Montage of canal images. Follow this link to skip navigation.
Link to the canal archive

Canal Archive: Bridging the Years

Link to home page
Link to canals section
Link to railways section
Link to aviation section
Link to learning zone
Link to about this site
Link to send feedback
Navigation ends

A Helping Hand

Navvies used several devices to make their hard work a little easier. As they dug deeper and deeper into the cutting, it became more and more difficult to lift the extracted material back up to the top of the banks. To deal with this the men used barrow runs or roads.

Barrow runs, or roads, consisted of a wooden ramp up the bank. A navvy and his full barrow would be pulled up this ramp on a rope, which was normally attached to a horse at the top that provided the pulling power. The trip back down to the bottom of the cutting with an empty barrow sounds very precarious, with the navvy using himself as a brake.

The famous expert on the Manchester Ship Canal, Sir Bosdin Leech, commented on the use of these barrow runs, stating 'a man goes up and down nearly twice a minute. When strangers saw half a dozen of these.., they looked in astonishment at the exciting scene, and said it was one of the most curious sights on the canal'.

A more sophisticated version of the barrow run was the steam road. This system consisted of two platforms that carried full barrows up to the top of the bank, whilst at the same time also returning empties. The power for this was provided by a steam engine, greatly improving productivity.

Go to the next page >

This is page 2 of Digging the Big Ditch.
View the complete story contents.

Navvies using a barrow run

Navvies using a barrow run
Find out more about this image >

An inclined ramp or steam road

An inclined ramp or steam road
Find out more about this image >

  Intro     1     2     3     4     5     6     7     8