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In Praise of Enterprise – via a 260 year old canal

Andy Jervis, Group Chairman, recently fulfilled one of his long-held ambitions of buying a narrowboat. His wife, Sue, introduced him to boating soon after they met over four decades ago, and their many family waterborne holidays over the years have only increased his love for this historic form of transport. The English canal system is a fascinating development in technology, but it also symbolises something that we can achieve or aspire to... success.

Let's let Andy explain further.

One of the things I enjoy about our English canal system is that it’s a living museum of our industrial history. Visiting Manchester’s Castlefield Basin a couple of years ago I learned more about one of the early canal pioneers, Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater.

The Duke owned coal mines at Worsley, about 7 miles from Manchester, and he was keen to feed the growing demand for power from the City as the new machines being created as part of the developing industrial revolution started to swing into action.

Egerton sank his fortune into creating the Bridgewater Canal which opened in 1761, and is generally acknowledged as the first canal of its type in the world and the blueprint for a spell of canal mania that lasted another 100 years.

Construction of the canal cost the Duke a whopping £168,000, which today is worth approximately £17 million, and he came close to bankruptcy before it was completed. Such was the success of the canal, however, that it was reported that within 2 years from its opening, the Duke was earning dividends of over £80,000 (£8 million) a year from canal traffic.

The ability to carry loads many times heavier than using pack horses meant that the price of coal immediately fell to less than half its previous price in Manchester, and later to a fraction of that sum. This in turn attracted entrepreneurs to the City, which went on to become the textile capital of the world. In Australia, household linen and cotton products are today known as ‘Manchester Goods’, a name derived from the City’s name being embossed on the delivery crates that were imported from England throughout the 1800’s.

As wealth increased and technology advanced, new developments were to eventually make the canal system redundant as a means of commercial transport. The rise of railways in the Victorian era, and the internal combustion engine in the last century, were too much competition for the slow moving and geographically limited canal network, and like the railways, large parts of it were closed down for good.

If you’re a Loughburian, did you know that there was a canal basin at Snell’s Nook, not far from the Priory pub at Nanpantan? The old canal bed can still be seen running alongside the entrance to Longcliffe Golf Course.

It was due to the efforts of a small number of dedicated canal enthusiasts that the main canal arteries were saved from closure in the 1940’s and 50’s, and that their value as a recreational resource was recognised. Nowadays, the canal system is busier than ever, with the number of pleasure boats increasing by the day, and spawning a whole new range of services and products to meet the demand from the boating community.

All of these developments have been driven by the desire and enthusiasm of people focused on making things better. The early investment into canals gave way to energy and money being poured into railways, then roads, and lately back into pleasure boats. In the early days of the industrial revolution, huge sums and lots of resources were needed to build long term business success, but we live in inspiring times when anyone with a laptop, an idea and unstoppable enthusiasm can break into the big time.

Achieving success has never been easy or without risks. But the propensity of humans to focus their minds on making things better in some way is at the root of all progress, and it is at the heart of all great businesses. In the 21st century the world faces unique challenges, and there are huge problems to be solved.

I’m confident that, whilst the road is never straight and we may make some wrong turns, we will find a way. It’s a philosophy that engages our investment teams, who are constantly considering new ideas and innovations that offer the promise of long term returns.

Andy Jervis,

Group Chairman


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