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Sharpness New Docks and Gloucester and Birmingham Navigation Company


Records of the Sharpness New Docks and Gloucester and Birmingham Navigation Company:



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Administrative /‚Äč Biographical history

The Sharpness New Docks and Gloucester and Birmingham Navigation Company was formed when the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal Company acquired the Worcester and Birmingham Canal Company in 1874. The new entrance and tidal basin at Sharpness opened in 1874, at the same time Alexandra and Llanthony Warehouses were opened in Gloucester. By 1876 at Sharpness four new warehouses and a store were built, all served by railway lines served by the Midland Railway. To support these a passenger railway station was opened in August 1876. The increase in larger ships entering Sharpness meant that cargos had to be transhipped to smaller vessels to get to Gloucester; this increased work for the companies tugs and meant that labour was short. To combat this the Company built steam-powered floating winches to aid unloading and from 1876 built housing and facilities for Company staff and dock workers, including in 1877 an iron church. In 1879 the Severn Railway Bridge opened allowing coal from South Wales and the Forest of Dean to be brought into Sharpness for export. During the 1870s docks opened in Avonmouth and Portishead. The competition made trading difficult until new traffics in the form of petroleum products from America began. Ships using the dock became bigger sometimes needing lightening before entering the dock. Many ship owners began discharging in Sharpness leading to fears that Gloucester would be overlooked. This was however resolved and in the summer of 1885 three ships each carrying 1100 tons of grain arrived in Gloucester Docks. W B Clegram resigned in 1885 due to ill health and was replaced by Frank Jones; he set about making improvements to the canal, mainly in reducing the height of some of the banks thus reducing the slippage that had been a problem. In the early1890s traffic was improving. Low-level storage was built at Sharpness and the lock gates became hydraulically powered while at Gloucester, Monk Meadow Dock was built, the lock into the river was deepened and more facilities were provided for timber storage. In 1896 Sharpness South Pier was extended to improve access into the entrance allowing larger ships to enter safely. Also a small lighthouse was built and other lighting was installed. In order to be able to pay for this the Sharpness Lighthouse Trustees (who became The Gloucester Harbour Trustees) were set up in 1889. In the early 20th century the Company allocated tugs to help ships in the river and appointed a manager for the timber trade in Sharpness where they also built storage for the timber. In 1903 an export trade started in gravel to Avonmouth that lasted three years. At the same time exports of salt were high and imports continued to be good especially in timber necessitating the building of timber ponds alongside the canal at Marshfield in 1905. In 1908 in order to save costs the old entrance at Sharpness, having been used mainly by the gravel traffic, was closed. At around the same time problems with the riverbanks near the canal at Purton were discovered. Remedial works included the sinking of the first of many old barges no longer required to shore up the bank. The First World War had a serious effect on trade into Sharpness, as fewer of the cargos were accessible, tugs were laid up and land and buildings at Gloucester were commandeered by the Army Ordnance Department. In 1916 Cadbury Brothers opened a factory at Fretherne making crumb from local ingredients that was sent by canal to Bournville in Birmingham. Later in the war the Admiralty laid down slips at Hempsted for the building of concrete barges. As peace returned, traffic into Sharpness increased and had returned to near pre-war levels by the mid 1920s. Around this time petroleum depots became established around Monk Meadow. The recovery in trade along the canal required a new dredger and the steam driven No 4 was bought in 1925. From the 1920s a number of pleasure vessels appeared on the canal also a number of holiday bungalows on the canal banks for which the Company allowed ground rent to be charged but by the late 1930s the passenger steamers had finished. In the period leading up to the Second World War traffic continued to grow, though with fewer steamers in use the only major work done was the modernisation of the hydraulic mechanisms at Sharpness in 1937. The outbreak of World War 2 brought new traffics displaced from London and Southampton, leading to the construction of 6 new Sabrina barges. The government took control of traffic (as they also did elsewhere) and gave financial assistance for improvements such as a new northwest quay wall in Sharpness, a new access road at Sharpness, petroleum tanks built into the hillside at Hempsted and a large grain silo at Monk Meadow. In 1948 the Dock Company was nationalised to become a part of the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive of the British Transport Commission. For further information see Edward Paget-Tomlinson, The Illustrated History of Canal & River Navigations.

Associated material

[See also BW155 for records of the Gloucester and Berkeley Canal Company, BW72 for records of the Company of Proprietors of the Droitwich Canal Navigation and BW106 for records of the Company of Proprietors of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal]