Peter Maw, Transport and the Industrial City. Manchester and the Canal Age, 1750-1850.
This informative and carefully researched study of Manchester in the century after 1750 argues persuasively for the role of canals in shaping its early industrial development and its regional integration within the economy of the northwest of England. This approach is welcome since, as Maw notes, the focus of most studies of Britain's inland waterways has been their development, particularly in terms of financing and construction. This contrasts with the railways whose economic significance has been widely analysed in the literature and, perhaps as a result of this and their association with the new technologies of iron and steam, their major contribution has been generally accepted. The canals, by contrast, have rather been regarded as a major discontinuity in transport provision and, ipso facto, of limited value to economic development.
The study is sensibly structured with the main six chapters organised into two groups. Three chapters describe the trade of the waterways, the relationship with other transport modes, and the types of carriers using the waterways. This confirms the extensive urban and regional transport networks established by these waterways in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the premier one being the Bridgewater Canal, initially a short link between Worsley and Manchester but later connecting to Liverpool via the Mersey and to Yorkshire and the Midlands via links to other canals. Maw has assembled a strong set of data on waterway usage through tolls and canal company income. While not the ideal of ton-mile data, it is sufficient to convince us of the author's key arguments. The competitive and complementary relationships among transport modes are brought into view in chapter 3, although the suggestion that the historiography has tended to ignore intermodal complementarity is incorrect. Canals had low costs but roads had a larger network. Railways were faster but canals could draw on an existing network infrastructure that took the former decades to overcome or reconfigure. These points are well known but the detail for Manchester is valuable. The role of transhipment costs as a significant element in total transport costs might have been emphasized to understand intermodal relationships more fully. The dismissal of coastal shipping as beset by the challenges of weather is incorrect. Coasting was a major carrier in the eighteenth century and its relationship to other modes of transport worthy of consideration particularly where the book focusses on regional transport provision. Chapter four on the carriers is valuable, as this topic has been inadequately addressed by most authors. Canal companies operated their own services, alongside professional transport companies, and mercantile firms carrying on their own account. Again, this chapter contains much historical detail, most of it new. What it lacks is a rigorous and more comparative discussion of why professional carriers came to dominate. Were the merits of specialization greater than those of vertical integration, for example? A comparison with developments in the shipping industry would have been valuable where, contemporaneously, we find the emergence of professional specialist ship-owners and, also interestingly for this study, a slower transition to this form for coal carriage.
The second group of three chapters looks at the impact of the waterways on Manchester's waterfront commerce, its factory sector, and, more broadly, its urban and economic development as one of the key centres of the so-called industrial revolution. Maw's account of these canal ports or hubs is a brilliant combination of transport, economic, urban and architectural history. It indicates the innovativeness of the canal companies in addressing the challenges of transhipment and intermodal connections in transport systems. With such large infrastructure investments necessary to support transport networks, it also helps us to understand why it took the railway so long to penetrate inland freight markets and why the Liverpool to Manchester was initially more successful as a passenger line. Chapter six on factory location follows a similar line of argument and shows that most industrial sites were located within twenty yards of a waterfront. His data relies on rateable values in 1850 and so one would imagine that the prophecy had, by then, been self-fulfilled, that the sites contiguous to the water and able exploit the benefits of low transhipment costs, had become those of highest value. The final impact chapter broadly assesses the contribution of waterways to Manchester's development. Sensibly, the relationship is endogenized--canals, as one of a set of modernizing sectors in manufacturing and transport, built upon earlier industrial developments in the city. Among the specific contributions of the canals was to forge regional specialization as a form of comparative advantage: lower transport costs enabled Manchester, Liverpool and Hull, for example, to focus on particular products and functions in different parts of the industrializing north of England. To this extent, Maw's research takes us beyond its important contribution to the history of Manchester alone. The author is not interested in pursuing the social savings methodology and notes some of its shortcomings.
His own very brief estimates of aggregated cost savings, by comparing raw transport costs, however, are too simplistic to introduce since they do not appear to take account of the cost of time, irregularity and transhipment. The social savings methodology was more sophisticated in its later stages than he acknowledges. While social savings is too narrow a methodology to assess the full economic impact of transport, Maw's alternative support for T2M is, conversely, a broad interdisciplinary view of transport history rather than a methodology per se.
It may not be as pioneering as it appears to claim--interdisciplinarity, intermodal comparisons and the relationship with urban developments, all have long traditions in transport history. Overall, however, this is an important contribution to British transport history and the industrial development of Manchester, both through the new material it presents and the corrective it provides to our common focus on rail and the new industrial technologies of coal and iron in assessing transport's economic impact.
University of Wollongong Australia
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|Publication:||The Journal of Transport History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2014|
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