The Socio-Economic Effects of the Grand Junction Canal on West Hertfordshire: 1791 to 1841
The study assesses how the county of Hertfordshire along the Grand Junction Canal developed economically and socially between 1790 and 1840. It considers the impact of the canal upon the various industries of the region, and shows that it was rather greater than has been presented by previous writers. Some paper makers in the west of the county started to use the canal as soon as it was available, and paper went on to become a significant industry: but the silk and cotton throwsters and the brewers used it to a much smaller effect. Agriculture, although really needing a different, less linear, form of transport, was able to take some advantage of the canal to take hay and wheat to London and bring back ‘manures’ for the soil: but the benefit to farmers was limited. The parishes through which the canal passed were affected in one of two ways. The towns, especially those close to the line of the canal, had an influx of materials and goods through their wharfs as well as the development of some industry. The villages, with nothing round industry could coalesce, gained very little. Population growth, always slow, hardly changed, and the small towns remained so. The pre-existing turnpike which paralleled the canal for most of its course through Hertfordshire saw some loss of tolls, and remained a local rather than a trunk route. This dissertation concludes that the population of western Hertfordshire was not big enough to sustain true industry, and did not generate enough employment to alter the strongly agrarian nature of the area. The towns changed under the influence of the canal, and those who could afford to buy goods had the chance to do so, but the labouring poor could not. The Grand Junction Canal allowed some industry to develop in the area and so paved the way for the railway, but cannot be said to have made a fundamental difference to western Hertfordshire through which it passed.