History - The Canal

The building of a canal across Scotland was first discussed during the reign of Charles II. It was not until the mid-1700s that the building of the Forth and Clyde Canal or “The Great Canal” as it was referred to then, became an actual possibility with funding being raised to carry out the work. The canal was to be built across the Central Belt of Scotland from east to west.

Wyndford Lock

The first spadeful was dug out in June 1768 and the construction continued for 22 years including a 7 year period when no work was carried out due to lack of funds. It was the Canal Company’s policy to try to recruit locally to provide employment in the areas the canal crossed.

The work was hard and was manual labour with the use of picks and shovels to dig out heavy wet earth. Wages were about 10d (£0.04p) per day and the workers were a tough lot. Discipline was often hard to maintain and drink was cheap and plentiful causing various problems. Theft of tools and other equipment was common and often the workers were seasonal due to also working in the agricultural land surrounding the canal works. None the less the work was done and the canal was dug.

Canal Image
Canal Image

Water was first let into the canal in 1773 when it was filled as far as Kirkintilloch, which increased this town's profile with additional trades appearing in the area. It was 2 years later that the canal opened as far as Stockingfield, Maryhill. A cut was also made towards Glasgow as far as Hamiltonhill and then funds ran short and worked stopped for 7 years.

In 1784 work resumed when the Government of the time approved a loan of £50,000 to the Canal Company, the money coming from the Forfeited Estates Fund (a legacy of the Jacobite Rebellion in 1745) and this allowed the canal to reach Bowling. The Forth and Clyde Canal was opened from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde in the summer of 1790 with the first boat navigating its channel in August of that year.

The length of the Canal from eastern sea lock to the western sea lock was 35 miles. In 1791 the Glasgow Branch was extended from Hamiltonhill to Port Dundas giving it a length of 3.5 miles. There are 39 locks to navigate on the canal with 20 locks on the eastern section the firth of Forth to Wyndford and 19 on the western section from Maryhill to Bowling on the Firth of Clyde. The canal was crossed by many bascule bridges and made use of aqueducts such as the one over the Luggie at Kirkintilloch and the river Kelvin in Glasgow.

The canal served three main purposes. It allowed seagoing vessels passage from east to west or vice versa, therefore avoiding the long passage around the north of Scotland. It provided the fast movement of goods. Agricultural produce, mineral resources and locally produced goods could be transported more easily across Scotland. It also acted as a way for travellers to move across Scotland using “Swift” boats that linked to coach services.

The Forth and Clyde Canal had an active life into the years of the Second World War though by this time railways were carrying more goods around the country. Trade was slowly falling away though transits through the canal and day tripping continued. Eventually on 1 January 1963 the Forth and Clyde Canal closed to through traffic.