The Building of the Original Hereford and Gloucester Canal
1791 an Act was passed…
In April the enabling Act of Parliament was passed without amendment.
1792 …and money was found…
The capital was fully subscribed by the summer and Hugh Henshall, (James Brindley’s brother-in-law), was asked to re-survey the route: Henshall advised taking the canal by way of Newent, necessitating the construction of a third tunnel on the line of the canal, at Oxenhall.
1793 The construction had started…
The enabling Act for the revised route was approved and by the autumn the first three and a half miles of canal from the Severn at Over, near Gloucester, was completed.
1795 …and continued to Newent.
The canal was opened to Newent, but construction was falling behind schedule. During the 1795-96 winter, exceptionally severe storms caused flooding and swept away a number of bridges in the Severn valley.
1796 The tunnel was challenging…
The construction of Oxenhall tunnel was meeting considerable difficulty and incurring ruinous expenditure. At a meeting in November, the shareholders were informed of the company’s predicament; for an expenditure of £100,000 – more than Clowes’s original estimate for the whole line, the halfway town of Ledbury had not yet been reached.
1798 …and more money was found
As a result of raising a further £4,000 the canal was opened to one mile short of Ledbury, on the Ross-on-Wye road.
1827 Ballard steps in…
Stephen Ballard, (aged 23), was appointed clerk.
1829 …and tots up the costs.
Ballard submits a detailed report on the completion of the canal, which he estimates would cost £53,000.
1832 The Canal reaches Ledbury…
The canal was extended from the Ross road to the Little Marcle road, in Ledbury, in order to convey coal to the recently opened Ledbury gas works.
1838 Alternative routes are considered…
On the 29th September, Ballard and the civil engineer James Walker, walk an alternative route from Prior’s Court to Hereford, which Ballard had proposed. However, Walker advised adherence to the original line of the canal
1839 Construction continues..
In May, the Act enabling the company to raise £50,000 by mortgage and £45,000 by a further share issue, in order to complete the canal to Hereford, was passed: on the 17th November rebuilding commenced.
1841 The first barge…
In February, the first barge loaded with coal arrived at Bye Street wharf, Ledbury.
1842 A feeder to the summit…
In August, the feeder from the River Frome, (within the grounds of Canon Frome Court) to the summit level of the canal was completed.
1843 Canon Frome wharf reached…
The canal was opened to Canon Frome wharf, in January.
1844 …then to Withington wharf
In February the canal was opened to Withington wharf.
1845 Hereford basin is completed…
On the 22nd May the Hereford basin was filled with water and the canal was completed. The cost of completion was £141,436 – virtually three times Ballard’s estimate. Following completion, trade barely improved, and the company sought to sell the canal to one of the railway companies, for conversion into a railway. However, the initial schemes to build a railway to the city of Hereford came to nothing. Consequently, the company concentrated on bolstering trade as best as it could.
1847 …but money was short…
Income was sufficient to pay mortgage and interest charges.
1849 Trade picks up…
After March, trade had increased to such an extent that it was necessary to introduce a timetable for the passage of boats through Oxenhall tunnel, which had been built to a bore of only 9’ and proved to be a troublesome bottleneck.
1851 The railway is coming
The delivery in September of 130 tons of rails for the Hereford to Shrewsbury railway, brought a transient increase in income.
1853 The railway era takes over…
The Hereford to Shrewsbury railway was opened in December.
1854 …more railway lines are opened…
The Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford railway was opened.
1855… and the railway reaches Hereford.
The rails of Brunel’s broad gauge reach Hereford in June, from Gloucester, via Ross-on-Wye.
1858 Canal traffic remains buoyant…
Traffic on the canal during the year reaches 47,560 tons, but only as a result of rate-cutting incentives.
1860 – A successful year for the Canal…
Financially the most successful year for the company, with income amounting to £7,061, but largely due to carrying materials for the Worcester and Hereford Railway.
1861 The railway is everywhere…
The Worcester and Hereford railway was completed.
1862…and the line of the Canal is sold
On the 17th January the company concluded an agreement with the Great Western and West Midland railways, for the future conversion of the canal to a railway. The railway company was to pay the canal company £5,000 per annum rent, in perpetuity.
1880 – business on the waterway ends…
The last complete year of business on the canal.
1881 and the Canal is closed.
On the 30th June the canal was closed to permit the construction of the Ledbury to Gloucester railway. The canal company continues distributing the annual rent of £5,000 received from the Great Western Railway.
1948 …..the end.
Nationalisation of the railways and the closure of the canal company’s books.
This Short history was compiled by Nigel C. Jefferies, and was largely taken from David Bick’s book, entitled “The Hereford & Gloucester Canal”.
Rescued from Obscurity
David Bick, writing in 1979, described the Hereford and Gloucester Canal as being more ‘lost in obscurity’ than any other major navigation in England.
This book tells how much has changed in the last 35 years. This waterway, running through some of the most beautiful countryside in England is now the subject of one of the leading canal restoration projects in Britain spear-headed by the Hereford and Gloucester Canal Trust.
In this richly illustrated book a former Chairman of the Trust tells the story of the building and operation of the canal, not as a textbook of industrial archaeology but as a narrative drawing on the words of those involved with the Navigation Company itself or watching from the side-lines.
In the second half of the book Dick Skeet describes how the Hereford and Gloucester Canal Society and later the Hereford and Gloucester Canal Trust has set about the enormous task of restoring the 34 miles of this historic canal, reconnecting two ancient Cathedral Cities.
200 page paperback, over 200 illustrations and photographs
Price £10 + £2 P&P.
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Hereford and Gloucester Canal through Ledbury
More about the Hereford and Gloucester Canal as it passed through Ledbury prior to being lost in 1881 beneath the Gloucester to Ledbury railway can be found on John Chappell’s Ledbury History website.
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