The Basingstoke Canal has been around for centuries, and much like many of the canals in the UK, the Basingstoke Canal has a rich history. The canal was originally constructed in 1794, over 200 years ago. Surprisingly it is still preserved and in amazing condition for people who want to spend time exploring waterways in the south of the UK.
Before roads and railways had made transport between cities possible, canals were used to transport goods. Unfortunately this particular canal was never a particular success in terms of commercial trade, and it went out of use completely by 1950.
This canal was meant to transport timber, and was designed by famous engineers at the time, John Smeaton, and his assistant William Jessop. The first major threat to the canal came in 1831 in the form of a railway. While the canal company initially suggested connecting the canal to Itchen Navigation instead. However, this idea was rejected and the railway was built without further opposition from the canal company.
Although the railway was considered a threat to the canal to start with, the canal actually fell into disuse before the railway was completed. Eventually, the London and South Western Railway ran parallel to the canal, but by then the canal was no longer being used commercially. Some people would still choose to take boats out, but it was not a feasible route for industry.
While a lot of the history dates back centuries, it also contributed to a lot of modern history too. It proved vital in World War I, where it had multiple uses. First, the Royal Engineers took over the canal in order to transport supplies to and from Woolwich. Second, soldiers who were unfamiliar with boat handling were taught skills they needed on the canal. This makes the canal historically relevant, and it has been popular since it was restored in 1977, though it’s largely used for pleasure cruises now.