Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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It has always seemed very difficult to get reliable information about the size of the network of rivers and canals that make up the UK waterways system. It was with a view to answering this question that these pages were developed. However, I do not claim that this it the definitive calculation of the total of all our waterways, rather it is a publicly available calculation that can be examined, challenged and improved.
The chart on the left gives a broad picture of the growth of waterways over the centuries, and their decline in the hundred years up to 1950. After 1950 a further dip then a rise can be seen as the waterways restoration movement started to take effect.
More detailed information is given in the various tables in the links from this page.
All the source data for the calculations is provided so that the details of individual canals can be checked for accuracy and completeness. Of course there will always be some facts that are in doubt. Even the opening and closure dates of many canals are only estimates.
For the purpose of these calculations all waterways (rivers and canals) have been divided into four broad groupings. These are:-
Within the four broad groupings waterways are further sub-divided into the following:-
Canals and navigations are further sub-divided according to the type of craft they can accommodate:-
The following pages give details of various waterways from Roman times to the present day.
Norfolk & Suffolk Broads
Connected Waterway System
Totals by Year up to 1770
Totals by Year 1771 to 1800
Totals by Year 1801 to 1840
Totals by Year 1841 to 1860
Totals by Year 1861 to 1900
Totals by Year 1901 until today
Totals by Year
Changes by Waterways A - D
Changes by Waterways E - K
Changes by Waterways L - M
Changes by Waterways N - Z