Cotswold Canals in Pictures

History of the Stroudwater Navigation

The Stroudwater Navigation is a canal that links Stroud to the Severn Estuary. At Wallbridge in Stroud it is connected to the Thames and Severn Canal to form a link between the River Thames and River Severn. The Stroudwater is eight miles in length and has a rise of 102 feet and 5 inches.

The first plans for making the small River Frome, also known as the Stroudwater, navigable were made in the last years of the 17th century; however nothing came of them.

The idea was looked at again in 1728 and an Act of Parliament for the canal was passed in 1730, but opposition from the mill owners who feared that they would lose water as a result of the construction prevented work from going forwards.

A second Act was passed 29 years later in 1759 which authorised John Kemmett, Arthur Wynde, James Pynock and Thomas Bridge to carry into effect the provisions of the 1728 Act. The 1759 Act gave Kemmett and the others all the powers to construct the canal without any locks to avoid loss of water to the mills.

From the 1759 Act, the first attempt to go beyond the planning stage began in 1761 and a mixture of navigable cuts and cranes to move goods over the weirs were assembled. While about five miles of the river was made navigable, difficulties of trans-shipment prevented further work.

In 1774 a new attempt was made. This time, the route was largely made up of canal rather than river improvements to avoid the mills. Over the next three years, those who aspired to build the canal and the local landowners and mill owners who opposed building the canal engaged in legal battles and commissioned the writing of poems to support their cause.

The canal opened in 1779 at a cost of £40,930, 12 years before the opening of the Thames & Severn Canal. The canal company had run up debts to cover the cost, but these were cleared by 1786 when a dividend of £7.50 (5%) was paid to shareholders.

Dividends were then paid regularly occasionally exceeding 20 per cent, the main cargo being coal. Boats that worked the canal included the Severn Trow.

In 1859 in order to allow the passage of a coal barge called the Queen Esther two of the locks were widened.

While at first the canal company wasn't badly affected by the railways, in 1863 the Stonehouse and Nailsworth Railway Act was passed allowing the construction of a railway that directly competed with the canal. Dividends fell below 5 per cent after 1880 although they did not cease entirely until 1922.

Around the same time the route to the Severn at Framilode became blocked leaving the connection to the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal as the only link between the canal and the River Severn.

The last toll was paid in 1941 and most of the canal formally abandoned in 1954.

Despite the closure of the canal the canal company continued to generate income for many years through the sale of water and some monies produced by property holdings.