'A Canal Meeting', 1797.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Coloured etching by Cruickshank after an original drawn by Woodward, showing a group of men discusing proposals for a new canal. Britain's canal network expanded rapidly in the late 18th century as entrepreneurs sought a cheap means of transporting raw materials and finished goods in quantity to and from the mills and factories of the rapidly industrialising nation. Until the mid 19th century the canals were the principal means of transporting freight, after which increased competition from first the railways, then the roads, caused their decline.