Canals - The Making of a Nation

The Workers

Series 1 - Episode 4 The Workers



Historian Liz McIvor pays tribute to the workers in the latest instalment of a series that’s won an enraptured audience of nearly one million.

Invariably workers means “navvies”, now a casually used word and a catch-all description for bull-necked, dumb machismo. But McIvor points out that navvies very much had their own identity and were almost dandyish in their colourful dress, sporting neckerchiefs and felt hats.

These were mountainous, weatherbeaten, muscular men capable of shifting huge amounts of “muck”, a generic title for the dirt and rocks hewn in the making of a canal. And navvies needed plenty of fuel – 8,000 calories a day, mostly of dense bread, washed down with six to eight pints of beer.


Liz McIvor examines the Manchester Ship Canal, hailed as the greatest engineering feat of the Victorian age. Widely regarded as troublesome outsiders who led a drunken life of ungodly debauchery, the navvies who built it toiled in a time of rising trade unionism, prompting Liz to consider how well they managed to organise themselves in campaigning for the best possible deal.

Cast & Crew

Presenter Liz McIvor
Director Paul Craven
Executive Producer Tony Parker
Producer Paul Craven
Documentary Nature