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The choice of transport routes for those merchants shipping goods prior to the dawn of the industrial revolution was extremely limited and poor in quality. Rivers made up the bulk of inland waterways and, until the 18th Century, most heavy goods were transported across Britain in this manner. This was mainly because a healthy horse could pull a river barge weighing one hundred tons as opposed to a cart laden with only two tons. River transport proved to be particularly useful in inland areas where hills with steep inclines made road travel slow and difficult. However, the River Rhymney was not one of these navigable rivers.

In other parts of Britain, particularly across the north, fast flowing rivers also proved difficult to navigate and although wider, slower rivers in the south were more suitable, mills placed along the banks often made navigation hazardous. Apart from the development of embankments and flood control, very few alterations were made to these waterways. As a result, many rivers were only negotiable for parts of their length and could not always be used to ship goods between source and destination.

There had always been a concern amongst merchants that the use of rivers for long distance haulage would cause them to silt up, preventing deep-draught vessels reaching town quays. Navigable rivers had begun to silt up by Tudor times (1500's), which provoked a switch to lighter vessels. However, rivers were unable to cope with the increasing demands of the 18th Century.

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