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March 8, 2021

Legging It! Photos of Boat Leggers From the 19th Century

Legging is a method of moving a boat through a canal tunnel or adit containing water. This method of navigating through canal tunnels and adits was commonly used in canal tunnels during the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Early canal tunnels were built without a towpath as this would require a much larger bore, and hence cost more to build. Prior to the introduction of motorized boats, legging was one of the few options for getting a boat through such a tunnel.

Two people were required. They would lie on a plank across the bows of the boat, and holding the plank with their hands, would propel the boat with their feet against the tunnel wall. This was quite a dangerous activity and resulted in many deaths. In later years ‘wing’ boards were hooked on to the boat to make the operation safer.

Legging was also the main form of propulsion used in the man-made adits in Speedwell Cavern until the boats were given electric motors. Sometimes the guide will switch off the boat’s engine and leg along the roof of the cave to demonstrate how the boats used to be worked by miners. They got paid £11.05 in today’s money.









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