You are here: Home > Learning Zone > Case Studies > Canals  

Learning Zone

Case Study; Canals

KS2, History, Geography, Citizenship; KS3, History, Geography, Citizenship

A network of canals criss crosses England, traversing both rural and urban landscapes. These legacies from the Restored cranes near the Longboat public house, Birmingham , IoE number: 217340 © Mr Geoff Dowlingindustrial past, where they survive, are in various states of repair and used in different ways. A large number of remaining canal structures and buildings have been listed and feature in the Images of England database.

Most canals underwent a period of neglect and fell into disrepair; in places whole stretches have been filled in. Some canals found a new role and are extensively used for leisure pursuits. Others are being revived as the focus of urban regeneration schemes or as part of ambitious environmental projects.

In some areas canals are once again being used to transport goods for industry.

Canals and the Curriculum
Lock on the Grand Union Canal, Slapton Grove, Buckinghamshire IoE number 042139  © Mr  Richard Hart

A study of your local canal and related historical sources can allow your pupils to engage in some genuine research and to develop skills in interpretation.

Alternatively, you can download or adapt the case study and learning activities, based on the Thames and Severn Canal. Click here to view.

A study of canals can be linked to the National Curriculum as outlined below.


Key Stage 2

Canals can form a focus for studying the local area for either History, Geography or as a cross curricular study focusing on the development of the canal and its effect on the local community, environment and landscape, both past and present.

Canals can be used to illustrate themes for Citizenship including preservation, regeneration, community involvement, local democracy.

Key Stage 3

HistoryWarehouse on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal near Tardebigge Tunnel  IoE number: 156243  © Mr Geoff Dowling

'Britain 1750 -1900' specifies a study of how .. industrialisation .. affected the United Kingdom, including the local area.

  • A possible focus would be to examine a statement such as; The --- industry would not have developed in this area if the -- canal had not been built.
  • Images of England could be used to identify evidence of your local canal and industries.
  • Historical sources from the web, local studies library, archives, local canal trust or canal museum would allow pupils to engage in historical interpretation; item 3 of the 'Knowledge, skills and understanding' National Curriculum requirement. Visit the find sources pages for more information.


  • A study of canals can be linked to the following themes; 6g the changing characteristics of settlements; 6h changing distribution of economic activity; 6j environmental issues
  • It can allow pupils to study at a range of scales including local and regional.
  • It can be used develop pupils' skills in geographical enquiry including; 1d analyse and evaluate evidence and draw and justify conclusions; 2f communicate in different ways, including using ICT.
  • The Thames and Severn canal study can link to locational knowledge; Rivers Thames and Severn Milepost on the Trent and Mersey canal,  IoE number: 056500  © J M Pickering


Canals can be used to illustrate themes including preservation, regeneration, sustainability; community involvement, local democracy.

  • There are many canal groups actively campaigning both locally and nationally to have their canal restored. Most will have literature or a website or may be willing to provide a tour or speaker. Visit the Canal Junction site for a list of canal societies or type the name of the canal into a search engine.
  • Pupils could be asked to join in cleaning up days or to look at arguments for and against restoration from their own perspective and formulate their own plans.
  • The people who lived on canal boats in the nineteenth century can be traced through the census or from canal boat registers and other records that have survived in local archives, [either contact your local record office or search the A2A[Access to Archives] database using the keywords canal boat] and in the Waterways Trust archive. They formed a significant minority group with an alternative lifestyle that could be studied as a comparison with contemporary minority groups.

< Back to 'Case Studies'

Please note that the inclusion of a listed building on this website does not mean it is open to the public.