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UK waterways

The United Kingdom is home to a vast network of waterways. These are navigable bodies of water in various forms such as canals, rivers and lakes.

Natural rivers and lakes were the first waterways to be used for the transportation of people and goods. These were then improved to make navigation more reliable, by the construction of artificial channels and flash locks. The introduction of the pound lock enabled more ambitious waterways to be built. The Industrial Revolution required the transport of large quantities of raw materials and finished goods, and this led to a period of 'canal mania' which saw the construction of a large network of canals in the United Kingdom.

Competition, first from railways and later from road transport, started the decline of many canal and river navigations, leading in some cases to their abandonment. The latter half of the twentieth century saw the development of recreational boating and the restoration of many disused waterways.

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The South Forty-Foot Drain is the main channel for the land-drainage of the Black Sluice Level in the Lincolnshire Fens. The Drain has its origins in the 1630s, when the first scheme to make the Fen land available for agriculture was carried out by the Earl of Lindsay. It is currently being upgraded to navigable status by the Environment Agency, as part of the Fens Waterways Link, with the new entrance lock expected to be opened in March 2009.

Main article: South Forty-Foot Drain

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Did you know?

  • …that although the Sankey Canal was opened in 1757, making it the first modern canal built in England, the Duke of Bridgewater claimed that distinction for his Bridgewater Canal, which was not authorised until two years later?
  • …that the navigation rights on the River Avon, Warwickshire were confirmed by the Stour and Salwarpe Navigation Act in 1662.

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