Victorian Powys for primary  schools
Powys Digital History Project
Montgomeryshire Canal
  The canal builders  

Like other canals of the time, the Montgomeryshire Canal was hand built by labourers using picks and shovels. Nowadays powerful machines can do most of the work once done the hard way by the men, but before and during the Victorian age very large numbers of workmen were still needed for construction projects.
Men would travel all over the country from job to job, and find somewhere to stay nearby until they moved to the next job. These gangs of workers were called "navigators" because they were cutting new routes overland for the canals. This is where the word "navvies" came from.

The Victorians created many impressive structures although much of the work had to be done by huge armies of navvies.
You can see examples of large
construction projects on the pages about the Elan Valley dams and the creation of Lake Vyrnwy.
Repair work
on the canal
at Welshpool
Canal workers at Welshpool
When gangs of navvies moved into a new area for a building project, some of them would get drunk, or steal from houses and farms. Local people - including the police and magistrates - were usually glad when the army of workers moved on to the next job !

Victorian navviesOnce the large trench for the canal had been dug out it had to be lined with a special mix of loam and clay which was then spread over the flat bottom and sloping sides of the canal. This could be up to 3 feet thick in places and was packed hard or "puddled" to form a watertight seal. The navvies often had to use their feet to do this, and sometimes cattle or other animals were driven along the floor of the canal to compress the clay into any cracks which might cause leaks.
Although the canal building years had ended, the Victorian period provided a lot of work for navvies, because of the many impressive construction projects for new railways, dams, roads and public buildings.

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The "puddled clay" used to waterproof the bottom and sides of canals caused huge problems at some aqueducts. The enormous weight of the lining plus the water made the stone sides of the "bridges" bulge outwards. There were serious leaks and the risk of collapse.
See the aqueducts page.
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