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The progress of the nation page 14


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On the arrival of peace the fall of agricultural prices ruined great numbers who had pushed their speculations and land purchases beyond their legitimate means; but the corn laws again buoyed up both farmers and landlords, and the progress of improvement continued. Draining strong lands, manuring light ones with lime and marl, and the introduction of artificial grasses, added incalculably to the produce of the country. Turnips enabled the farmer to maintain his cattle and sheep in high condition during the winter, and the introduction of the Swedish turnip and mangel-wurzel extended this advantage till rye, rye-grass, sainfoin, und clover became plentiful. Before the end of the reign rentals had doubled, and lands, even in hilly districts, where it had been supposed that nothing but oats would grow, and where the reapers were often obliged to shake the snow from the corn as they cut it, were seen producing good wheat, and, from the better system of husbandry, at a much earlier period of autumn.

Whilst agriculture was thus advancing, the means of conveying its produce to market, and of facilitating internal communication in general, were proceeding by the improvement of the highways and the construction of navigable canals. With the reign of George III. commenced the real era of civil engineering, which science has since then carried to a pitch of perfection and intrepid power hitherto' unknown since the foundation of the world. With respect to our highways, there had been various parliamentary enactments since the revolution of 1688; but still, at the commencement of George III.'s reign, the condition of the greater part of our public roads was so dreadful as now to be almost incredible. Acts of parliament continued to be passed for their amendment, but what was their general state we learn from the invaluable " Tours " of Arthur Young. He describes one leading from Billericay to Tilbury, in Essex, as so narrow, that a mouse could not pass by any carriage, and so deep in mud that chalk-wagons were continually sticking fast in them, till so many were in that predicament that the wagoners put twenty or thirty of their horses together to pull them out. He describes the same state of things in almost every part of the country - in Norfolk, Suffolk, Wiltshire, and Lancashire. Some of them had ruts four feet deep by measure, and into these ruts huge stones were dropped to enable wagons to pass at all; and these, in their turn, broke their axles by the horrible jolting, so that within eighteen miles he saw three wagons lying in this condition. We can remember roads of this description, and one in particular where there were five toll-bars in ten miles, and yet the ruts were as deep as those mentioned by Young; and when a flock of sheep was driven along this turnpike-road they had continually to be lifted out of the mud. Notwithstanding, from 1785 to 1800 no fewer than six hundred and forty-three acts of parliament regarding roads were passed. But scarcely a penny of the money collected at the toll-bars went to the repair of the roads, but only to pay the interest of the debt on their original construction. Whatever was raised was divided amongst the members of the body known as the trustees for the original fund; and though many acts of parliament limited this interest, means were found for evading the restriction.

In Lancashire and Cheshire the principal roads were paved; but as there grew a necessity for more rapid transit of mails and stage-coaches, we find, from a tour by Adam Walker to the Lakes in 1792, that a better system had been introduced; the paved roads were in many places pulled up, and the stones broken small; and he describes the roads generally as good, or wonderfully improved since the "Tours" of Arthur Young. Except in the county of Derby, the highways were excellent, and broken stones were laid by the roadsides ready for repairs.

But it was not till the days of Telford and Macadam that the system of road-making received its chief improvements. The reform in roads commenced in Scotland. Those which had been cut through the Highlands after the rebellions of 1715 and 1745, chiefly under the management of general Wade, set the example, and showed the advantage of promoting communication, as well as of enabling the military to scour the mountains. In 1790 lord Daer introduced the practice of laying out roads by the spirit-level, and they were conducted round hills instead of being carried over them. In 1802 a board of Commissioners for Roads and Bridges in Scotland was established, and Thomas Telford was appointed the engineer. This able man had now a full opportunity for showing his knowledge of road-making. He laid out the new routes on easy inclines, shortened and improved the old routes by new and better cuttings, and threw bridges over the streams of an excellent construction. Where the bottom was soft or boggy he made it firm by a substratum of solid stones, and levelled the surface with stones broken small. Attention was paid to side-drains for carrying away the water, and little was left for the after- plans of Macadam. Yet Macadam has monopolised the fame of road-making, and little has been heard of Telford's improvements, although he was occasionally called in where Macadam could not succeed, because the latter refused to make the same solid bottom. This was the case in the Archway Road at Highgate. Macadam's main principle of road-making was in breaking his material small, and his second principle might be called the care which he exercised in seeing his work well done. For these services he received two grants from parliament, amounting to ten thousand pounds, and the offer of knighthood, the latter of which he would not accept for himself, but for his eldest son.

Telford, under the commission for Scotland, thoroughly revolutionised the roads of that country. From Carlisle to the extremity of Caithness, and from east to west of Scotland, he intersected the whole country with beautiful roads, threw bridges of admirable construction over the rivers, and improved many of the harbours, as those of Banff, Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Fortrose, Cullen, and Kirkwall. The extent of new road made by him was about one thousand miles, and he threw one thousand two hundred bridges over rivers, some of them wild mountain torrents. So well was the work done that few of these bridges have since required renewal. The tourists in Scotland, as they admire the beauty of the level and winding roads in the most rugged districts, rarely know how much they owe to Telford. To him also we are indebted for the great improvements on the line of road from London to Holyhead. The united labours of Telford and Macadam placed the roads of England at the head of those throughout the world; but of late years, whilst the road- makers of the continent have been advancing through the use of the roller, we have considerably retrograded, both by the neglect of this effective machine and by breaking the road-material more carelessly large. At the end of the reign of George III. we had an extent of one hundred and fourteen thousand eight hundred and twenty-nine miles of paved or macadamised roads, including the streets of towns, and in Scotland upwards of three thousand.

The next step in the increase of means of traffic was the construction of canals. The rivers had previously been rendered more navigable by removing obstructions, deepening channels, and making good towing paths along their banks; but now it was projected to make artificial rivers. In this scheme, Richard Brindley, under the patronage of the duke of Bridgwater, was the great engineer; and his intrepid genius dictated to him to carry these canals over hills by locks, over rivers by aqueducts, and through the heart of the hills by tunnels. These enterprises at that moment appeared, to the ordinary run of civil engineers, as rash experiments, which were sure to prove abortive. As all new ideas are, these ideas, now so commonplace, were ridiculed by the wise ones as little short of madness. Mr. Brindley's first great work was the formation of the duke of Bridgwater's canal, from Worsley to Manchester. In this he at once proved all his plans of locks, tunnels, and aqueducts. He conducted his canal by an aqueduct over the river Irwell, at an elevation of thirty-nine feet; and those learned engineers who had laughed at the scheme as " a castle in the air," might now see boats passing over the river at that height with the greatest ease, while other boats were being drawn up the Irwell against the stream and under the aqueduct with five times the labour. At Worsley the canal was conducted into the very heart of the coal-mine by a tunnel, with branches, which conducted the boats up to the different parts of the mine, so that the coal could be loaded on the spot where it was dug. The immediate effect of this canal was to reduce coals in Manchester to half the former price; and the canal being extended so as to connect it with the Mersey, at Runcorn, it reduced the freight of goods from Manchester to Liverpool to the same extent, from twelve shillings to six shillings per ton, the land carriage having been forty shillings. Brindley was next engaged to execute the Grand Trunk Canal, which united the Trent and Mersey, carrying it through Birmingham, Chesterfield, and to Nottingham. This was commenced in 1766, and exhibited further examples of his undaunted skill, and, as he had been laughed at by the pedants of the profession, he now, in his turn, laughed at their puny mediocrity. One of his tunnels, at Hardcastle Hill, in Staffordshire, was two thousand eight hundred and eighty yards long, twelve feet wide, nine high, and in some parts seventy yards below the surface of the ground. This tunnel, after half a century's use, was found too confined for the traffic, and a new one, much wider, was made by Telford. By this time the art of tunnelling had made great progress, and whilst Brindley required eleven years to complete his tunnel, Telford made his much larger one in three. Many causes intervened to check for a time the progress of canals, so that from 1760 to 1774 only nineteen acts were passed for them; but in the two years only of 1793 and 1794 no fewer than thirty-six new bills were introduced to parliament, with others for extending and amending rivers, making altogether forty-seven acts, the expenditure for which canals of two years' projection amounted to five million three hundred thousand pounds. The work now went on rapidly, and investments in canal shares exhibited at that day, in miniature, the great fever of railway speculation at a later period. Lines of canals were made to connect the Thames, the Tweed, the Severn, and the Mersey; so that the great ports of London, Liverpool, Hull, and Bristol were connected by them, and put into communication with nearly all the great inland manufacturing towns. In 1779 a ship-canal was completed from the Forth to the Clyde - a work proposed as early as the reign of Charles II. This canal, thirty-five miles in length, has thirty-nine locks, which carries the canal to a height of one hundred and fifty-six feet above the sea, and it crosses the river Kelvin by au aqueduct eighty-three feet from the bed of the river to the top of the masonry. A few years later a much larger ship-canal united Gloucester to the Severn, and has wonderfully increased the trade and growth of that city.

Telford succeeded to Brindley, with all his boldness and skill, and with much extended experience. He executed the Ellesmere canal, which occupied a length of upwards of a hundred miles, connecting the rivers Severn, Dee, and Mersey. In the construction of this canal, Telford introduced a bold, but successful, novelty. In aqueducts, instead of puddling their bottoms with clay, which was not proof against the effects of frost, he cased them with iron, and adopted the same means when he had to pass through quicksands or mere bog. Some of Telford's aqueducts were stupendous works. The Chirk aqueduct passed, at seventy feet above the river, on ten arches of forty feet span, and cost twenty thousand eight hundred and ninety-eight pounds. The aqueduct over the Des, called Pont-y- Cysylte, passed at a height of one hundred and twenty-one feet above low water, and consisted of a great trough of cast-iron plates, supported on eighteen piers, and having a towing-path of cast-iron, supported on cast-iron pillars. This aqueduct took ten years in building, and cost, with its embankments, forty-seven thousand pounds. Tunnels much larger than that at Hardcastle Hill were executed. That at Sapperton, on the Thames and Severn canal, executed by Mr. Whitworth, was nearly two miles and a half long, and ran two hundred and fifty feet below the summit of the hill, large enough for boats of seventy tons burthen. This was completed in 1788. These daring enterprises led to the design of a tunnel under the Thames, from Gravesend to Tilbury; but this was abandoned for want of capital. In 1804 a like attempt was made at Rotherhithe, but stopped from the same cause, and was not completed till 1843 by Sir M. I. Brunel. Between 1758 and 1801 no fewer than sixty-five acts of parliament were passed for making or extending canals. At the end of that period canals extended over upwards of three thousand miles, and had cost upwards of thirteen millions sterling. In fact, the great bulk of canal work was done by this time, though not some few works of great importance. The Leeds and Liverpool canal, begun in 1770, but not completed till 1816, opened up connection with a vast manufacturing district; and the Rochdale, Huddersfield, and Hull canals gave access from the Baltic traffic into the heart of Lancashire. The Paddington and Regent's canal -wonderfully promoted the intercourse betwixt the interior and the metropolis. In the Highlands, the Caledonian canal, connecting the string of lakes between Inverness and the Atlantic, gave passage to ships of large burden. At the end of this reign, the aggregate length of canals in England and Wales was two thousand one hundred and sixty miles; in Scotland, two hundred and twelve; in Ireland, two hundred and fifty; total, two thousand six hundred and twenty-two miles. The attention paid to roads and canals necessitated the same to bridges; and during this reign many new structures of this kind were erected, and much improvement attained in their formation. In 1776 a totally new kind of bridge was commenced at Coalbrook Dale, and completed in 1779; this was of cast iron, having a single arch of one hundred feet span, and containing three hundred and seventy-eight and a half tons of metal. Telford greatly improved on this idea, by erecting an iron bridge over the Severn, at Buildwas, in 1796, having an arch of one hundred and thirty feet span.

Half the London bridges were built, or rebuilt, during this period. Waterloo Bridge was begun in 1811, and completed by its designer and architect, John Rennie, on the 18th of June, 1817, having cost upwards of a million sterling. It is not only the longest of the Thames bridges, but has been pronounced by Canova the finest bridge in the world, and is justly universally admired. Rennie built Southwark Bridge, an iron one, at a cost of eight hundred thousand pounds, and completed it in 1819, its erection occupying five years. Rennie also built the new London Bridge from the designs of his father, Sir John Rennie; but this was not begun till six years after the death of George III., nor finished till 1831, at a cost of five hundred and six thousand pounds.

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