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Kirkintilloch Town and Parish
Forth and Clyde Ship Canal


A well-known townsman of Kirkintilloch fifty years ago was wont to say when a statement of his was disputed, “I saw it in the public prints, sir,” and this he regarded as conclusive. The Forth and Clyde Ship Canal must, on the same reasoning, be a true and sound fact, for it appears in “the public prints,” not only in common penny papers, but in a most respectable and ably-written publication, which all may see for themselves in the Glasgow Mitchell Library, where it is registered and laid up in the archives of that valuable institution. And let no one regard the idea of such a canal as a wild chimera till he has “read, marked, learned, and inwardly digested” the book in question.

The unfortunate circumstances attending the Panama Canal, and the unforeseen difficulties in making the Manchester Ship Canal, have, for the present, shelved the Forth and Clyde Ship, but it is not a sanguine prediction to say that all three will be made in time.

The marked success of the Suez Canal, the Forth and Clyde Canal, and the river Clyde itself—which, as far as Glasgow is concerned, is neither more nor less than a canal —will, by-and-bye, encourage capitalists to “try again.”

Without going into the reasons for making this canal, and the inducements for capitalists to embark in it—which are ably set forth by Mr. J. Law Crawford, in the book now referred to, we may shortly say that the route has been regularly surveyed, and plans and sections made by Messrs. Crouch & Hogg, C.E., who also give a report on the scheme. Reports have also been made by Messrs. James Duncan, Twechar; and Mr. John Todd, mining engineer, Kilsyth, relative to the minerals on the proposed route of the canal.

The following extract from the work of Mr. Milne Home, LL.D., F.G.S., on the estuary of the Forth and adjoining districts, viewed geologically (1871), is so interesting that we give it verbatim :—

“This, probably, is the proper place for noticing the very remarkable discovery made by Mr. Bennie and Mr. Croll of a deep trough which traverses Scotland at its narrowest and lowest part, viz., the district which connects the estuaries of the Forth and the Clyde, The discovery is one of great interest in various aspects, and chiefly in regard to the agent or agents concerned in the formation of the trough. Messrs. Bennie and Croll describe the line of the trough as running close to the canal which connects the two estuaries joining the Clyde at or near Bowling, and the Forth at or near Grangemouth.” . . . “The trough is stated to be now filled with Pleistocene strata, viz., beds of sands, gravel, and boulder clay—the boulder clay occurring in numbers of beds, and thickness of beds, unusually great. At Grangemouth the bottom of the trough is ascertained by boring to be about 260 feet below the present sea level, and the depth of the trough, where its sides consist of rocks, is said to be about 118 feet. At the end next to the Firth of Clyde the bottom of the trough is said to be about 200 feet below the sea level. At one place (near Garscadden) the north side of the trough is actually an overhanging buried precipice. The width of the trough can be less easily ascertained than the depth, all the borings for minerals being, of course, vertical. But at Grangemouth, where the trough passes through coal workings, the width is considered to be about 600 yards. At Kilsyth Mr. Bennie states that the trough or channel (as he terms it) seems to have been split into two branches by the Barrhill, one going round it by the north, and the other by the south.’ *The south channel,* though the main one, is narrow, perhaps not more than 300 or 400 yards across, and is flanked by great hills of trap which rise over it to a height of several hundred feet, yet the channel between them maintains a depth of from 90 to 120 feet, and seems to have been cut, in part at least out of the solid trap. With regard to the contents of the trough Mr. Bennie states that, *at both ends* it is *filled to a depth of several hundred feet with boulder clay, while in the middle portion, viz.9 from Kilsyth to Castlecary, only sand and gravel have been found' His explanation of the absence of boulder clay from the middle part is that ‘when the land was submerged to a depth of several hundred feet, this channel (meaning the trough) existed as a narrow kyle or strait, through which the currents and tides flowed with force, so that the boulder clay was washed out of the narrowest and highest parts, and replaced by sand or gravel.’

The engineers submit a definite plan for the construction of a canal “ 29 miles 6 furlongs and 196 yards long, 26 feet deep, and 100 feet wide at the bottom, capable of bearing on its waters large ocean going merchant steamers and men-of-war, and extending, in a direct line across the narrowest part of Britain, from Yoker on the Clyde to Grangemouth on the Forth” . . . “With locks of the ordinary type, and similar to those of the Manchester Ship Canal/’ . . . “ the approximate estimate of cost,” . . . “ £5,500,000 for works, and £1,500,000 for land and contingencies, making a total of £7,000,000.*' “While it is satisfactory to know that the canal can be constructed by the ordinary methods at an expenditure which, though large, would almost certainly yield a substantial and satisfactory return, it is nevertheless necessary to consider new methods of excavation by which the cost may be diminished. The ancient channel between the two firths still exists, but the passage is blocked by an enormous quantity of soft material. The tides and ocean currents that formerly accomplished the work of cutting out this channel still exist. The problem therefore is— how to utilise the natural power of these tides and ocean currents in clearing out the deposits of sand, gravel, and clay from the bed of the channel.” Mr. Milne Home says “When this kyle existed there would be always a strong current running through it one way or other. What the tides were in those days, we, of course, can only conjecture. At present, when it is high water in the Firth of Clyde, it is approaching low water in the upper part of the estuary of the Forth, and, moreover, whilst the sea at high water, in the former, rises feet above the medium level, it falls in the latter no less than 10 feet below the medium level at low water, giving therefore, a difference of 14½ feet between the levels of the sea at high and low water; so that if there were to be now a free passage betiveen tho twe estuaries as by clearing out this old trough, there would be a strong current running each way four times in the twenty four hours'*

The rise in the water of the one river above the level of the other represents a force sufficient to clear away, in a comparatively short time, the sand, gravel, and clay now obstructing the ancient channel. One method for utilising this force has been devised, and the experiments made tend to show that the deposits of soft material along the route of the proposed ship canal can be removed and carried out to deep water in the Firth of Clyde by means of the natural force generated by the rise of the tides in the Firth of Forth. Whether the method would be equally effectual on a large scale, an4 whether it could be carried out at a less cost than the ordinary methods proposed by the engineers, are questions that can only be decided by experts.

“The new method suggested is to carry one or more large pipes by means of a tunnel along the ancient channel at low-water level, from the Forth at Grangemouth to the Clyde at Clydebank, and hence along the valley of the Clyde to deep water in the firth, or in one of the adjacent lochs. At high water in the Firth of Forth the tide would flow through the pipe with great force. Communication would be made with the pipe from the surface level of the route at necessary points by means of shafts. The work of excavation would simply consist in detaching the sand, gravel, or clay from the sides of the shaft. The soft material falling into the pipe by its own gravity would be carried away and deposited in deep water by the force of the current. As the tides rise considerably higher in the Forth than in the Clyde, by the construction of a high-water reservoir on the banks of the Forth a constant flow of water to the Clyde could be maintained. The experiments made also tend to show that if the flow of the water through the pipe were suddenly stopped by a movable apparatus placed at any point west of the shaft, the momentum of the current would force a certain quantity of water up the shaft to a height far above the tide level. By collecting this water in a reservoir at the highest available point, and repeating the process frequently, a practically unlimited amount of power could be obtained to aid in clearing out the ancient channel. A tidal canal could possibly be constructed by this method at a moderate cost. In such a canal gates would, of course, be required to prevent the force of the tide injuring or interfering with the navigation. The new method of excavation, suggested, would probably be found to diminish the cost of construction of the high level qmal proposed by the engineers. This purpose served, the pipe or pipes referred to could be utilised for discharging, into the Clyde at the Broomielaw, a great volume of pure sea water from the Firth of Forth. The constant flow would, by sweeping the sewage out to sea, cleanse and purify the navigable way of the river, and thereby possibly solve another great engineering problem.”

“Kirkintilloch.—The ship canal would inevitably effect an enormous development upon the established industries of this town and the surrounding district. A great demand would be made upon the resources of the extensive coal and ironstone mines in the neighbourhood for exporting, and for the supply of ocean-going steamers. The importing of raw materials to, and the exporting of manufactured goods from, the various chemical and iron works would probably, by the cheapening of transport, receive a powerful impetus, and convert Kirkintilloch into one of the busiest centres of the route."

It is to be hoped that when the time arrives for the Forth and Clyde Ship Canal to be made, easier and cheaper means of getting legal sanction to it than now obtain, will be discovered. If the present law remains unchanged, the first thing that will have to be faced will be an enormous sum for passing it through both houses of parliament. One of the bridges across the Clyde at Glasgow cost ,£26,000 for parliamentary expenses before a stone of it was laid. Carlyle wrote that there were “twenty-eight millions of people in Great Britain, mostly fools.”

Whatever amount of truth there may be in the observation, there certainly is a grain of it in our way of promoting canals and railways. Counsel receive enormous fees to argue in London whether a proposed scheme will be beneficial to the country or not. Why, whoever heard of a railway or canal damaging the community after it was made? It may injure the shareholders, but that is a different matter—they run the risks of a commercial enterprise, and generally do so in expectation of promoting their own interests—not from benevolence to their fellow-countrymen.

As regards the interest of the general public, the more railways and canals the better, and the only consideration that requires guarding on their part is to see that the amount of capital subscribed is reasonably sufficient to complete the work and pay for the land occupied. As for profit or loss on the working, pray, whose business is that except the shareholders’? Could not all legal preliminaries be done quite as well in the Court of Session in Edinburgh, without going through an expensive pantomime in London?

Apart, however, from the commercial importance of the proposed Forth and Clyde Ship Canal, it is evident, that if made, it would be of great value as an outlet from the east to the west coast, and vice versa, for the British navy; and would, in fact, be equivalent to a considerable increase in the navy itself. It does not require an inspector-general of fortifications, with a cocked hat and feathers, to come from London to tell us that.

We are at present spending £20,000,000 in increasing the navy and to provide against contingencies “in the event of war.”

Well, then, “in the event of war,” supposing a hostile fleet came into the Clyde, and levied a contribution ot £100,000 on Greenock under threat of bombardment, while our fleet happened to be lying in the Forth, before our ships could sail round the north of Scotland, the beggars would be off and away with the money; but it our navy could slip through the Forth and Clyde Ship Canal, past Kirkintilloch, and on to the Clyde, our fellows might be down on the thieves like a “ hunder o' bricks ” before they knew where they were.

The idea is a good one, and as we are not at present on dining terms with Lord Salisbury, we make a present of it to our old friend Dr. Stewart, so that when the aforesaid eminent nobleman returns to power—which we hear is to be very soon — the doctor will be able to give him a “wrinkle” from Kirkintilloch. As for poor old Mr. Gladstone, as he never had any policy worth speaking of, we leave him out of account altogether.


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