Take a trip back in time on Scotland’s canals

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The public will soon be able to delve into the 250-year-old tales of Scotland’s inland waterways as Scottish Canals’ historic records are transferred to the National Records of Scotland for the first time.

The archive features an array of hand-drawn plans, maps and other records stretching back to when the canals were industrial highways carrying coal, goods and people across the heart and Highlands of Scotland.

Among the collection’s items of national significance are the diagram for the Monkland Canal’s Blackhill Inclined Plane, a precursor to the Falkirk Wheel, which carried boats over a height difference of almost 100 feet via a rail system, and a notice from the British Office of the Admiralty ordering the Crinan Canal to ‘extinguish all lights’ at the outbreak of the Second World War.

The collection contains thousands of records dating from 1790 to the present day. The historic material initially accepted by National Records of Scotland amounts to around 20 per cent of the records currently held by Scottish Canals. It will see NRS take on responsibility for their storage, conservation and care.

The project means that the records will be publicly accessible for the first time and cared for by a group of highly qualified experts, safeguarding
the history of Scotland’s canals for generations to come.

Angharad Stockwell, records manager at Scottish Canals, said: ‘Our records stores hold some incredible documents that give a real insight into the elegant engineering and unforgettable stories of Scotland’s canals.

‘From the notice to extinguish the lights of the Crinan Canal at the outbreak of the Second World War to the original designs for the ingenious Blackhill Inclined Plane, our collections provide a snapshot of pivotal moments in both the history of our canals and Scotland itself.

‘We’re delighted that National Records of Scotland will be caring for these historic documents, safeguarding them for generations to come and, for the first time, allowing the public to explore them.’

Some of the more recent documents in Scottish Canals’ collections will also be cared for by National Records of Scotland.

Tim Ellis, chief executive of National Records of Scotland, said: ‘We are delighted to add these records of Scottish Canals to our already extensive archive of company records, letters, reports and more relating to Scotland’s waterways.

‘They include some fascinating additions to the NRS collection of maps and plans, one of the finest in the UK, and the care and diligence of our archivists will ensure they are preserved and accessible for future
generations.’

Scottish Canals is also seeking oral histories from anyone who worked, played or lived on Scotland’s canals in the recent past. Contact  enquiries@scottishcanals.co.uk.

Anyone wishing to view the Scottish Canals records deposited with National Records of

Scotland can do so by contacting the inquiries team at National Records of Scotland.