Legging it A phrase now used for making a speedy, and often dodgy, getaway, has its origins on the narrowboats of Britain’s canals. When boats passed under tunnels, horses could not use the towpaths, so crews had to lie on their backs on top of vessels and literally ‘leg it through, using their feet on the sides and roof of the passage.
Canal System Uk Map Photo Gallery
As well as the more common fuels and raw materials, canals were also used to transport a range of stranger cargoes:
In some areas barges once carried gunpowder, perhaps in the hope that the smooth transit on water might prevent accidents. Not so in 1874, when a convoy of barges was rocked with explosions beside London’s Regent’s Park.
Before the electrical age, ice was imported from Norway in huge quantities and supplied via canal to fishmongers, dairies and hospitals. In 1857 alone, London ice tycoon Carlo Gatti shifted 400 tons.
Sometimes barges also carried human traffic, such as poor migrants en route to a new life, heading for ports such as Liverpool.
With miles of water on offer, it pays to be mobile. Just ask Alan Smallman, who still puts a bicycle to good use on the Newport Canal at 81 years young.