Fairford History Society

The Thames Severn Canal

On 17th of March 2010,Bruce Hall, of the Cotswold Canals Trust gave a talk to the Society on the 36-mile journey from the Severn to the Thames through the industrial area of the Stroudwater Navigation to the rural Thames and Severn Canal. The most important cargo was coal especially from the Forest of Dean which was needed to supply power to the mills of the Stroud Valley.

The Stroudwater Navigation opened in July 1779; construction of the Thames and Severn Canal started at the western end in 1783 and the first barge entered the canal at Wallbridge in 1785 when the canal had probably reached Chalford. The Sapperton Tunnel, the third longest canal tunnel ever constructed took five years to complete. In July 1788 much of the tunnel structure was complete when King George III and family visited the site, the stretch from the Coates portal eastwards is called King's Reach in his honour, the first barge passed through the tunnel in April 1789.

On 19th November 1789 the first barge reached Lechlade, celebrated by a ball, a bonfire and a12-cannon salute from nearby Buscot Park. Competition from the railways was too much for the Thames and Severn along with the problem of excessive water leakage and despite efforts it closed in 1933.

The Cotswold Canals Trust has recently acquired Inglesham Lock and the new owner of the Round house there is very supportive, but it will require much work.

Canal Bridge at Coates

Canal Bridge at Coates

The Roundhouse at Lechlade

The Roundhouse at Lechlade

The restoration of the Stroudwater Navigation is well under way. Pictures of abandoned industrial sites were shown which had been transformed into the more modern use of housing and leisure. Bridges have been replaced by Gloucestershire County Council, towpaths reinstated and what were barriers of new roads and motorways have been turned into surmountable challenges. In some places the course River Frome has been a useful diversion.

Interesting facts:

  • The bottom of locks were built concave to withstand water pressure from the vertical walls
  • The Canal was originally 7ft deep but has not been dredged so deeply. Leisure-craft do not need that depth and it was necessary to avoid disturbing the pollution of the sediment from the industrial era
  • The flat-bottomed Trow had a removable mast that was used on the tidal reaches of the River Severn up to Worcester. It was 16ft wide and 68ft long and built to carry coal and goods only as far as Brimscombe Port. Here the loads were transformed to Thames barges. Later narrow boats 7ft wide and 70ft long were more commonly used and as a result in the locks were shortened about 1841-42 - this was also a water economy measure
  • The Lengthsmen and his family who lived in the five Roundhouses along the T & S were responsible for keeping their stretch of water clear and also looked after the lock if there was one
  • The new bridge at Stonehouse opened in 1994 was the first ever plastic bridge. The building there was used by Sperry's Gyroscope during World War II and had a gun emplacement on top.
  • The Severn-Thames link is 36 miles long with 56 locks, the Thames and Severn from Wallbridge to Inglesham is 28.5 miles long with 42 locks
The Tunnel Entrance at Sapperton

The Tunnel Entrance at Sapperton

Inglesham Bridge

Inglesham Bridge

More can be learnt at the Cotswold Canal Visitor Centre at Wallbridge Lock in Stroud (not open Fridays or Sundays) or visit www.cotswoldcanals.com.

Dudgrove Lock

Dudgrove Lock

Inglesham Roundhouse

Inglesham Roundhouse

The Roundhouse at Coates

The Roundhouse at Coates

Sapperton Tunnel

Sapperton Tunnel

Latton Basin

Latton Basin