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Moving Cargo

Canals and railways

The work of a port does not stop once the passengers have disembarked or the container has been unloaded. Unless destined for somewhere local, they or it have to be carried to distant towns or factories. Prior to the 18th century, the easiest way to do this was by water. Roads were poorly built and maintained and travel on them slow and laborious. Hence many ports grew on or near rivers, which allowed the cargo to be transferred to smaller vessels which could penetrate far inland. An obvious way to extend the network of waterways was to build canals. The 18th century saw a number of these built. They usually connected manufacturing or mining areas with ports. For instance, the Trent and Mersey Canal linking Merseyside and the Midlands allowed china clay to be carried from the Mersey to the Potteries in Staffordshire. The Grand Union connected Birmingham with London. 

Solent Freighter goods train in Southampton docks

Magnifying glassSolent Freighter goods train in Southampton docks

When railways arrived in the first half of the 19th century, they often served ports: think of the Liverpool and Manchester and the Stockton and Darlington railways. The ports themselves would often encourage the people who promoted railways or canals, as they realised these transport arteries would expand their trade.

For passengers, travel to a port would originally have meant hitching a lift on a river boat, going by coach or horse for those who could afford it, or walking for those who could not. With canals, there were sometimes `fly boats`. These were pulled by teams of horses which trotted along the bank and were changed frequently to ensure fast journeys. The railways made fast travel possible for the first time, and passenger travel by sea expanded enormously, helped by the simultaneous development of the steamship. For ports handling large numbers of passengers, stations were built as close as possible to the ship`s berths. 


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