Milestones of the Thames & Severn Canal
A feature of the Thames & Severn Canal that does not appear on the Stroudwater Navigation is the milestone.
It is believed that 52 milestones were originally positioned at half-mile intervals along the canal. However, the first one appears to have been at Bowbridge which is in fact one mile from the start of the Thames & Severn at Wallbridge in Stroud (see photo 1).
In 2017 however, this apparent oversight was corrected when a new milestone was installed at Capel's Mill by the Cotswold Canals Trust, at the first half-mile mark (see banner image).
Thames & Severn milestones are made of stone and come in two distinct styles: 'square top' and 'round top' as illustrated in photos 2 & 3.
This article focuses mainly on milestones on sections of the canal towpath between Wallbridge in Stroud and Eisey near Cricklade, where a public right of way exists.
Where have the Plates gone?
Originally, each milestone would have had a cast iron plate attached stating the distance from 'Walbridge' and 'Inglesham' in miles. The total distance should add up to 28¾ miles, the length of the canal. (Note the use of a single 'L' on all plates in the spelling of Wallbridge.)
Unfortunately, none of the original milestones that can be seen today have their original plates in situ. The milestone shown in photo 3 is the only one to date that has had a later replica plate fitted. (The new milestone at Capel's Mill and its plate were commissioned in 2017.)
A number of original and replica plates are in museum collections including the Museum in the Park (Stroud), Corinium Museum (Cirencester) and the Gloucester Waterways Museum. However, only some of these are on display. The Cotswold Canals Trust are also custodians of several plates.
Locating surviving milestones can make for an interesting aside whilst walking the canal towpath.
Wallbridge to Sapperton Canal Tunnel (Daneway)
On this section of the canal there are 12 milestones, with the first being just west of the Capel's Mill railway viaduct (Walbridge ¼ Inglesham 27½, as shown in the banner image).
There are several missing stones in this section:
- Brimscombe Port (Walbridge 2½ Inglesham 26¼). The canal is infilled but a replica plate was attached to a former factory building - since removed for safe keeping (Photo 4).
- Chalford Wharf (Walbridge 4 Inglesham 24¾). The canal is infilled but the original plate is above canal culvert (Photo 5).
- East of Puck Mill Upper Lock (Walbridge 6 Inglesham 22¾).
Anyone know what happened to this one?
The last milestone on this section is right up against the Daneway portal of Sapperton Tunnel (Walbridge 7½ Inglesham 21¼). The plate from this stone is in the care of the Cotswold Canals Trust - see main picture above.
There were no milestones either inside or on the route over Sapperton Tunnel. This accounts for Walbridge 8, 8½, 9 & 9½ in the numbering sequence.
At Coates there are 2 milestones between the portal of Sapperton Tunnel and Trewsbury Bridge. These would have been the Walbridge 10 and Walbridge 10½ stones.
The canal between Trewsbury Bridge and Siddington Bridge is private, except for a 300m infilled section approaching Blue House Bridge, near Ewen.
Siddington to Eisey (near Cricklade)
Between Siddington and Eisey there are a further 8 milestones. Here again a number of these are missing:
- One near Siddington Lower Lock (Walbridge 15½ Inglesham 13¼). The canal here is infilled with a house built on the site of the lock.
- One between Cowground Bridge & Siddington Swing Bridge (Walbridge 16 Inglesham 12¾). The stone & plate are in Corinium Museum's reserve collection, ie. not on display. (Photo 6).
- One between South Cerney Upper Lock and the site of Northmoor Lane Bridge (Walbridge 17 Inglesham 11¾) - the canal is infilled here.
- Two between Latton Junction and where the canal reappears after the infilling due to the construction of the A419 Cricklade bypass
(Walbridge 20½ Inglesham 8¼) & (Walbridge 21 Inglesham 7¾).
(The original Walbridge 17 and 21 plates were kindly donated to the Cotswold Canals Trust in 2014.)
The last milestone on this section is between the A419 and Ampney Brook Aqueduct, which is the furthest point east that the public has a right of access over the canal route (Walbridge 21½ Inglesham 7¼).
The Final Milestone
Fortunately, the last milestone in the sequence between Walbridge and Inglesham (Walbridge 28½ Inglesham ¼) has been preserved with its original plate intact. This is now in private ownership, although no longer in its original location (Photo 7).
It is hoped that other replica plates, similar to the one at Capel's Mill can be manufactured and fitted at other locations in due course. If anyone would like to sponsor a plate, Jon Pontefract from the Cotswold Canals Trust would very much like to hear from you.
If anyone knows what happened to any of the other missing milestones or plates, whether bulldozed into the canal during infilling or now privately owned, Jon would also like to hear from you. This all helps to build the historical record.
Jon Pontefract can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Milestone Society
For those with a wider interest in milestones, The Milestone Society website is well worth a visit. (www.milestonesociety.co.uk)
Jon Pontefract, Cotswold Canals Trust Milestone Specialist.
David J. Viner, Local historian and author of a number of books on the Thames & Severn Canal and founder chairman of the Milestone Society.
Corinium Museum, Cirencester (Walbridge 16 Inglesham 12¾ photo: 1971-33.jpg).
The Thames & Severn Canal History & Guide by David Viner, Tempus Publishing 2002, pp.68-69