Page:Rivers, Canals, Railways of Great Britain.djvu/17

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xi
PREFACE

miles; the same advantages of transit by water are experienced by the traders between Petersburg and Astracan, whose merchandize is conveyed in that direction one thousand four hundred and thirty-four miles.

That England, pre-eminent as she is in commerce, should have promptly availed herself of this method of conveying her manufactures from one part of the island to another, is hardly to be wondered at. Her first canals were, however, the works of foreigners, and amongst these, the most remarkable one on record is the Caerdike, cut by the Romans with a view of forming a communication between the Rivers Nyne or Nene and the Witham; the length of this stupendous work, for such it then was, however it has been exceeded by those of more recent date, was forty miles from its commencement in the Nene near Peterborough to its opening into the Witham three miles below Lincoln. For what has been effected from that time to the present day, we refer to the following pages, and shall now proceed to consider the other branch of commercial transit, the rail and tramroad.

Of the first adoption of the conveyance of goods on Railways, we have no distinct account; by whom they were originally brought into use, and in what part they obtained their celebrity, are facts alike unknown. To a certain degree they no doubt have been introduced many years ago; indeed it is not too much to suppose that the first workers of mines, not only in Britain but in other countries also, were acquainted with the method of laying a kind of tram for the sledge to run upon, afterwards fitted with wheels and converted into small waggons; to which we may trace the origin of our present improved mode of constructing them. But whatever may have been their origin, it appears that they were soon generally adopted—to a trifling extent, it is true, for during a great part of the time that they have been known, they have been limited to the conveyance of minerals from various parts of a mine to its mouth, in places where horses could not find room, and where the labour of propelling by manual force would have been particularly tedious and oppressive without their aid.

As their use became more apparent, the mode of applying it became more extensively sought into. From their former