1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Canal

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18953821911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 5 — CanalEdward Leader Williams

CANAL (from Lat. canalis, “channel” and “kennel” being doublets of the word), an artificial water course used for the drainage of low lands, for irrigation (q.v.), or more especially for the purpose of navigation by boats, barges or ships. Probably the first canals were made for irrigation, but in very early times they came also to be used for navigation, as in Assyria and Egypt. The Romans constructed various works of the kind, and Charlemagne projected a system of waterways connecting the Main and the Rhine with the Danube, while in China the Grand Canal, joining the Pei-ho and Yang-tse-Kiang and constructed in the 13th century, formed an important artery of commerce, serving also for irrigation. But although it appears from Marco Polo that inclines were used on the Grand Canal, these early waterways suffered in general from the defect that no method being known of conveniently transferring boats from one level to another they were only practicable between points that lay on nearly the same level; and inland navigation could not become generally useful and applicable until this defect had been remedied by the employment of locks. Great doubts exist as to the person, and even the nation, that first introduced locks. Some writers attribute their invention to the Dutch, holding that nearly a century earlier than in Italy locks were used in Holland where canals are very numerous, owing to the favourable physical conditions. On the other hand, the contrivance has been claimed for engineers of the Italian school, and it is said that two brothers Domenico of Viterbo constructed a lock-chamber enclosed by a pair of gates in 1481, and that in 1487 Leonardo da Vinci completed six locks uniting the canals of Milan. Be that as it may, however, the introduction of locks in the 14th or 15th century gave a new character to inland navigation and laid the basis of its successful extension.

The Languedoc Canal (Canal du Midi) may be regarded as the pioneer of the canals of modern Europe. Joining the Bay of Biscay and the Mediterranean it is 148 m. long and rises 620 ft. above sea-level with 119 locks, its depth being about 61/2 ft. It was designed by Baron Paul Riquet de Bonrepos (1604–1680) and was finished in 1681. With it and the still earlier Briare canal (1605–1642) France began that policy of canal construction which has provided her with over 3000 m. of canals, in addition to over 4600 m. of navigable rivers. In Russia Peter the Great undertook the construction of a system of canals about the beginning of the 18th century, and in Sweden a canal with locks, connecting Eskilstuna with Lake Malar, was finished in 1606. In England the oldest artificial canal is the Foss Dyke, a relic of the Roman occupation. It extends from Lincoln to the river Trent near Torksey (11 m.), and formed a continuation of the Caer Dyke, also of Roman origin but now filled up, which ran from Lincoln to Peterborough (40 m.). Camden in his Britannia says that the Foss Dyke was deepened and to some extent rendered navigable in 1121. Little, however, was done in making canals in Great Britain until the middle of the 18th century, though before that date some progress had been made in rendering some of the larger rivers navigable. In 1759 the duke of Bridgewater obtained powers to construct a canal between Manchester and his collieries at Worsley, and this work, of which James Brindley was the engineer, and which was opened for traffic in 1761, was followed by a period of great activity in canal construction, which, however, came to an end with the introduction of railways. According to evidence given before the royal commission on canals in 1906 the total mileage of existing canals in the United Kingdom was 3901. In the United States the first canal was made in 1792–1796 at South Hadley, Massachusetts, and the canal-system, though its expansion was checked by the growth of railways, has attained a length of 4200 m., most of the mileage being in New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The splendid inland navigation system of Canada mainly consists of natural lakes and rivers, and the artificial waterways are largely “lateral” canals, cut in order to enable vessels to avoid rapids in the rivers. (See the articles on the various countries for accounts of the canal-systems they possess.)

The canals that were made in the early days of canal-construction were mostly of the class known as barge or boat canals, and owing to their limited depth and breadth were only available for vessels of small size. But with the growth of commerce the advantage was seen of cutting canals of such dimensions as to enable them to accommodate sea-going ships. Such ship-canals, which from an engineering point of view chiefly differ from barge-canals in the magnitude of the works they involve, have mostly been constructed either to shorten the voyage between two seas by cutting through an intervening isthmus, or to convert important inland places into seaports. An early example of the first class is afforded by the Caledonian Canal (q.v.), while among later ones may be mentioned the Suez Canal (q.v.), the Kaiser Wilhelm, Nord-Ostsee or Kiel Canal, connecting Brunsbüttel at the mouth of the Elbe with Kiel (q.v.) on the Baltic, and the various canals that have been proposed across the isthmus that joins North and South America (see Panama Canal). Examples of the second class are the Manchester Ship Canal and the canal that runs from Zeebrugge on the North Sea to Bruges (q.v.).

Construction.—In laying out a line of canal the engineer is more restricted than in forming the route of a road or a railway. Since water runs downhill, gradients are inadmissible, and the canal must either be made on one uniform level or must be adapted to the general rise or fall of the country through which it passes by being constructed in a series of level reaches at varying heights above a chosen datum line, each closed by a lock or some equivalent device to enable vessels to be transferred from one to another. To avoid unduly heavy earthwork, the reaches must closely follow the bases of hills and the windings of valleys, but from time to time it will become necessary to cross a sudden depression by the aid of an embankment or aqueduct, while a piece of rising ground or a hill may involve a cutting or a tunnel. Brindley took the Bridgewater canal over the Irwell at Barton by means of an aqueduct of three stone arches, the centre one having a span of 63 ft., and T. Telford arranged that the Ellesmere canal should cross the Dee valley at Pont-y-Cysyllte partly by embankment and partly by aqueduct. The embankment was continued till it was 75 ft. above the ground, when it was succeeded by an aqueduct, 1000 ft. long and 127 ft. above the river, consisting of a cast iron trough supported on iron arches with stone piers. Occasionally when a navigable stream has to be crossed, a swing viaduct is necessary to allow shipping to pass. The first was that built by Sir E. Leader Williams to replace Brindley’s aqueduct at Barton, which was only high enough to give room for barges (see Manchester Ship Canal). One of the earliest canal tunnels was made in 1766–1777 by Brindley at Harecastle on the Trent and Mersey canal; it is 2880 yds. long, 12 ft. high and 9 ft. wide, and has no tow-path, the boats being propelled by men lying on their backs and pushing with their feet against the tunnel walls (“leggers”). A second tunnel, parallel to this but 16 ft. high and 14 ft. wide, with a tow-path, was finished by Telford in 1827. Standedge tunnel, on the Huddersfield canal, is over 3 m. long, and is also worked by leggers.

The dimensions of a canal, apart from considerations of water-supply, are regulated by the size of the vessels which are to be used on it. According to J. M. Rankine, the depth of water and sectional area of waterway should be such as not to cause any material increase of the Dimensions. resistance to the motion of the boats beyond what would be encountered in open water, and he gives the following rules as fulfilling these conditions:—

Least breadth of bottom = 2 × greatest breadth of boat.
Least depth of water = 11/2 ft. + greatest draught of boat.
Least area of waterway = 6 × greatest midship section of boat.

The ordinary inland canal is commonly from 25 to 30 ft. wide at the bottom, which is flat, and from 40 to 50 ft. at the water level, with a depth of 4 or 5 ft., the angle of slope of the sides varying with the nature of the soil. To retain the water in porous ground, and especially on embankments, a strong watertight lining of puddle or tempered clay must be provided on the bed and sides of the channel. Puddle is made of clay which has been finely chopped up with narrow spades, water being supplied until it is in a semi-plastic state. It is used in thin layers, each of which is worked so as to be firmly united with the lower stratum. The full thickness varies from 2 to 3 ft. To prevent the erosion of the sides at the water-line by the wash from the boats, it may be necessary to pitch them with stones or face them with brushwood. In some of the old canals the slopes have been cut away and vertical walls built to retain the towing-paths, with the result of adding materially to the sectional area of the waterway.

A canal cannot be properly worked without a supply of water calculated to last over the driest season of the year. If there be no natural lake available in the district for storage and supply, or if the engineer cannot draw upon some stream of sufficient size, he must form artificial Water supply. reservoirs in suitable situations, and the conditions which must be attended to in selecting the positions of these and in constructing them are the same as those for drinking-water supply, except that the purity of the water is not a matter of moment. They must be situated at such an elevation that the water from them may flow to the summit-level of the canal, and if the expense of pumping is to be avoided, they must command a sufficient catchment area to supply the loss of water from the canal by evaporation from the surface, percolation through the bed, and lockage. If the supply be inadequate, the draught of the boats plying on the canal may have to be reduced in a dry season, and the consequent decrease in the size of their cargoes will both lessen the carrying capacity of the canal and increase the working expenses in relation to the tonnage handled. Again, since the consumption of water in lockage increases both with the size of the locks and the frequency with which they are used, the difficulty of finding a sufficient water supply may put a limit to the density of traffic possible on a canal or may prohibit its locks from being enlarged so as to accommodate boats of the size necessary for the economical handling of the traffic under modern conditions. It may be pointed out that the up consumes more water than the down traffic. An ascending boat on entering a lock displaces a volume of water equal to its submerged capacity. The water so displaced flows into the lower reach of the canal, and as the boat passes through the lock is replaced by water flowing from the upper reach. A descending boat in the same way displaces a volume of water equal to its submerged capacity, but in this case the water flows back into the higher reach where it is retained when the gates are closed.

An essential adjunct to a canal is a sufficient number of waste-weirs to discharge surplus water accumulating during floods, which, if not provided with an exit, may overflow the tow-path, and cause a breach in the banks, stoppage of the traffic, and damage to adjoining Waste-weirs and stop-gates. lands. The number and positions of these waste-weirs must depend on the nature of the country through which the canal passes. Wherever the canal crosses a stream a waste-weir should be formed in the aqueduct; but independently of this the engineer must consider at what points large influxes of water may be apprehended, and must at such places form not only waste-weirs of sufficient size to carry off the surplus, but also artificial courses for its discharge into the nearest streams. These waste-weirs are placed at the top water-level of the canal, so that when a flood occurs the water flows over them and thus relieves the banks.

Stop-gates are necessary at short intervals of a few miles for the purpose of dividing the canal into isolated reaches, so that in the event of a breach the gates may be shut, and the discharge of water confined to the small reach intercepted between two of them, instead of extending throughout the whole line of canal. In broad canals these stop-gates may be formed like the gates of locks, two pairs of gates being made to shut in opposite directions. In small works they may be made of thick planks slipped into grooves formed at the narrow points of the canal under road bridges, or at contractions made at intermediate points to receive them. Self-acting stop-gates have been tried, but have not proved trustworthy. When repairs have to be made stop-gates allow of the water being run off by “off-lets” from a short reach, and afterwards restored with but little interruption of the traffic. These off-lets are pipes placed at the level of the bottom of the canal and provided with valves which can be opened when required. They are generally formed at aqueducts or bridges crossing rivers, where the contents of the canal between the stop-gates can be run off into the stream.

Locks are chambers, constructed of wood, brickwork, masonry or concrete, and provided with gates at each end, by the aid of which vessels are transferred from one reach of the canal to another. To enable a boat to ascend, the upper gates and the sluices which command the flow of Locks. water from the upper reach are closed. The sluices at the lower end of the lock are then opened, and when the level of the water in the lock has fallen to that of the lower reach, the boat passes in to the lock. The lower gates and sluices being then closed, the upper sluices are opened, and when the water rising in the lock has floated the boat up the level of the upper reach the upper gates are opened and it passes out. For a descending boat the procedure is reversed. The sluices by which the lock is filled or emptied are carried through the walls in large locks, or consist of openings in the gates in small ones. The gates are generally of oak, fitting into recesses of the walls when open, and closing against sills in the lock bottom when shut. In small narrow locks single gates only are necessary; in large locks pairs of gates are required, fitting together at the head or “mitre-post” when closed. The vertical timber at the end of the gate is known as the “heel-post,” and at its foot is a casting that admits an iron pivot which is fixed in the lock bottom, and on which the gate turns. Iron straps round the head of the heel-post are let into the lock-coping to support the gate. The gates are opened and closed by balance beams projecting over the lock side, by gearing or in cases where they are very large and heavy by the direct action of a hydraulic ram. In order to economize water canal locks are made only a few inches wider than the vessels they have to accommodate. The English canal boat is about 70 or 75 ft. long and 7 or 8 ft. in beam; canal barges are the same length but 14 or 15 ft. in width, so that locks which will hold one of them will admit two of the narrower canal boats side by side. In general canal locks are just long enough to accommodate the longest vessels using the navigation. In some cases, however, provision is made for admitting a train of barges; such long locks have sometimes intermediate gates by which the effective length is reduced when a single vessel is passing. The lift of canal locks, that is, the difference between the level of adjoining reaches, is in general about 8 or 10 ft., but sometimes is as little as 11/2 ft. On the Canal du Centre (Belgium) there are locks with a lift of 17 ft., and on the St Denis canal near La Villette basins in Paris there is one with a lift of 321/2 ft. In cases where a considerable difference of level has to be surmounted the locks are placed close together in a series or “flight,” so that the lower gates of one serve also as the upper gates of the next below. To save water, expecially where the lift is considerable, side ponds are sometimes employed; they are reservoirs into which a portion of the water in a lock-chamber is run, instead of being discharged into the lower reach, and is afterwards used for partially filling the chamber again. Double locks, that is, two locks placed side by side and communicating by a passage which can be opened or closed at will, also tend to save water, since each serves as a side pond to the other. The same advantage is gained with double flights of locks, and time also is saved since vessels can pass up and down simultaneously.

A still greater economy of water can be effected by the use of inclined planes or vertical lifts in place of locks. In China rude inclines appear to have been used at an early date, vessels being carried down a sloping plane of stonework by the aid of a flush of water or hauled up it by Inclines. capstans. On the Bude canal (England) this plan was adopted in an improved form, the small flat-bottomed boats employed being fitted with wheels to facilitate their course over the inclines. Another variant, often adopted as an adjunct to locks where many small pleasure boats have to be dealt with, is to fit the incline itself with rollers, upon which the boats travel. In some cases the boats are conveyed on a wheeled trolley or cradle running on rails; this plan was adopted on the Morris canal, built in 1825–1831, in the case of 23 inclines having gradients of about 1 in 10, the rise of each varying from 44 to 100 ft. Between the Ourcq canal and the Marne, near Meaux, the difference of level is about 40 ft., and barges weighing about 70 tons are taken from the one to the other on a wheeled cradle weighing 35 tons by a wire rope over an incline nearly 500 yards long. But heavy barges are apt to be strained by being supported on cradles in this way, and to avoid this objection they are sometimes drawn up the inclines floating in a tank or caisson filled with water and running on wheels. This arrangement was utilized about 1840 on the Chard canal (England), and 10 years later it was adapted at Blackhill on the Monkland canal (Scotland) to replace a double flight of locks, in consequence of the traffic having been interrupted by insufficiency of water. There the height to be overcome was 96 ft. Two pairs of rails, of 7 ft. gauge, were laid down on a gradient of 1 in 10, and on these ran two carriages having wrought iron, water-tight caissons with lifting gates at each end, in which the barges floated partially but not wholly supported by water. The carriages, with the barge and water, weighed about 80 tons each, and were arranged to counterbalance each other, one going up as the other was going down. The power required was provided by two high pressure steam engines of 25 h.p., driving two large drums round which was coiled, in opposite directions, the 2-inch wire rope that hauled the caissons. An incline constructed on the Union canal at Foxton (England) to replace 10 locks giving a total rise of 75 ft., accommodates barges of 70 tons, or two canal boats of 33 tons. It is in some respects like the Monkland canal incline, but the movable caissons work on four pairs of rails on an incline of 1 in 14, broadside on, and the boats are entirely waterborne. Steam power is employed, with an hydraulic accumulator which enables hydraulic power to be used in keeping the caisson in position at the top of the incline while the boats are being moved in or out, a water-tight joint being maintained with the final portion of the canal during the operation. The gates in the caisson and canal are also worked by hydraulic power. The incline is capable of passing 200 canal boats in 12 hours, and the whole plant is worked by three men.

Vertical lifts can only be used instead of locks with advantage at places where the difference in level occurs in a short length of canal, since otherwise long embankments or aqueducts would be necessary to obtain sites for their construction. An early example was built in 1809 at Lifts. Tardebigge on the Worcester and Birmingham canal. It consisted of a timber caisson, weighing 64 tons when full of water, counterpoised by heavy weights carried on timber platforms. The lift of 12 ft. was effected in about three minutes by two men working winches. Seven lifts, erected on the Grand Western canal between Wellington and Tiverton about 1835, consisted of two chambers with a masonry pier between them. In each chamber there worked a timber caisson, suspended at either end of a chain hung over large pulleys above. As one caisson descended the other rose, and the apparatus was worked by putting about a ton more water in the descending caisson than in the ascending one. At Anderton a lift was erected in 1875 to connect the Weaver navigation with the Trent and Mersey canal, which at that point is 50 ft. higher than the river. The lift is a double one, and can deal with barges up to 100 tons. The change is made while the vessels are floating in 5 ft. of water contained in a wrought iron caisson, 75 ft. long and 151/2 ft. wide. An hydraulic ram 3 ft. in diameter supports each caisson, the bottom of which is strengthened so as to transfer the weight to the side girders. The descending caisson falls owing to being filled with 6 in. greater depth of water than the ascending one, the weight on the rams (240 tons) being otherwise constant, since the barge displaces its own weight of water; an hydraulic accumulator is used to overcome the loss of weight in the descending caisson when it begins to be immersed in the lower level of the river. The two presses in which the rams work are connected by a 5-in. pipe, so that the descent of one caisson effects the raising of the other. A similar lift, completed in 1888 at Fontinettes on the Neuffossé canal in France, can accommodate vessels of 250 tons, a total weight of 785 tons being lifted 43 ft.; and a still larger example on the Canal du Centre at La Louvière in Belgium has a rise of 50 ft., with caissons that will admit vessels up to 400 tons, the total weight lifted amounting to over 1000 tons. This lift, with three others of the same character, overcomes the rise of 217 ft., which occurs in this canal in the course of 41/3 m.

Haulage.—The horse or mule walking along a tow-path and drawing or “tracking” a boat or barge by means of a towing rope, still remains the typical method of conducting traffic on the smaller canals; on ship-canals vessels proceed under their own steam or are Animal power. aided by tugs. Horse traction is very slow. The maximum speed on a narrow canal is about 31/2 m. an hour, and the average speed, which, of course, depends largely on the number of locks to be passed through, very much less. It has been calculated that in England on the average one horse hauls one narrow canal boat about 2 m. an hour loaded or 3 m. empty, or two narrow canal boats 11/2 m. loaded and 21/2 m. empty. Efforts have accordingly been made not only to quicken the rate of transit, but also to move heavier loads, thus increasing the carrying capacity of the waterways. But at speeds exceeding about 31/2 m. an hour the “wash” of the boat begins to cause erosion of the banks, and thus necessitates the employment of special protective measures, such as building side walls of masonry or concrete. For a canal of given depth there is a particular speed at which a boat can be hauled with a smaller expenditure of energy than at a higher or a lower speed, this maximum being the speed of free propagation of the primary wave raised by the motion of the boat (see Wave). About 1830 when, in the absence of railways, canals could still aspire to act as carriers of passengers, advantage was taken of this fact on the Glasgow and Ardrossan canal, and subsequently on some others, to run fast passenger boats, made lightly of wrought iron and measuring 60 ft. in length by about 6 ft. in breadth. Provided with two horses they started at a low speed behind the wave, and then on a given signal were jerked on the top of the wave, when their speed was maintained at 7 or 8 m. an hour, the depth of the canal being 3 or 4 ft. This method, however, is obviously inapplicable to heavy barges, and in their case improved conditions of transport had to be sought in other directions.

Steam towage was first employed on the Forth and Clyde canal in 1802, when a tug-boat fitted with steam engines by W. Symington drew two barges for a distance of 191/2 m. in 6 hours in the teeth of a strong headwind. As a result of this successful experiment it was proposed Mechanical power. to employ steam tugs on the Bridgewater canal; but the project fell through owing to the death of the duke of Bridgewater, and the directors of the Forth and Clyde canal also decided against this method because they feared damage to the banks. Steam tugs are only practicable on navigations on which there are either no locks or they are large enough to admit the tug and its train of barges simultaneously; otherwise the advantages are more than counterbalanced by the delays at locks. On the Bridgewater canal, which has an average width of 50 ft. with a depth of 51/2 ft., is provided with vertical stone walls in place of sloping banks, and has no locks for its entire length of 40 m. except at Runcorn, where it joins the Mersey, tugs of 50 i.h.p., with a draught of 4 ft., tow four barges, each weighing 60 tons, at a rate of nearly 3 m. an hour. On the Aire and Calder navigation, where the locks have a minimum length of 215 ft., a large coal traffic is carried in trains of boat-compartments on a system designed by W. H. Bartholomew. The boats are nearly square in shape, except the leading one which has an ordinary bow; they are coupled together by knuckle-joints fitted into hollow stern-posts, so that they can move both laterally and vertically, and a wire rope in tension on each side enables the train to be steered. No boat crews are required, the crew of the steamer regulating the train. If the number of boats does not exceed 11 they can be pushed, but beyond that number they are towed. Each compartment carries 35 tons, and the total weight in a train varies from 700 to 900 tons. On the arrival of a train at Goole the boats are detached and are taken over submerged cradles under hydraulic hoists which lift the boat with the cradle sufficiently high to enable it to be turned over and discharge the whole cargo at once into a shoot and thence into sea-going steamers. Another method of utilizing steam-power, which was also first tried on the Forth and Clyde canal by Symington in 1789, is to provide each vessel with a separate steam engine, and many barges are now running fitted in this way. Experiments have also been made with internal combustion engines in place of steam engines. In some cases, chiefly on rivers having a strong current, recourse has been had to a submerged chain passed round a drum on a tug: this drum is rotated by steam power and thus the tug is hauled up against the current. To obviate the inconvenience of passing several turns of the chain round the drum in order to get sufficient grip, the plan was introduced on the Seine and Oise in 1893 of passing the chain round a pulley which could be magnetized at will, the necessary adhesion being thus obtained by the magnetic attraction exercised on the iron chain; and it was also adopted about the same time in combination with electrical haulage on a small portion of the Bourgogne canal, electricity being employed to drive the motor that worked the pulley. Small locomotives running on rails along the towpath were tried on the Shropshire Union canal, where they were abandoned on account of practical difficulties in working, and also on certain canals in France and Germany, where, however, the financial results were not satisfactory. On portions of the Teltow canal, joining the Havel and the Spree, electrical tractors run on rails along both banks, taking their power from an overhead wire; they attain a speed of 21/2 m. an hour when hauling two 600-ton barges. The electrical supply is also utilized for working the lock gates and for various other purposes along the route of the canal. In the Mont-de-Rilly tunnel, at the summit level of the Aisne-Marne canal, a system of cable-traction was established in 1894, the boats being taken through by being attached to an endless travelling wire rope supported by pulleys on the towpath.

When railways were being carried out in England some canal companies were alarmed for their future, and sold their canals to the railway companies, who in 1906 owned 1138 m. of canals out of a total length in the United Kingdom of 3901 m. As some of these canals are links in the chain of internal water communication complaints have frequently arisen on the question of through traffic and tolls. The great improvements carried out in America and on the continent of Europe by state aid enable manufacturers to get the raw material they use and goods they export to and from their ports at much cheaper rates than those charged on British canals. The association of chambers of commerce and other bodies having taken up the matter, a royal commission was appointed in 1906 to report on the canals and water-ways of the kingdom, with a view to considering how they could be more profitably used for national purposes. Its Report was published in December 1909.

Authorities.—L. F. Vernon-Harcourt, Rivers and Canals (2nd ed., 1896); Chapman, Canal Navigation; Firisi, On Canals; R. Fulton, Canal Navigation; Tatham, Economy of Inland Navigation; Valancy, Treatise on Inland Navigation; D. Stevenson, Canal and River Engineering; John Phillips, History of Inland Navigation; J. Priestley, History of Navigable Rivers, Canals, &c. in Great Britain (1831); T. Telford, Life (1838); John Smeaton, Reports (1837); Reports of the International Congresses on Interior Navigation; Report and Evidence of the Royal Commission on Canals (Great Britain), 1906–9.  (E. L. W.)