD155,
|Edinburgh and Glasgow Union
GD51, GD418, GD30, GD310, DD12/3125, DD17/1458, RHP92900, RHP
|Forth and Clyde
||BR/FCN, GD18, GD58, AF62,
|Forth and Cart
|Glasgow, Paisley and Johnstone
DD17/113, CS230/S.11/4, CS96/1127
Civil and industrial engineering
There are surveying plans relating to all four main canals, the Edinburgh
and Glasgow Union, Crinan, Caledonian, and Forth and Clyde. In private
collections there is reference to construction of a bridge over the
Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal at Redding including specifications,
conditions, schedules, form of tender and contracts (NAS ref. GD310/27).
Historical records relating to the Forth and Clyde Canal contain a
plan of the passage boat 'Vulcan' built in 1818, which was the canal's
first iron boat (NAS ref. BR/FCN/3/1).
Evidence of Scottish trade is found in the accounts of the dues collected
from vessels passing through a canal and their cargoes. The Crinan
Canal's operations can be found in the British Waterways records held
by The National Archives (London)(TNA) (TNA ref. BW1). Regular cargoes
on the Crinan Canal were coals, bricks, timber and barley going north,
and slates, wool and kelp travelling south (NAS ref. E 331/17-28 and
BR/CRI/4/2-8). Information about cargoes may also be found in petitions
recorded in minute books for reduction of dues, e.g. in pig iron (NAS
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert travelled along the Crinan Canal
in 1847. The NAS holds documents accounting for that trip (BR/CRI/4/1)
and for other passenger journeys on the canals including tolls and
rules and regulations (eg. NAS ref. BR/EGU/4/1-6).
NAS ref. E730/21 contains material on the proposed construction of
the Strathmore Canal. Additionally there is a memorandum on a proposed
canal between the harbour of Arbroath and the town of Forfar, dating
from a re-survey undertaken by Robert Stevenson (NAS ref. GD16/38/52).
In the NAS there are no lists of employees who worked on the canals:
lists of the proprietors and Commissioners are more common (e.g. NAS
ref. BR/CRI/2/1). The Caledonian Canal Commissioners were constantly
being criticised for employing Irish rather than Scottish labourers.
One of the main reasons for building the canal had been to curb the
rising tide of emigration. Records of the Lord Advocate's Department
reveal a small number of canal workers who found themselves on the
wrong side of the law (NAS ref. AD14/19-22). The Forth and Clyde Canal
records include documents relating to uniforms issued to staff, holidays
etc, 1904 - 1909 (NAS ref. BR/FCN/4/10)
Minute books may include social detail, such as a complaint in 1892
that employees or their families were damaging the 'trade of licensed
premises'. At Cairnbann on the Crinan Canal 'a lock keeper's wife
places her table
refurbishments and cow almost directly in front
of the Hotel and declines to remove'. (NAS ref. MT1/226)
Falkirk Museums History Resource Centre holds the records of William
Forbes. He objected to the Union Canal passing within sight of Callendar
House. In consequence a tunnel was built to house the canal for 700
yards through solid rock under Prospect Hill. The Resource Centre
also hold a series of work diaries written by Thomas Wilson, engineer
on the Forth and Clyde Canal.
The National Archives (London) (TNA) have Scottish canal records amongst
the records they hold of Treasury Expired Commissions, the Admiralty
and other UK Government bodies. These records relate to the Caledonian,
Crinan, Forth and Clyde and Union Canals. British Waterways hold minutes,
canal reports, accounting records and other papers relating to all
the principal canals.
The Linlithgow Union Canal Society, which promotes recreational use
of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal, has a museum. Further information
can be found on their website.
J Boughey, 'Hadfield's British Canals' (Alan Sutton, 1994)
D D Gladwin, 'An illustrated history of British waterways', (Spurbooks
Jean Lindsay, 'The canals of Scotland' (David &Charles, 1968)
National Archives of Scotland
Crown copyright 2006