Company of Proprietors of the Montgomeryshire Canal
Records of the Company of Proprietors of the Montgomeryshire Canal: records for the Eastern Branch 1794-1845, records for the Western Branch 1813-1833.
These records are available immediately for research
The Montgomeryshire Canal was first promoted in October 1792 as an extension of a branch of the Ellesmere Canal to reach Welshpool. The plans grew, and when the Act passed in 1794, it authorised a narrow canal from just north of Llanymynech to Newtown, with two branches; one to join the Llanymynech branch of the Ellesmere Canal and the other to Guilsford near Welshpool. The aim was for the canal to support agriculture and supply limestone from the local quarries, although part of the canal to Porthywaen quarries was never built, a tramroad was eventually built. The roads were in poor condition and the costs of feeding the horses made road haulage expensive. Subscribers were aware that the Montgomeryshire Canal was not going to be hugely profitable, but many were landowners or quarry owners and had a vested interest in the development of both. Brothers John and Thomas Dadford (junior) were appointed engineers. John was later replaced by Thomas Dadford, senior. By August 1797, two aqueducts had been built, over the rivers Vyrnwy and Rhiw, there were 13 locks and the line was open to Garthmyl. A 2 ¼ mile branch from Burgedden to Guilsfield was also finished, or nearly so. When one of the Vyrnwy Aqueduct arches collapsed, the committee took some persuading that such setbacks were to be expected and were not the result of the Dadfords' incompetence. The main line was just over sixteen miles long, but was still many miles short of its intended terminus when work stopped due to insufficient funds. For the remainder of the war years, trade was good and the half-completed canal was successful. The Act had capped dividends at ten per cent, but in fact the company was never in a position to pay more than 5 ½ per cent dividends. Peacetime did not prove so good for the canal's business. Josias Jessop was commissioned to estimate the costs of extending to Newtown, but opposition meant that the Montgomeryshire Canal did not proceed. Throughout discussions, both sides were very nearly equal in number and in strength. Two years after Josias Jessop's report, in 1815, it was decided a separate company should assume responsibility for the extension, and received the necessary Parliamentary approval to build a narrow canal from Garthmyl to Newtown. Once completed, the management of the companies would be combined, although the accounts would remain separate. This Western Branch was constructed under John William's supervision using Josias Jessop's plans. Not all of the shares had been bought and the Western Branch Committee itself seemed disorganised. When finished in 1821, it was just over 7 miles long with 6 locks. The original line of the Montgomeryshire Canal now became known as the Eastern Branch. Both branches were supplied in part by the River Severn. For the first decade, Western Branch revenue was so small that it did not cover repayments on the interest on loans. In 1832, the Western Branch Committee became divided over the way the company was run, both sides accusing the other of waste and mismanagement. It took a thorough audit and almost a year before both sides were satisfied, by which point the company's fortunes seemed to be a little brighter. From 1835, the company had enough income to pay interest on all of its debts, although there seems never to have been enough to pay a dividend to shareholders. The Western and Eastern branches remained under the control of separate companies and the managerial amalgamation never took place. The two companies did, however, share George W Buck, who was the Western Branch's clerk and engineer and also engineer to the Eastern Branch. The Eastern Branch continued to have problems with the Vyrnwy Aqueduct, reportedly the fault of poor construction and poor construction materials. While the Western Branch struggled, the improvement of local roads made access to the Eastern Branch easier and cheaper for those wanting to send their goods by water. The 1830s was their peak decade and in 1836 a fly-boat service ran from Newtown to London. A slight depression in the early 1840s and proposed railway competition led the Eastern Branch to consider converting to a railway. Instead it reached agreement with the Ellesmere and Chester canals to be among the various canals and railways taken over by them to form a Union that would be better placed to withstand competition. In selling to the Shropshire Union, the Montgomeryshire company had thought that the canal would be converted to railway and provided with better facilities. In January 1847, the Eastern Branch was taken over by the newly-formed Shropshire Union Canal, and the Western Branch followed in February 1850. In 1936, a severe breach on the Llanymynech Branch near Frankton led to the whole Montgomeryshire Canal being isolated. By this time, the London, Midland & Scottish Railway had taken over from the Shropshire Union company. Traffic had been falling steadily and in 1944 the London, Midland & Scottish Railway obtained an Act to abandon (amongst others) the Montgomeryshire Canal and the Guilsfield Branch, despite the Montgomeryshire War Agricultural Executive requesting the restoration of the Newtown line, for war transports. Restoration work began in the 1970s and continued slowly, with the navigable sections used primarily by pleasure craft. For further information on the Montgomeryshire Canal see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations' and Charles Hadfield's 'The Canals of The West Midlands'.
This fonds has been divided into two subfonds - Eastern Branch and Western Branch. It has not been possible to ascertain the original structure of record-keeping from the records held for the branches. The subfonds have therefore been arranged chronologically with documents first followed by plans.
[See also: BW152 for records of the Montgomeryshire Canal during other periods of ownership]