A Man. A Plan, A Canal – But NOT Panama!

He was a bit of a clever-clogs!

John Smeaton FRS (1724 to 1792) was a British civil engineer responsible for the design of bridges, canals, harbours and lighthouses. He was also a capable mechanical engineer and an eminent physicist. Smeaton was the first self-proclaimed “civil engineer”, and is often regarded as the “father of civil engineering”. 

Smeaton was born in Austhorpe, Leeds, England. After studying at Leeds Grammar School he joined his father’s law firm, but left to become a mathematical instrument maker ), developing, among other instruments, a pyrometer to study material expansion. In 1750, his premises were in the Great Turnstile in Holborn,

It’s an alley that runs from Holborn (London) …

… through to Lincolns Inn Fields.

Here is a view from the other end …

… but it has, apparently, changed a bit since Smeaton’s day.

In fbb’s aged mind, Smeaton is best remembered for his eponymous tower on the Hoe at Plymouth.

It wasn’t built there but was rebuilt there! It was the first successful Eddystone lighthouse (earlier attempts failed!) and was re-assembled in Plymouth as a memorial to the great man.

But Polymath Smeaton also designed the Forth and Clyde Canal. You may be surprised to hear that this waterway linked the River Forth with the River Clyde. It left the Clyde at Bowling (see yesterday’s blog) …

… and joined the River Carron at Grangemouth.

The main “raison d’etre” of the canal was trade. Horse drawn barges were an early means of transit …

… and sail was also the technology of propulsion!
But steam began to dominate. Below is a steam “puffer” entering the lock at Grangemouth. It is probably carrying iron from the foundries there, and will return from Glasgow with Coal which came via the Monkland Canal.
Here is an estbound boat near Kirkintilloch.

Boats were built and launched at Kirkintilloch, about halfway along the canal.

The passage was used by the east coast fishing fleet chasing the shoals round to the west …

… as it was much safer than going a long way “round the top” and quicker, too than cutting a corner off via the Caledonian Canal between Inverness and Fort William. For a canny Scots skipper, it was significantly cheaper too!

Finally (from a tinted postcard) a puffer nearing Bowling and its possible trip out into open sea.
There were passenger services …
… although he above Wiki note does not really do justice (or offer accuracy!) to the full passenger service story. fbb aims to return to the topic at a later date; but, for the time being, continues:-

Later, canal cruises were popular using three boats; May Queen …

… Gypsy Queen …

… and Fairy Queen.

But the canal was soon doomed!
Sea going boats got bigger, too big for the locks; and trains were cheaper and much much quicker,
After hanging on through WW2, the Forth and Clyde Canal was officially closed “for ever” in 1963. Bits were filled in and pushed into non-navigable culverts then, slowly, nature reclaimed its ground!

As the canal was heard to utter the classic phrase, “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got ot in for me!” part of the route from canal to river Carron became a road. What was even more galling is that it was called “Forth Clyde Waty”,
What an ignominious end (literally, at the Grangmouth end!) …
 … to a noble and historic engineering project.
Yet, as our blog title says, “BUT” …
Tomorrow, we cast an eye on some of the canal’s remarkable engineering and review its rebirth. John Smeaton (wherever he might be!) may yet rest in peace.
P.S. “A Man, A Plan, A Canal; – Panama” is a well known Palindrome.
 Next “Up And Under” blog : Friday 28th July 
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