The Horse-drawn Canal Barge. 1859. From The Book of the Thames from its Rise to its Fall, p. 43. Thanks to Brian J. Goggin of Stradbally North, Castleconnell, County Limerick, Ireland, for identifying this as a horse-drawn barge and pointing out that “(a) the drawing clearly shows a towrope attached to the boat's towing post, (b) the tiller is of the type usually associated with horse-drawn boats, (c) the chimney from which smoke is escaping is probably that of the cooking and heating stove in the living quarters, ie the small back cabin.”

"This navigable canal [we quote from Boydell] begins at Wallbridge, Avhere the Stroud navigation ends, and proceeds to the immediate vicinity of Lechlade, where it joins the Thames, taldng a course of thirty miles seven chains and a half. From Stroud to Sapperton comprehends a length of seven miles and three furlongs, with a rise of two hundred and forty-one feet three inches; from Sapperton to Upper Siddington, including the branch to Cirencester, nine miles eight chains and a half, and is perfectly level; and from Upper Siddington to the Thames near Lechlade. it continues a course of thirteen miles four furlongs and nine chains, with a fall of one hundred and thirty feet six inches; the general breadth of the canal is forty-two feet at the top, and thirty feet at the bottom."

We have now arrived at that point in the Thames where it becomes navigable for boats of burthen; the canal conveys in barges, each from thirty to sixty tons, the produce of the four quarters of the globe into several parts of England; the port of Bristol is thus united with that of London; other canals are combined with this: and so an internal communication was formed, tbe value of which may be readily estimated before the introduction of steam. But the railways have placed this mode of traffic almost in abeyance, — the canals arc comparatively idle, and ere long, perhaps, will be altogether deserted. The passage of a boat through the lock is now an event of rare occurrence: it is seldom opened more than once or twice in a week. Greater speed is obtained by the railway, of course, but the chief impediment arises from the cost incurred in passing through the locks and weirs along the Thames, — strange as it may seem, the expense hence arising to a laden boat of sixty tons burthen, between Teddington, where the locks begin, and Lechlade, where they terminate, is not less than thirty pounds. The natural consequence is, that steam absorbs all the traffic, except to places remote from stations; and then boats are in use only for heavy cargoes, chiefly timber and coal. The barges here used are necessarily long and narrow, — the appended engraving will convey an accurate notion of their form; — they are generally drawn up the river by two horses, and down the river by one, along the "towing-path " — a footpath by the river-side. The towing-paths between Lechlade and Oxford, in consequence of the causes we have observed upon, are so little disturbed as to be scarcely perceptible: they are for the most part so "grass-o'ergrown" as to be distinguished from the meadow only after a careful search. Indeed, all along the Thames bank to Lechlade, and much lower, almost until we approach Oxford, there is everywhere a singular and impressive solitude: of traffic there is little or none; the fields are almost exclusively pasture-land; the villages are usually distant; of gentlemen's seats there are few, and these are generally afar off; the mills are principally situated on "back-water;" and but for the pleasant cottages, nearly all of which are peasant hostelries, which, in their immediate relation to the locks and weirs, necessarily stand on the river-bank, with now and then a ferry-house, the whole of the landscape for nearly forty miles from the river-source would seem as completely denuded of population as an African desert. Between Kemble and Lechlade we did not meet two boats of any kind, and only at the lock-houses did we encounter a dozen people — except at the few villages of which we have taken note. This loneliness has its peculiar charm to the wayfarer; — it will be long ere we lose remembrance of the enjoyment we derived from a reflective saunter beside the banks of the grand old river, where solitude invites to thought. [42-43]

Other drawings and photographs of Victorian barges

Text and formatting by George P. Landow. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the University of Pittsburgh and the Internet Archive and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Hall, Samuel Carter, and A. M. Hall. The Book of the Thames from its Rise to its Fall. London: Arthur Hall, Virtue, and Co., 1859. Internet Archive version of a copy in the William and Mary Darlington Memorial Libray, the University of Pittsburgh. Web. 10 March 2012.

Last modified 11 April 2012