Roving bridge

Horse-drawn canal boats made up the early British Industrial Revolution’s transportation network. But they presented a tough problem: how to get a horse from one bank of a canal to another, without disconnecting the rope?

Roving bridge
Smabs Sputzer [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I’m going to write about the United Kingdom’s extensive canal network another time. For now you just need to know that in the early part of the Industrial Revolution hundreds of very narrow boats were navigating the artificial waterways of Staffordshire, Birmingham, Yorkshire, Lancashire, and beyond. And these boats were being drawn by horses, who walked along roads next to the canals.

Sometimes the roads switched banks, which meant you needed to get the horse from one side to the other. Sure you could disconnect the horse, cross a bridge, and then reconnect it on the other side. But if you had a roving bridge, you didn’t need to disconnect it at all.

The specific design varies – some had a gap in the middle, others turned the horse around completely and looped underneath itself (as in the picture above). But they’re damn clever either way.



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