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Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 18:02 GMT
Ghosts haunting our canals
Cullochy Lock, Caledonian Canal, Scotland
These days, the canals are used more for pleasure

Britain's canals might conjure up images of lazy, sunny afternoons, but in the run up to Hallowe'en the spotlight has fallen on their hiatus during the industrial revolution when they were busy, brutal places producing ghosts which haunt them still.
From about 250 years ago before the rise of the railways, the canals and waterways of Britain were the arteries that sustained the country's burgeoning industrialisation.

The locks and bridges, the canals themselves, and the aqueducts and the tunnels supporting them were cut by hand into the landscape by teams of navvies - itinerant labours employed on a construction site - often at a terrible human cost.

And it seems that the ghosts of those lost navvies, as well as the families who eked out a colourful existence on the canal boats of Britain's waterways, still haunt the network.

On 17 June, 1839, Christina Collins was murdered, her body flung into the Trent and Mersey Canal, in the English Midlands, at Brindely Bank.


Today it is said that the stain occasionally reappears on those stones, reminding of the violence and the murder which took place

Roger Hanbury

Three boatmen were convicted of her killing; two were hanged, the third transported.

Roger Hanbury, chief executive of the Waterways Trust, which promotes the canal network, takes up the tale.

"As Christina's body was dragged from the water, her blood ran down a flight of sandstone steps leading from the canal.

"And indeed today it is said that the stain occasionally reappears on those stones, reminding of the violence and the murder which took place and her untimely demise."

Just one of the grisly stories that haunt the 2,000 miles of canals still in use in Britain, still for the transportation of freight, but mainly for recreation.

Spring Heeled Jack

The lock-keepers cottage on the Montgomery Canal, at Burgedin, Wales, where a tragic young lover was walled up alive, punished for running away with her beau.

Her angry spirit is said to still roam the basement there.

Then there is the sprightly figure of Spring Heeled Jack, who accompanies narrow boats beneath a bridge over the Grand Union Canal, just west of London, jumping from arch to arch, his steps echoing in the gloomy silence.

And a little distance down the same canal, there is the tale of a family, who 10 years ago, took their narrow boat through the Blisworth Tunnel, and encountered an imaginary forking of the way.


So we believe that that is the ghost of 14 miners down Blisworth Tunnel

Eugene Baston

Eugene Baston, is an expert in the heritage of the waterways, sets the scene.

"There were candlelights one way and the exit was straight on.

"It turned out that it [the fork] coincided with where the original tunnel was first built that had collapsed and killed 14 people.

"So we believe that that is the ghost of 14 miners down Blisworth Tunnel, once upon a time."

In all 50 workers were killed, digging out the three kilometre tunnel in 1805. It was harsh, dangerous work.

Harsh too, the life on the canal boats. Families were brought up on them, plying the length of network, sometimes frozen to a standstill in winter.

The itinerant life meant no school, and illiteracy was the norm.

But a rich oral tradition emerged, passed down through the ages.

The Waterways Trust's Roger Hanbury: "What we're trying to do is to bring to the fore stories about the waterways which have been passed down from generation to generation by word of mouth, and to capture those, in the case of our initiative today, in a book which we hope to publish in the course of the next 12 months or so on haunted stories related to the waterways."

The Waterways Trust is appealing for people to come forward with their spine chilling experiences.

Oddly, the project is intended to promote the waterways - if it doesn't frighten people away.

See also:

09 Aug 02 | England
02 Jun 02 | England
17 Oct 02 | Scotland
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