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Linlithgow Union Canal Society
The Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal was constructed between 1818 and 1822 for the transportation of coal and building materials into Edinburgh
The Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal was constructed between 1818 and 1822 for the transportation of coal and building materials into Edinburgh. It ran from Edinburgh, not to Glasgow as the name suggests, but to Falkirk were it was linked by 11 locks to the previously constructed Forth and Clyde canal which had been completed in 1790. The canals ran successfully until the advent of the steam train. The time taken to journey between Edinburgh and Glasgow on the canals was reduced to a time of under 7 hours. The passenger traffic, which had reached a peak of 136,000 by 1836, quickly left the canal in favour of the railway that had now further reduced the time to under 2 hours. The commercial traffic continued until the early 1930s when the link between the Forth and Clyde canal and the Union canal was severed and the 11 locks filled in. The two canals continued to struggle on until 1963 when the last boat made its passage along the Forth and Clyde. After that the two canals became “Remainder Waterways” and traffic ceased.
There followed a period of neglect where canals were seen “as dangerous and should be filled in”. New roads were built with the canals being put into pipes. Humpbacked bridges were demolished and the canal culverted. But by the early 1970s some people saw that a valuable asset, part of our history, was being lost and the campaign to save the canals had started.
The late Melville Gray MBE was in the forefront of this movement. One of his favourite sayings was “Let the dog see the rabbit”. In other words if the public could see the canals then not only would the canals be safer but the asset could be seen for its true worth. He then gathered a group of like minded enthusiasts around him and proceeded to tidy up the towpath. This developed by 1975 into the Linlithgow Union Canal Society and boat trips in an old barge. A couple of years later the “fleet” started with the acquisition of “Victoria” a diesel powered replica of a steam packet vessel. Shortly afterwards a little museum was opened in the old stables. By 1991 the remainder of the stables and cottages had been acquired by the Society and re-roofed. This then became the Canal Tea Room. The Society continued to expand slowly picking up awards on the way and becoming a 3 star Tourist Attraction.
By 1995 a 40 seater boat the “Saint Magdalene” had been acquired replacing a smaller vessel the “Janet Telford”. “Saint Magdalene” had the unique distinction, in Scotland at least, of being electrically powered. This worked very well for us as most of our journeys were only of 3 hours duration. There were moves afoot to open up the canals, wishful pipe dreams some thought, but maybe our years of campaigning were starting to pay off. The Society decided to re-engine “Saint Magdalene” with a diesel engine as hopefully we would be able to travel further from our base in Linlithgow. British Waterways, meantime, had put together a wonderful plan to reconnect the two canals and clear all the obstructions. Only to have the application rejected by the Millennium Commission as “there would be no interest in reopening the canals”. In one weekend ourselves and our sister organisation in the west The Forth and Clyde Canal Society and others raised 30,000 signatures thereby proving the interest the canals held. The rest is history as they say but had Melville Gray and others not had the foresight all those years ago and fought every proposed closure there would have been NO canal reopen.
The Union was reopened to traffic in 2000 were an historic meeting took place between Melville Gray on “Victoria” and Ronnie Rusack MBE aboard “Pride of the Union” marking the removal of the M8 blockage. We wanted to put in a lifting bridge but the “powers” would not allow this on a Motorway! The Forth and Clyde canal opening followed shortly after. But the epic opening by the Queen of the Falkirk Wheel in 2002 was the climax to a vision had many years before. Once again LUCS had the honour of being the FIRST vessel to go round the Falkirk Wheel when it turned officially for the first time. We later went on to have the FIRST Bride to be married as the wheel turned.
A little later we acquired “LEAMINGTON” a 12 seater self drive day boat which has proved to be very popular. The Society then turned its thoughts on to improving our educational facilities. We had the museum but that was very small and could not take a full class of pupils at one time. Fund raising was commenced and we now have a room which will take up to 36, fully heated, and built in traditional materials as we are in a conservation area. The shell of the Education facility was constructed by a firm of builders and all the finishing trades, Joinery, Plumbing, Electrical, and Tiling were done by the members, bringing the building in on time and on budget. This now provides a facility used by School Children, Students, and Senior Citizens, in fact an asset for the town of Linlithgow.
Last winter we upgraded the kitchen of the Tea Room, the previous one having been constructed by ourselves in 1991 for a total cost of £750! The new one has taken into consideration all the latest Health and Hygiene regulations as well as installing the latest equipment and insulation standards. We felt that a good job had been done on this and accordingly made application for a Green Tourism Award. The inspection was carried out recently and we were given a SILVER AWARD. The FIRST canal Society in the United Kingdom to be granted such an award. We are justifiable proud of our achievements over the years and when you realise this has all been achieved with unpaid volunteers, amateurs, those that do it for the love of canals, and of seeing people enjoying themselves you know it has all been worthwhile. Thank goodness those early volunteers had the foresight to help preserve the canals for everyone’s enjoyment.
We are open every weekend from Easter to the end of September from 2 pm to 5 pm and open 7 days a week for July and half of August again from 2 pm to 5 pm. We are available for charters by prior arrangement. The Tea Room and Mel Gray Education Centre are available for hire when we are not open to the public.
Our booking secretary can be contacted on 01506 843194
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