1908: The Canal Commission - Traders' Views

From the Swindon Advertiser, 10th July 1908

On Tuesday the Royal Commission on Canals and Waterways met again at the Westminster Palace Hotel. Lord Shuttleworth presided.

Mr. Richard Ernest Morley, traffic manager in the employ of Messrs. Bryant and May, Ltd., gave evidence. He said that at present only a small proportion of his firm's traffic went over canals. They would make a much larger use of inland water carriage if the canal service were improved. For some years past they had sent small quantities of matches by canal to various places between London and Northampton. On the whole they found the transit, though much less expeditious than rail, fairly satisfactory. The average time taken to get from London to Northampton was about four days.The rates showed percentages varying from 11 to 43 in favour of the canals. They tried the canal service to Nottingham, Leicester, and Birmingham from Liverpool some years ago, but had to give it up owing to the time taken in transit. In some cases it was ten days to a fortnight before their customers obtained delivery. Moreover the rates were not sufficiently below the railway figures to offer any inducement to continue sending by this route.

They gave the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Company a trial, but had to discontinue despatches owing to the high rates and lack of facilities for dealing with the traffic. Traffic on the Weaver Navigation had been satisfactory both as regards rates and transit. In his opinion, if they could get an improved unified canal system, under one effective control, linking up the principal ports with inland towns and districts, on which reasonably low rates could be charged, there was no reason why the canals should not regain a greater part of their former prosperity, and it would prove of immense benefit to the trade of the country.

They were only to glad to turn to any satisfactory means of transit which afforded them any real measure of relief from the heavy rates which they had to pay for conveyance by rail. 

Mr. A. K. Butterworth general manager of the North Eastern Railway, said his Company owned three waterways in Yorkshire. The allegations that the Company had deliberately adopted every possible means of preventing traffic passing over the waterways and had failed to satisfactorily maintain them, were quite unfounded. It was obvious from the evidence given before the Commission, that many persons who asked for an improvement of canals did not want to use them for traffic, but thought the effect would br to reduce railway rates.

If Parliament decided that canals should be handed over to public bodies they should be worked on commercial lines.

It would not be fair to railway companies especially in their present financial position, to subsidise from public funds a rival mode of transportation.

The Commission adjourned.