Cotswold Canals in Pictures

Thames & Severn Canal History Timeline

This timeline presents a history of the Thames & Severn Canal based on reports and notices from contemporary newspapers. This covers the life of the canal between 1783, when the Act was passed, until final abandonment in 1933.

The timeline also includes examples of tragedies that occurred on the canal during this period. These reflect the nature of the times, and life on and around a working canal in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Note, some of the newspaper reports contain factual errors and alternate spellings.


Thames and Severn Canal Act Receives Royal Assent


Hereford Journal, Thursday April 24

'Westminster April 17: This day the royal assent by commission was given to the following bills:

An Act for making and maintaining a navigable canal from the river Thames or Isis, at or near Leachlade, to join and communicate with the Stroud-water canal at Wallbridge, near the town of Stroud; and also a collateral cut from the said canal, at or near Siddington, to or near the town of Cirencester, in the counties of Gloucester and Wilts.'


Work Starts on the Thames and Severn Canal


Newcastle Courant, Saturday June 28

'Gloucester, June 16th: The canal for effecting a junction between the rivers Severn and Thames is begun. Near 200 men are at work in the bottoms near Stroud.

So favourable an idea is entertained of this scheme by the Londoners, that if its completion had called for a million instead of [£]130,000, the fund would have been presently subscribed.'


Construction work starts on Sapperton Tunnel


Reading Mercury, Monday October 20

'The tunnel which is to join the Thames and Severn Canal, through Sapperton-hill, being near two miles and a quarter, is contracted for, and will be begun upon immediately. It is to be fifteen feet wide and fifteen feet high: and several cutters have already begun on different parts of the work.'


Thames and Severn Canal Opened


Oxford Journal, Saturday February 19

'THAMES and SEVERN CANAL Opened. THE Navigation is now finished to receive Boats from the Severn up to Chalford, in Gloucestershire.

Wharf and Weighing Machines for Teams are put down at Stroud and Brimscomb to convey Coals &c. from the said Navigation at Stroud and Brimscomb; from the latter Place the Country towards Cirencester, Minchenhampton, Leachlade, Fairford, Cricklade, &c. may be supplied with Coals near Two Shillings a Ton lower than from Wallbridge, near the Town of Stroud; The Tonnage upon Coal from Severn, if landed upon the Thames and Severn Proprietors Wharf, above Brimscomb, three Miles from the Town of Stroud, in Chalford Bottom, from whence a good Road is making to Minchenhampton, and into the Turnpike Road leading from Stroud to Cirencester.'


Construction of Canal 'Carrying on with great Spirit'


Derby Mercury, Thursday September 22

'Extract of a Letter from Bristol, Sept. 21: "The Canal between the Thames and Severn is carrying on with great Spirit. The digging is nearly completed to the Tunnel under Salperton-Hill. The Tunnel also is carried 1000 Yards under the Hill on the Side of Hayley Wood, and about 100 Yards on the Salperton Side.

The Workmen have discovered under the Hill a large Stream of Water, almost sufficient for the supply of the Canal. This great work is of infinite Service in giving Employment to the Poor, whom it has rescued from the distress that the slackness of the Cloathing Trade in that part of the Country would have occasioned. The Reduction in the Price of Coals is another great Benefit to the Country."'


Tragedy at Chalford


Gloucester Journal, Monday June 12

'On Sunday a girl, about 16 years of age, fell into the Stroudwater canal [sic Thames & Severn Canal], at the Golden Valley, in Chalford Bottom, and was drowned. - One of her companions, a girl about the same age, that was near her at the time, had the resolution to jump in after her, and it was with difficulty she was prevented from sharing the same fate. - Mr Barnes took an inquest on the body on Monday, when a jury found a verdict of accidental death.'


To be Sold - Several Horse Gins


Reading Mercury, Monday February 16

'Thames and Severn Canal Navigation

To be SOLD Several HORSE GINS, nearly new, and in good repair, with the ropes belonging to them, now standing on Sapperton Tunnel, near Cirencester in the County of Gloucester; being made strong, would be suitable for stone or coal mines; or would do well for the same purpose again.'

[These were used to lift spoil up tunnel shafts during construction]


Sapperton Tunnel Complete


Oxford Journal, Saturday May 2

'London Tuesday April 28th: The great Undertaking of conveying a Tunnel 16 feet high and 16 Feet wide under Sapperton Hill and Hayley Wood (very high Ground) for two Miles and a Quarter in Length through very hard Rock is now compleated.

By this Opening a communication is made between the River Severn at Framiload, and the Isis at Leachlade; and is intended to be continued over the Isis near Inglesham, into deep Water below St. John's Bridge, and so on to Oxford, and London, for the Conveyance of Coals, Goods &c.- It is now navigable from the Severn to Themsford by way of Stroud, Cirencester, Cricklade, &c.- being filled with Water for nearly Forty Miles.'


First Barges of Coal reach Cirencester


Reading Mercury, Monday May 11

'Wednesday the 22nd [April] instant were great rejoicings at Cirencester in Gloucestershire, on the arrival of four barges laden with coals, from the Severn, which passed through the grand subterraneous trunk of Sapperton-Hill and Hayley Wood; some thousands of spectators covered the banks of the canal, with applauding and joyful faces on so novel a fight as a river being brought, and a port being formed on the High-Wolds of Gloucestershire, which will in its consequence be of infinite advantage to the country adjacent.

Other barges went forward laden also to Themsford, to which place the canal also is finished; and will very soon be in and over the Thames in its direction towards Oxford , &c.'


Thames and Severn Canal Officially Opens


Reading Mercury, Monday November 30

'On Thursday last [November 26th] was effected the greatest object of the internal navigation in this kingdom. The Severn was united with the Thames by an intermediate canal, ascending through Stroud, through the vale of Chalford, to a height of 343 feet, by 40 locks; there entering a tunnel through the hill of Sapperton, for the length of two miles and three furlongs, and, descending by 22 locks, it joined the Thames near Lechlade.

A boat, with her union flag on her mast-head, passed laden, for the first time, to St John’s Bridge, below Lechlade, in the presence of great numbers of people, who were assembled on the occasion; and who answered a salute of 12 pieces of cannon from Buscot Park by loud huzzas.  A dinner was given at five of the principal inns at Lechlade, and the dinner ended with ringing of bells, a bonfire, and a ball.'


Said Navigation being now Open for Boats and Barges


Oxford Journal, Saturday February 5

'Thames and Severn Canal Navigation. THE said Navigation being now open for the Passage of Boats and Barges-, all Kinds of Goods will be regularly conveyed every Spring Tide from Bristol, Gloucester, Worcester, Bewdley, Stourport, and the adjacent Places, to Brimscomb Port, where the Severn and Thames where Vessels exchange their Lading; at which last mentioned place there will be Barges ready to receive the said Goods, and convey then immediately to Cirencester, Cricklade, Leachlade, Oxford, and London, or any intermediate Place.'


Theft from Company Frigate - Reward Offered


Oxford Journal, Saturday November 22

'Thames and Severn Canal Navigation. ON the Twenty-ninth of August, 1794, Eighteen PACKAGES of GOODS were put on board the Company’s Frigate, James Darke, Master, bound from Gloucester to Brimscombe Port on the said Canal, and from thence forwarded by Boats to the Hambro’ Wharf, in London; and whereas the said Packages have been broken open, and out of them are missing — Thirteen Shirts, some marked K. and others L X. ; also thirteen shifts, some marked K. G X, others E G Knight; Stockings marked L X, and some Fleecy Hosiery, Number not known ; and red Cotton Handkerchiefs some marked L K and others L Knight; and Hand kerchief! marked BW, Dimity Coats, Flannel Under-Waistcoats, Nankeen Breeches, and a Variety of Apparel without any Marks; it also appears that the Goods were replaced by Stones.

In order to prevent such Depredations, equally hurtful to all Ranks of Society, this Company do hereby offer a Reward of THIRTY POUNDS to anyone who will discover, upon Oath, the Person or Persons Concerned in the above Theft, in order that they may be brought to condign Punishment. By Order of the Company,

Brimscombe Port, Nov. 14, 1794            SAMUEL SMITH.'


Business as Usual


Manchester Mercury, Tuesday September 30


THE above NAVIGATION (the Repairs on the STROUD CANAL now being completed) is open for the Boats, and conveyance of all kinds Merchandize as usual.

The advantages by this NAVIGATION connecting the two greatest rivers of this country, and thereby opening an INLAND COMMUNICATION, needs no comment when known that Goods are regularly forwarded through it from the HAMBRO' WHARF, and THREE CRANES WHARF, LONDON, to BRISTOL, BIRMINGHAM, BATH, BEWDLEY, GOUCESTER, HEREFORD, KIDDERMINSTER, LIVERPOOL, MANCHESTER, STOURPORT, SHREWSBURY, WOLVERHAMPTON, WORCESTER, and all places up the SEVERN, and down the BRISTOL CHANNEL, on Terms such as are scarcely met with on any other Navigation.

ALL goods consigned to this place, will be despatched to their respective addresses with as much EXPEDITION as possible.

Brimscombe Port, near Minchin Hampton, Glocestershire, 6th Sept. 1800.'


Accident in Stroud


Gloucester Journal, Monday March 5

'The following inquest has been held by Mr Trigg, one of the Coroners for this county: a few days since, at Stroud, on view of the body of THOMAS HEMMINGS, who, whilst winding up the lasher of one of the locks on the Thames and Severn Navigation, was, by the handle coming off, forced into the Canal, and drowned.  Verdict, Accidental Death.'


Thames & Severn Canal Property to be sold at Auction


Salisbury and Winchester Journal, Monday October 5


To be SOLD AT AUCTION, by Samuel Webb, Thursday the 8th. day October at three o'clock in the afternoon, at the King's Arms Inn, Stroudwater, subject to such conditions as shall then and there produced the following Lots, viz,

Lot 1. A capital lately-built MANSION-HOUSE, situated at Brimscombe-Port, in the occupation of the Thames and Severn Canal Company containing, on the ground-floor a dining-room, 32 feet by 18; two parlours, 12½ by 12 each; one ditto, 12 by 8, an entrance lobby, and geometry stone staircase; a kitchen, 25 feet by 16; brew house, 25 by 11; servants' hall, pantry, dairy, two cellars, and back court 32 feet by 15½ with a shed the whole length;

On the second floor, a drawing-room 18 by 16; and 12 bed-rooms, three of which are divided by sliders, and may be thrown into one: on the attic floor, 14 bed-rooms.

A coach-house, stables for 18 horses, and other necessary offices; a spacious court, gardens, &c.; to a Meadow, and Rack-hill for or more racks, containing together by estimation about 4 acres.


Lot 8. A well-accustomed PUBLIC-HOUSE [Daneway Inn], Brewhouse, Dwelling stable, and gardens; together with about lA. 2R. of Arable and Pasture Land; situate and well adapted for carrying on an extensive trade; in the occupation of John Restall and Henry Mcacham.

For a view of the premises apply to Mr. J. R. Denver, agent to the Thames and Severn Canal Company, Brimscombe-Port.'


Prosecution for 'Skinny Dipping'


Lancaster Gazette, Saturday September 7

'MISCELLANEOUS. Three persons have been prosecuted by the proprietors of the Thames and Severn Canal, for bathing therein, and for exposing themselves indecently on the towing paths and banks, to the great annoyance of passengers; but, upon acknowledging their fault, -and promising that they would not be guilty of such atrocious conduct in future, they were suffered to go unpunished.'


Opening of North Wilts Canal


Morning Post, Thursday April 8

'That most useful undertaking, the North Wilts Canal, being completed, the Committee of Management proceeded on Friday last [April 2] to open the same for navigation.'


Auction at Brimscombe Port


Worcester Journal, Thursday May 22

BRIMSCOMBE PORT, near STROUDWATER, GLOUCESTERSHIRE. Valuable Freehold Property, SEVERN TROWS and BARGES, CANAL BOATS, CORDAGE, STORES, &c. TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION, By JOHN MOORE, (By order of the Assignees of RICHARD MILLER, a Bankrupt,) on Thursday, the 6th day of June, 1822, precisely at three o'clock in the afternoon...

And on Friday, the 7th day of June, beginning precisely at eleven o'clock in the forenoon, will be SOLD BY AUCTION, at BRIMSCOMBE PORT aforesaid, in lots : —
A full-sized, strong-built, and well-found Registered SEVERN TROW, lately employed in the Carrying Trade between Brimscombe Port and Bristol, with her masts, yards, sails, standing and running rigging, side tarpaulins, anchors, cables, &c.
Three full-sized Thames and Severn CANAL BOATS.
One Wilts and Berks Canal sized BOAT.
Two well-built VESSELS,(one nearly new) calculated for and lately employed in conveying Coals between the Rivers Severn and Thames, without shifting their Cargoes.
Five VESSELS of various Burthens, calculated for and lately employed in conveying Coals and Merchandize between the River Severn and Brimscombe Port.
Two Six-Oared and four Four-Oared TOW BOATS.
An assortment of new and second-hand CORDAGE & RIGGING…'


Bride Missing on Day of Wedding


Glasgow Herald, Friday September 8

'ENGLAND. A family, residing not a great way from Stroud, were, on Thursday morning, thrown into a state of the greatest confusion by the following singular occurrence.

A young lady, who had been visiting at the house of the family for about a fortnight, and was to have been married to a son of her host's on Friday the 25th August, after a courtship of three years, and for which every preparation had been made on the morning in question, was missing from her bed-room.

As the house stands within four feet of the Thames and Severn Canal, and the window of the room where the young lady slept overlooks the canal at an elevation of about 20 feet, it was at first supposed that she had precipitated herself into the water in her sleep; and the young man, her intended, was nearly in a state of distraction.

Drags were procured to search for the body; but, judge of the surprise of all concerned, when, about nine o'clock  the church bells struck out a merry peal, and a messenger arrived to state that the young lady was safely united in the holy bands of wedlock to a cousin of her late intended, after a courtship (unknown to any but the parties themselves) of ten days!

The feelings of the young man who was deceived by the frail fair one it is impossible to describe. Cheltenham Chronicle'


Accident in Sapperton Tunnel


Gloucester Journal, Saturday February 9

'INQUESTS. Lately taken before Joseph Mountain, Esq. Coroner. At Sapperton, on the body of NATHANIEL DAVIS, who fell from a boat in the tunnel, and was drowned.  Verdict, Accidental Death.'


Fishing Extraordinary!


Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser, Wednesday August 14

—On tbe 31st, as a barge heavily laden with coals was passing up the Thames and Severn Canal, at Lodgemore, near Stroud, when a small perch, pursued by a pike, actually jumped from the water on board the barge, and was immediately followed by the latter, when both were secured by a boy steering. The pike weighed between two and three pounds.— Gloucester Advertiser


Man Wanted for Pumping Engine


Birmingham Gazette, Monday February 13

'ENGINEERS, &c. WANTED a Man capable of working a Pumping Engine of fifty-inch Cylinder. He must be competent to the ordinary repairs thereof, and likewise to any Smith's work required for canal purposes.

Honesty arid sobriety are indispensable qualifications.

A comfortabie residence, with garden, workshop, and small quantity of land adjoin the Engine, and are attached to the situation.

Any person answering the above description, whose character will hear inquiry, may obtain further particulars by application (if by letter, post paid) to Mr. Denyer, Thames and Severn Canal Navigation Office, Brimscombe Port, Gloucestershire.'

[This would have been for the Thames Head Pumping Station]


Great Western Railway reaches Cirencester


Cheltenham Looker-on, Saturday June 5


The Opening of the Cheltenham and Swindon Branch of Great Western Railway, as far as Cirencester, took place, as advertised, on Monday morning last, at fifteen minutes after Seven o'clock, when the first train started from the last mentioned place for London, arriving at the Paddington station, a distance of ninety-three miles, in little better than five hours and a half — the down train, which left London at eight o'clock, reaching Cirencester at half 'past eleven.'




Gloucester Journal, Saturday January 8

'WANTED, by the Company of Proprietors of the Thames and Severn Canal Navigation an CLERK to receive Tonnages and keep accounts. Security will be required. Salary, £65 per Annum. Applications may be addressed Mr. J. H. Taunton, Manager of the Thames and Severn Canal, Brimscombe Port, Stroud.'


Unlawful Passage Through Sapperton Tunnel


Western Daily Press, Wednesday April 27

'Cirencester Petty Session, Henry Elliott was charged with having, on the 4th April, unlawfully attempted to pass through Sapperton Tunnel, without the required number of hands. Mr Taunton, manager for the Thames and Severn Canal Company, prosecuted. From the evidence of William Platt, it appeared that the defendant entered the above tunnel, contrary to the bye-laws of the company, and from his inability to navigate the barge, delayed the entire traffic for a day and a half. Fined £2 and £1 costs.'


Bill Introduced to turn Canal into Railway


'A Bill was introduced in Parliament to authorise the Canal company to close their Canal and to make and maintain the Thames and Severn Railway, being a Railway from Stroud to Cirencester, to be made mainly along the course of the Canal. and utilising for the purpose the Sapperton Tunnel of the Canal.'


Bristol Mercury, Wednesday March 8

'The Thames and Severn Canal (Railway) Bill was read a second time, and referred to the consideration of a Select Committee.'


Belfast Morning News, Monday March 20

'Parliamentary Business for Today (Monday) - In the House of Lords to-day, the orders include the Thames and Severn Railway Bill.'

[However, the Bill was vigorously opposed by the Great Western Railway Company, and various other communicating canals, and was withdrawn.]


Sale of the Thames and Severn Canal


Gloucester Journal, Saturday June 10

'We hear that shares in the Thames and Severn Canal held by Mr Potter and his friends have been disposed of to parties whose interests are supposed to be identical to those of the Great Western Railway Company, which practically secures to that Company the entire control of the Canal.'


Upper Thames Unnavigable


May 14th: Extract from report by the Thames & Severn Canal Navigation Company

'As to the paragraph in the Report about the disuse of barges on the Canal, this has not arisen from any want of capacity in the Thames and Severn Navigation, but because the Upper Thames has ceased to be navigable. Such vessels may still traverse the Canal, and do so, but no barge has passed from it down the Thames to Oxford since March 1855.'


'Squatter' at Cirencester Wharf


Gloucester Citizen, Tuesday May 21

'CIRENCESTER. One Result of the Warm Weather. — At the Petty Sessions, yesterday, ... Thomas Shaylor, labourer, of Cirencester, for lodging in an outhouse at the Canal Wharf, Cirencester, was committed for 10 days' hard labour.'


Thames and Severn Canal Trust Act


Gloucester Citizen, Saturday October 26

'The Thames and Severn Canal Trust Act received the Royal Assent on the 6th July last. Your directors have appointed your representatives to the Trust, Sir W. H. Marling, Bart., Mr. Nelson Foster, and Mr. Hubert Waddy, and at the first meeting of the Trust Sir W. U. Matling was unanimously chosen chairman. The Canal has been handed over to the Trust, and hoped that its restoration will shortly be commenced.'

[The Thames & Severn Canal Trust was formed by 6 local authorities, including Gloucestershire County Council, who took over the canal in the hope of restoring it and arresting its decline]


Attempt to Resuscitate the Carrying of Traffic


Western Mail, Thursday October 6

'THAMES AND SEVERN CANAL. Preparations are being made for attempt to resuscitate the carrying of traffic on the Thames and Severn Canal. The canal extends from Lechlade on the Thames to Framiload on the Severn, a distance of 36 miles.'


Gloucester County Council Acquires Canal


Gloucester Citizen, Wednesday July 3

'THAMES AND SEVERN CANAL. The Royal assent was given on Tuesday to the Act transferring the Thames and Severn Canal to Gloucestershire County Council.'


Shocking Accident at Sapperton


Nottingham Evening Post, Friday June 6

'Yesterday evening a Labourer named Thomas Dean, employed at the work of construction in connection with Thames and Severn Canal at Sapperton, near Stroud, stumbled and fell against the knives in a machine known as the "Puddler". The body was fearfully mangled, and death was practically instantaneous.'


Canal Closed from July to October [1906]


Cheltenham Chronicle, Saturday January 12

'THAMES AND SEVERN CANAL. The Chairman, presenting the report of the Committee of Management of the Thames and Severn Canal, said the canal was closed from July to October, and did not think they could get a proper amount traffic until they could keep the canal open during the summer months. Their inability keep it open was due to the repairs necessary and the lack of water supply.

He hoped during the year to complete a scheme by which an end would be put to the waste of water coming from the Churn into the canal.

If they could save this water they would have enough to keep the canal going throughout the summer, and the canal would become what he had always expected it would be — a very useful communication between the Thames and this district.'


Thames & Severn Canal: "Throwing Money Away"


Cheltenham Chronicle, Saturday April 20

'MR. LISTER OPPOSES FURTHER EXPENDITURE. Upon the report of the committee of management of the Thames and Severn Canal being presented the Gloucestershire County Council on Monday.

Mr. R. A. Lister moved that the committee be instructed to take steps to reduce the deficiency between the receipts and expenditure on the canal. He contended that the expenditure of any more money on the river Churn would be thrown away.

In his opinion there was not the slightest chance of the canal becoming self supporting. During the past six years a deficiency ranging from to £2,422 to £6,075 a year had totalled £54,729, exclusive of £1,800, the cost of their lawsuit.

Over the same period the receipts for tolls amounted to the insignificant total of £1,585. He regarded the difficulties of water and those of the economic conditions of our times as insurmountable.

He was very glad they were the only County Council in England who had been stupid enough to take over a derelict canal.'


Last Boat Passes Through Sapperton Canal Tunnel


The last commercial passage through Sapperton Canal Tunnel was made by a boat carrying 20 tons of stone on 11 May 1911. (HH)

A short obituary of Mr Albert Pearce from Chalford in the Gloucestershire Echo dated 21 July 1939 states he was the captain of the last vessel to pass through the tunnel. However, there are other reports citing George Gleed as the last on a boat named Gem.


Thames and Severn Canal Abandonment


Gloucester Citizen, Monday November 10

'NOTICE IS HERBY GIVEN that the GLOUCESTERSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL have presented a Memorial to the Minister of Transport for an order authorising the abandonment of the Thames and Severn Canal.

Dated the 7th day of November. 1924. EDWARD. T. GARDOM Clerk the Gloucestershire County Council, Shire Hall. Gloucester'


Thames & Severn Canal: Abandonment of Upper Portion


Gloucester Citizen, Tuesday April 12

At the meeting of the Gloucestershire County Council at the Shire Hall on Monday.

The Thames and Severn Canal Committee stated that in continuation of their report of December 6th, 1926, they were now able to state that the Ministry of Transport, on January 31st last, issued warrant under Section of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act 1888 of abandonment of the upper portion of the canal, from its commencement near Lechlade up to, but exclusive of, Whitehall Bridge Frampton Mansell, in the parish of Bisley with Lypiatt together with all wharves, buildings, locks, bridges, banks, towing-paths, back-seeks, easements and other property belonging or used connection with such part of the canal.

The draft Order releasing the County Council from all liability of maintaining such portion of the canal and from all statutory and other obligations in respect thereof or consequent on the abandonment thereof, had now been received and the County Council would shortly be in a position to carry out the arrangements which had been made with the adjoining owners and others.'


To be Closed Lower Part of Thames & Severn Canal


Gloucester Citizen, Thursday October 24

'The future of the lower portion the Thames and Severn Canal was discussed at yesterday's meeting of the County Council, over which the Chairman (Lt.-Colonel Russell J. Kerr) presided.

The Thames and Severn Canal Committee reported that, with regard to the lower portion of the Canal the amount contributions which the Stroud Water Navigation state they hoped to collect from public bodies and traders for the year ending March 31st, 1930, was £380, as against £550 for the year ended March 31st, 1920, the reduction of £170 being due to the decision of the Sharpness Docks Co. not to continue their contribution of £150, and to the Stroud Gas Co. having reduced their contribution from £50 to £25.

The Committee desired to point out that the traders in Stroud and neighbourhood derived considerable benefit from the railway companies in respect of preferential rates for goods conveyed by the railways in consequence Stroud being now considered to be a port, but it did not appear that that fact was appreciated the traders and many of them did not make any contributions directly to the guarantee fund or make use of the Canal for the conveyance of their merchandise, or coal.

The Committee therefore recommended the County Council to proceed with their application to the Ministry of Transport for warrant of abandonment the lower portion of the Canal.'


Canal Abandonment


The remainder of the Canal, from Whitehall Bridge to Wallbridge was abandoned in 1933.

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