Canal Town

For the years following the arrival of the canal, between 1791 and 1823, there was a change in emphasis in Berkhamsted away from crafts (wood-turning all but disappeared) and towards trade.

A contemporary account in Pigot’s Directory in 1823 gave an insight into the trade made possible via canal: “The grand junction canal enters the county a little above Berkhamstead… this canal is of unspeakable advantage to inland navigation, and the quantities of malt, corn and wheat conveyed by means of it to the very vicinity of London are immense”. There was mutual advantage because the empty waggons and barges were loaded with luxury items and manure (hopefully separately) for the return journey (W. Branch Johnson, Hertfordshire, P.32).

Boat Building

The canal brought new economic activities to Berkhamsted, such as boat building. William Butler owned a boat called “The Berkhampstead Castle”, built by Messrs. Peacock and Willetts in the Castle boatyard in 1801. It was registered in 1802 in the Grand Junction gauging register as “employed in the Hay and Coal Trade from Berkhampstead to London”. By 1823, John Hatton had taken over the boat yard at Castle Wharf which he ran with his wife Elizabeth. Her father Thomas Monk founded a dynasty of boat builders with his fleet of narrowboats in the Black Country, attributed “monkey boats”. Hatton later diversified into trading coal and salt – he remained at the boat yard for at least 55 years according to census and Pigot’s Directory records.

Castle Wharf_2009

Castle Wharf at Christmas 2009

Turnpike & Canal

What was the effect on turnpike trade when the canal arrived? Was there a reduction in road usage and associated businesses, or were complementary arrangements possible?

The Grand Junction Canal had been completed from Brentford to Berkhamsted in 1798; the connection to Birmingham took another seven years due to the complications of building the Blisworth tunnel. In the intervening years, Berkhamsted developed a thriving business as an inland port. Wharves were built for trans-shipment of goods between the canal and turnpike for onward journeys. Roads retained passenger transport and carriers were able to deliver goods to their customers’ doorsteps, unlike the canal. National companies such as Pickfords prospered because they were able to combine both forms of transport.

The wharf at Boxmoor (three miles downstream from Berkhamsted) was advertised in the Times on 17 Nov 1797 for lease with “the opportunity of embracing the most extensive trade on the line of the Canal, as from its peculiar situation it must command the trade in a variety of branches; from the North West to the Eastern part of the adjacent County, and the great resort of teams to the Hemel Hempstead Corn-market, cannot fail to ensure it.” Apart from agricultural products and manure, the sort of cargo that the barges carried can be ascertained from a similar advertisement in the Morning Chronicle on 8 Jun 1815 for the lease of the same wharf: “Iron, Coal, Timber, Stone, Soot, Ashes, and other Trades” and the proximity of the road to London was mentioned as an advantage for prospective lessees.

A Buckinghamshire farmer won first prize with his ox at the Smithfield fat stock show in 1799; its prime condition was attributed to its method of conveyance on a barge via the new Wendover Arm of the canal (D. Miles & M. Nobbs, Canal Memories through Dacorum, 1999, p.1). Berkhamsted boasted the same advantages as Boxmoor for waterway trade with the added benefit of being directly on the canal.

From MSc dissertation The social and economic impact of transport systems in Berkhamsted, 1760-1825
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