One of the best ways to enjoy the great British countryside is to explore the labyrinth of canals and waterways by narrowboat. And while you are pootling up and down the network, you may wish to stop off at one of the country’s fine canal museums to learn more about the waterways and their function during the Industrial Revolution.
The UK’s canal system played a major role in shaping the country we now call home. The museums we will mention below pay homage to narrowboats and the waterways and provide an interesting and educational insight into their importance.
Gloucester Waterways Museum
Housed in a Grade II-listed warehouse at the heart of Gloucester’s dock is the Gloucester Waterways Museum. The museum is home to several displays that highlight the importance of the local canals with regard to commerce and the positive effect the canals had on the local wildlife.
The Move It! Display focuses on the ingenious engineering involved in the canals and the narrowboats which sailed upon them. Featuring intricate models, hands-on displays, and real working engines, this is a great way to get the children interested in history, as they will have the chance to race boats and operate a lock.
The Living Havens display teaches about how the canal systems benefited local wildlife, providing havens for birdlife, insects, plants, and fish. There’s a short film to enjoy, which highlights things to look out for when you head back to your narrowboat or the next time you take a walk alongside the canals.
National Waterways Museum
Located at the convergence of the Shropshire Union Canal, the Manchester Ship Canal, and the River Mersey, the National Waterways Museum is a great place to learn about the lives and work of yesteryear’s canal workers.
In its heyday, Ellesmere Port was the largest inland waterway dock in the UK, and it played a major role in transporting goods from the ocean-faring vessels coming into Liverpool.
Explore the Porters Row cottages, which were built in 1833, and the blacksmith’s forge, where the canal company’s ironwork used to be made. The Power Hall is home to an array of historical engines, and the Pump House showcases the steam-powered engines that provided power to the hydraulic cranes used to unload the boats.
Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne
This was the country’s first canal museum, telling the story of Britain’s canals and the people who lived and worked on them. The museum educates about the engineering feats and challenges that were overcome in the building of the canals and the role the canals played in the Industrial Revolution.
After exploring the museum, you can meet the resident blacksmith or take a stroll along the Woodland Walk. You can also enjoy a boat ride along the canal, and once you are tired and hungry from enjoying the exhibits, you can enjoy some superb pub grub at one of the two pubs.
The Black Country Living Museum
The Black Country, to the west of Birmingham, played a huge part in the Industrial Revolution. The name of this region is believed to have originated due to the presence of coal fields in the area.
The Black Country Living Museum, near Dudley, tells the story of the region’s importance in the expansion of commerce at the time.
With 26 acres of reconstructed shops, pubs, and houses to explore, the Black Country Living Museum really brings the history to life. The museum showcases over 80,000 items in its collections, including buildings, cars, trolley buses, and photographs. There are also shops, locks, and canal boats to explore.
The museum sits on a working section of the canal, and you can arrive by narrowboat. There are a limited number of 48-hour moorings available to visitors, and they are available free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis.