Time Team may be no more, aside from those occasional specials, but Tony Robinson’s passion for history shows little sign of abating, as Walking Through History proves.
The first of a three-part run sees the Blackadder veteran enjoying a towpath exploration of grand industrial engineering along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
“The longest single canal in Britain, it stretches 127 miles, took 46 years to build and cost a whopping £4billion in today’s money, but it set Liverpool and Lancashire up for a mighty future,” explains Tony.
Our travel guide begins in Liverpool, where he examines the city’s extraordinary history.
More than a century ago, over a third of world trade flowed through there, while its docks were the hub of transatlantic commerce, handling commodities such as tobacco and sugar imported from America.
The city’s success would have been impossible without the Leeds-Liverpool canal which connected the city with the rest of Britain.
Starting in the city centre, Tony chats to Dr William Ashworth from Liverpool University, who explains the importance of the canals.
“A dock is only as good as it can reach inland, so industry can grow up around canals, and you can link places that couldn’t be linked before, so that was absolutely crucial,” explains William.
Later Tony heads north to Hartley’s jam factory, and visits the Grand National’s home at Aintree. He also reveals how Liverpudlian sewage helped Lancashire’s agriculture; chats to canal-based knitter Carole Jones, and then heads for Parbold.
Robinson’s final day sees him explore the canalside settlement at Crooke, before his final destination, the home of Wigan Pier. It was made famous by two Georges – Orwell, whose 1937 book The Road To Wigan Pier told the story of England’s poor, and Formby, who included the location in his songs. It’s a symbol both of the canal’s role in Wigan’s growth – and a sign of the Lancashire industry that’s now disappeared.
“Life on and by the canal must have been bleak, dirty and harsh in its heyday,” explains Tony. “But the astonishing figures about the wealth it helped create and the fond memories the people have of their working lives are reminders of just how much has been lost here in Lancashire.”
To follow Tony’s trek, go to Channel4.com to find out more.
WALKING THROUGH HISTORY, CHANNEL 4, SATURDAY 8PM