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Kirkintilloch Town and Parish
Forth and Clyde Canal


The desirableness of making a Canal from the Forth to the Clyde, and so avoiding the delay and expense of ships having to sail round by the Pentland Firth, was long ago so apparent; that in the reign of Charles II. the project was entertained.

In 1723, a similar project led to the making of a survey by Mr. Gordon, but no result was produced. In 1761, Lord Napier, at his own expense, had a survey and estimate made by Mr. Robert M'Kell. The Board of Trustees for the Encouragement of Fisheries and Manufactures of Scotland, had another survey and estimate made, which was £80,000.

The merchants of Glasgow, who were tantalized at the delay in the commencement of such a work, and apparently in a pet; met, and resolved to make a canal, four feet deep, at a cost of £30,000, which was readily subscribed. This was contemptuously termed a ditch-canal, and fortunately was fairly laughed and written down in a paper war.

Next; the nobility and gentry of the country, in 1777, began a subscription in London, for cutting a canal, 7 feet deep, at the estimated cost of £150,000. They obtained the sanction of Parliament, and were incorporated as “The Company of Proprietors of the Forth and Clyde Navigation;” their joint stock to consist of 1,500 shares of ^100 each; with liberty to borrow ,£50,000.

In 1768, the work was begun, at the east end, under Mr. Smeaton, engineer, Sir Laurence Dundas of Kerse making the first incision of the ground, on 10th July. In July, 1775, the canal was fit for navigation to Stockingfield, where a side branch was designed to lead off to Glasgow; and in 1777 the side branch was completed to Hamiltonhill, where a basin was made and granaries erected.

A number of families came from the north of Scotland, and settled in Kirkintilloch while the canal was being made; some of these were M ‘Kenzies, M‘Larens, Starks, and Russel Is. The earnings of a man and horse were only one shilling per day, but Jenny Bull nevertheless managed to build a house in High Street from her wages received at making the canal, although she always declared that she had worked like an ox. Wheelbarrows were unknown in Scotland till they were brought from England, at the formation of the canal. In making the canal through Dullatur Bog, a very deep moss in the parish of Cumbernauld, a number of swords, pistols, and other weapons were dug out; also the bodies of men and horses, and what seems somewhat marvellous, a trooper, completely armed, and seated on his horse, in the exact posture in which he had perished. This bog lay directly south of the field of the battle of Kilsyth, fought between the Marquis of Montrose and General Baillie, in 1645: and it is supposed that these were some of Baillie’s men who, in their haste to escape, being ignorant of the ground, and hard pressed by their enemies, had ridden or ran into the bog and there perished. Extract of a letter from Kilsyth, January, 1772: "Some time ago the cut of the great canal, through Dullatur Bog, was filled with water, and shut up at both ends, in order to try what effect that would have in preventing the banks from falling in, and the slime, or moss, from spouting up from the bottom of the canal, which has occasioned its being dug, in many places, two or three times. I am glad to inform you that this trial has been attended with the desired success; for in a few days the mossy substance floated in great quantities, broke down the bank at one end, and, like the Solway Moss, ran off. It is hoped this cut will now answer, without further trouble or expense.”—Scots Magazine. The water has never since been let off from the canal through the Dullatur Bog, so far as is known, for fear of the bog again giving trouble. The tracking-path through the bog is continually sinking, and has to be heightened with layers of ashes and debris. A stable originally built on a level with the tracking-path has sunk nearly its own height since. When the canal was made at first, it had the effect of partially draining the whole area of Dullatur Bog, and millions of frogs, deprived of water, spread over the adjoining country.

By this time, however, all the original stock; all the amount of a subsequent loan; and all the proceeds of tolls received, were expended; and the company was plunged in difficulties and menaced with ruin. Shares were sold at fifty per cent, discount, and it was doubted whether the canal would ever be carried through to the Clyde. But, in 1784, Government, out of the rents of the forfeited estates in Scotland, granted £50,000 towards the completion of the work; reserving a power of drawing proportional dividends with the proprietors, and allowing them, on the other hand, to add their arrears of interest to their principal sums.

In July, 1786, the cutting of the canal was resumed under Mr. Robert Whitworth, engineer; and in July, 1790, it was completed from sea to sea.

The basin at Hamiltonhill being found incompetent; eight acres of ground were purchased at Port-Dundas; then so named in honour of Thomas, Lord Dundas. Here, suitable basins were formed, and ground laid off for warehouses, granaries, and a village.

In the Glasgow Courier, 29th September, 1792, an advertisement appears. “The Committee of Management of the Forth and Clyde Navigation have resolved . . to expose for sale a number of building lots in the new town of Port-Dundas. A delightful prospect will be had from the back windows, in the houses to be built on the branch of load leading up to the Bason. Each house will have back ground sufficient for a good garden, and while the inhabitants have the enjoyment of the country air . . they will be supplied with water from the canal, properly filtered and purified, and will have many other conveniences, which will make the village a most desirable residence.”

The canal was afterwards carried eastward to a junction with the Monkland Canal, which then belonged to a different company.

Although the canal was planned to be no more than seven feet deep, yet, by subsequent additions to the height of its banks, it became in effect eight and a half feet. The length of the navigation from Grangemouth on the Forth, to Bowling Bay on the Clyde, is thirty-five miles: of the side branch to Port-Dundas, two and three-quarter miles: and of the continuation to the Monkland Canal, one mile. The number of locks on the eastern side of the island is twenty; and on the western nineteen; the difference being occasioned by the higher level of water in the Clyde at Bowling Bay, than in Grange-bum, or the Carron, at Grangemouth. Each lock is seventy-four feet long, and twenty feet broad; and procures a rise of eight feet. The greatest height of the canal is one hundred and forty-one feet; its medium breadth at the surface fifty-six feet; and at the bottom twenty-seven feet. Its capacities admit vessels of nineteen feet beam, sixty-eight feet keel, and eight feet three inches draft of water. It is crossed by thirty-three drawbridges; and passes over ten considerable aqueducts, and upwards of thirty smaller ones, or tunnels. The canal has six reservoirs, covering about four hundred acres, and containing upwards of 12,000 lockfuls of water.

At West Kilpatrick a junction canal of about a quarter of a mile was formed and opened in 1839, for the benefit of Paisley, by joining the Clyde opposite the river Cart.

Through Carron’s channel, now with Kelvin joined,
The wondering barks a ready passage find :
The ships, on swelling billows wont to rise,
On solid mountains climb to scale the skies ;
Old ocean sees the fleets forsake his floods,
Sail the firm land, the mountains and the woods ;
And safely thus conveyed, they dread no more
Rough northern seas, which round the Orkneys roar.

Not thus the wave of Forth was joined to Clyde,
When Rome's broad rampart stretched from tide to tide,
With bulwarks strong, with towers sublimely crowned,
While winding tubes conveyed each martial sound.
To guard the legions from their painted foes,
By vast unwearied toil the rampire rose;
When, fierce in arms, the Scot, by Carron’s shore,
Resigned, for war, the chase, and mountain boar ;
As the chafed lion, on his homeward way,
Returns for vengeance, and forgets the prey.
— Wilson's “Clyde”

The original cost of the canal was ,£330,000. Very soon after the whole work was completed and the navigation in operation, all gloom on the part of the shareholders was dispelled: in ten or twelve years the shares were greatly above their original value,1 and it has since been a sound and steady investment. The canal now belongs to the Caledonian Railway Company. It is needless to give dry details of traffic and revenue, but we may note that in 1839 the chief items of revenue were from—

One effect of the opening of the canal was to equalize the price of grain on the east and west coasts.

The canal was the scene of experiments in early steam navigation, and many people are still under the impression that the question was conclusively solved there. Not so, however; and, as the matter is of much interest, we shall give a short account of it. Experiments had been made by Jonathan Hulls of Exeter, in 1736, who took out a patent for his invention, but nothing came of it.

In 1781 the Marquis de Jouffroy tried to solve the question, but failed to do it.

Two Americans—James Ramsay and John Fitch— attempted it — but although they were supported by Washington, they did not succeed. Patrick Miller of Dalswinton, near Dumfries, published an account of his experiments in 1787. In 1788 he had a vessel made with two keels, between which he placed a propelling paddle-wheel. Mr. Symington of Falkirk made a small steam-engine for this boat, and a trial was made of it, but without success. Mr. Miller, still undaunted, got a larger engine made at Carron Iron Works, and erected it in a gabbard on the canal. It was tried for four miles, but without satisfactory results.

The Earl of Stanhope next tried his hand, in 1794, but his lordship's knowledge of mechanical philosophy, although extensive, was not equal to the task.

In 1801-2 Lord Dundas, governor of the canal, caused Mr. Symington to construct a steamboat called the Char-lottc Dundas; and in March, 1802, her powers were put to the test, when she took two loaded ships in tow, and brought them through the long reach from Lock No. 20 to Port-Dundas, being 19\ miles in six hours, with a strong wind against them.

This was the most satisfactory of all previous results; but still, nothing came of it. The canal directors were afraid that the undulation of the water caused by the wheel placed at the stern of the vessel would inflict injury on the banks of the canal; and so the Charlotte Dundas was laid up at Bainsford bridge, after costing the company 6,000. Whether she was adapted for a sea-going ship is a matter of speculation, as she appears never to have been out of the canal.

Henry Bell, when with Messrs. Hart & Shaw of Bo’ness, in 1786, formed a strong opinion of the power and applicability of steam for transmarine purposes, and he followed out the idea with all the talent and enthusiasm of his nature.

Twice in 1800, and again in 1803, he brought his plans and models before the British Admiralty, and urged them to support him; but “my Lords” had no faith in steam navigation. Lord Nelson, the hero of Trafalgar, however showed more astuteness. On one consultation he arose, and emphatically said, “ My lords and gentlemen, if you do not adopt Mr. Bell's scheme, other nations will, and in the end, vex every vein of this empire. It will succeed, and you should encourage Mr. Bell.,,

Seeing that nothing could be done with the British Government, Mr. Bell made correct prospectuses of his long-matured plan, and forwarded them to the nations of Europe and the United States of America—the latter being the only power that took the matter up.

They appointed Mr, Fulton to correspond with Mr. Bell, and advise them in the matter, and about the year 1806 Fulton was in England and Scotland. He was a well-educated, talented, and shrewd man, and was much with Mr. Bell, who gave him all the information he had, and showed and explained his plans and models. Fulton also visited the boats which Miller and Symington had experimented with.

He returned to America, and, being liberally supported by his Government, launched the Robert Fulton on one of the American rivers. She was built on the models supplied by Bell—who also remained in constant communication with Fulton—and the engine was furnished at Bell’s suggestion by Bolton and Watt of Birmingham. That the Robert Fulton was the first successful steamer launched there is no doubt, but how much of the credit is due to Mr. Bell we have shown.

To Fulton’s dishonour he attempted to take the entire credit to himself, and totally ignored Bell in the matter. The American nation have also vainly attempted to take all the renown of the invention to themselves, but people who are versed in the subject award it to Bell. Brunei tersely gave it—“ Bell did what we engineers all failed in : he gave us the sea-steamer. His scheming was Britain’s steaming.”

Bell in 1812 launched and sailed the well-known Comet2 the precursor in Europe of our steam fleet, and uttered these prophetic words: “ Wherever there is a river of four feet depth of water, through the world, there will speedily be a steamboat. They will go over the seas: to Egypt, to India, to China, to America, Canada, Australia, everywhere; and they will never be forgotten among the nations.”

It is amusing to read that, “When Fulton started the first steamer in America, it had the most terrific appearance from other vessels which were navigating the river, when she was making the passage. The first steamboat— as others yet do—used dry pine-wood for fuel, which sends a column of ignited vapour many feet above the flue; and whenever the fire is stirred, a galaxy of sparks fly off; which in the night time have a very brilliant and beautiful appearance. This uncommon sight first attracted the attention of the crews of other vessels. Notwithstanding that the wind and tide were adverse to its approach, they saw with astonishment it was rapidly coming towards them, and when it came so near that the noise of the machinery and paddles were heard, the crews, in some instances, shrunk beneath their decks, from the’ terrific sight, and left their vessels to go on shore; while others prostrated themselves, and besought Providence to protect them from the approaches of the horrible monster, which was marching on the tide, and lighting its path with the fires which it vomited.”

It is also interesting to know, that in 1839, a light railway was made alongside the towing-path of the canal near Lock 16; a locomotive engine was placed on it, which towed, by way pf experiment, vessels of all sizes. The passenger boats were drawn at the rate of seventeen to twenty miles per hour; and a remarkable feature was noticed, viz.—that the waves, at this speed, were smaller than those caused by horse-haulage; and instead of following in the wake of the boat, went direct from it to the shore.

The experiments conclusively shewed that the towage of vessels was much cheaper by this method, than by horses. A chain of nine vessels could be towed from the sea lock to Port-Dundas for 25s.; which, separately, and drawn by horses, cost about 27. Nothing came of the experiment, -however; and no doubt it was easy to calculate the cost, if a railway were made, when the expense of making the railway was not in the estimate.

In 1832, and for some time after, there were five iron steamers, with paddle wheels in the stem, plying on the canal, viz.—

There we all discontinued however, and it was not till the introduction of the screw propeller that steam navigation on the canal became a success.


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