University of Brighton research project helps Canal and River Trust develop canal heritage in post-industrial Manchester
As part of the European Waterways Heritages project, SECP researchers Abigail Wincott and Paul Gilchrist, with PI Professor Neil Ravenscroft, have unveiled three new canal heritage trails for three under-appreciated areas of Manchester.
For the two-year project, the team looked at everything from developers’ brochures to 19th century novels to understand how canal heritage heritage has been envisioned in post-industrial regeneration projects. The research has been used to identify untapped resources which can help local groups use heritage for leisure, tourism and community-building projects.
The team found that existing local development of these inland waterways as heritage assets has emphasised a particular kind of Victorian industrial heritage, with an almost complete neglect of other forms, in particular the heritage of the canal boats and the people who have lived and worked on the canals, and used them for leisure, even in the industrial heyday. Why many towns and cities have 19th century industrial and mercantile heritage, canal boats are unique to canal network and their omission is a wasted opportunity.
The canal boat aesthetic challenges the dominant aesthetic of industrial heritage in two ways. It appears domestic and feminine, painted in pretty, clashing colours with floral scenes. Intimate domestic details are often on display on the outside of the boats, like plant pots, shoes and mugs of tea.
The vivid and clashing colours and the castles and roses style of decoration have also often been assumed to be foreign in origin, but they are part of a long British tradition of working people decorating the vehicles of their trades with impressive carving and art work.
Together with a range of local community groups and the Canal and River Trust, who manage the waterways, the Brighton team have produced multimedia heritage trails that put the boats back into canal heritage.
These local stakeholders hope the trails will tempt locals to walk the canals and reclaim their very special canalside heritage.
The trails are available on the Izi.travel website and mobile app, and will soon be released on a bespoke app, designed by colleagues in the Netherlands. The materials have been uploaded to a database and GIS maps, which can be handed over to local organisations to continue to produce their own heritage itineraries and allow them to capitalise on the unique heritage of Britain’s canal network.
The trails can be found on the project blog:
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