The History of Canals

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114215_a6362515 CC BY-SA 2.0The History of Canals. Canals are a huge part of our transport history in the UK. Over the years, with the introduction of faster and more efficient methods of transportation, they went into decline and became unused and smelly places but there is a huge move to restore them and use them for leisure activities. There is a whole fascinating historical way of life associated with narrow boats and their boat people and anyone doing a history of transport topic, or reading Phillip Pullman’s “The Northern Lights Trilogy” may enjoy investigating some of these links.

There is a brilliant topic pack, called Life on the English Waterways,  from  The Canal River Trust (see link below). Also, they have a Curriculum Pack which is a great starting point for teachers wishing to do a project on canals or waterways in the UK.


The children’s Encyclopaedia Britannica gives lots of factual information about the building of canals and the working of locks. It highlights the largest most famous canals.

There is a Children’s Encyclopaedia entry  which lists the UK waterways and offers links to individual canal information pages.

Life on the Canal – This has some lovely pictures, and adds teacher notes for discussions and activities.

Canal Folk Art – Introduces the roses and castles artwork of narrow boats.

Thomas Telford – This history is suitable for older children who may be learning about aqueducts.

Foxton Locks  – Interactive activity based on a lock system.

The Canal River Trust –  A set of activities and downloadable posters to teach children about water safety.

The history of Canals

YouTube Videos

How a Lock Works – Younger Children – A video for young children.

How a Lock Works – Older Children – A video for older children.

Canal Art –  A set of photographs showing canal art.