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United Commercial Syndicate (Owners of the Wilts and Berks Canal)


Records of the United Commercial Syndicate (owners of the Wilts and Berks Canal): report on the canal 1900.



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These records are available immediately for research

Administrative /‚Äč Biographical history

In 1891 the United Commercial Syndicate took over the Wilts & Berks Canal, just four years after the group of Bristol merchants who had leased it forfeited thousands of pounds to be released from their contract early. This in itself is an indication of how poorly the canal was doing. There had been insufficient funds for maintenance for many years and it cost the United Commercial Syndicate thousands of pounds and five years to repair the neglect. A separate carrying organisation was formed, but the regular service only ever made a loss. The figure for tonnage carried in 1898 was roughly a quarter of that carried ten years earlier. By 1897 the United Commercial Syndicate realised that there were no profits to be had from the canal and co-operated with the Swindon Traders Association to try and close it. They intended to abandon the entire canal, but the Thames & Severn Canal company expressed an interest in taking over the North Wilts length in order to have a route to Swindon. Swindon Traders Association and the United Commercial Syndicate agreed but failed to change the abandonment notices. Opposition to the closure came from landowners along the route because it supplied water to their cattle. Legal technicality and the opposition combined resulted in the canal being forced to stay open. Before their second attempt at abandonment in 1900, the United Commercial Syndicate attempted to sell the canal. Neither the Thames & Severn Canal company nor the Sharpness New Docks and Gloucester and Birmingham Navigation Company would agree to purchase it, with the former no longer able to buy the North Wilts. The Syndicate reasoned that the canal was unnecessary because any reconstruction of the upper Thames would result in traders using the Thames rather than their canal. Given that the volume traffic on the Wilts & Berks Canal was decreasing year by year, it is not surprising that not one trader raised any objections to the canal's proposed abandonment. The Board of Trade did, however, and the enquiry in February 1900 led to the proposal for abandonment being withdrawn. The situation deteriorated further. The Great Western Railway company stopped buying water from the canal, which reduced revenue further. In 1901 the United Commercial Syndicate informed Lord Wantage it could no longer afford repayments on the money he had loaned them. A proposal by the Swindon Corporation in 1904 to terminate the water supply to Coate Reservoir feeding the canal was rejected. There was no traffic on the navigation after 1906. There was little interest in maintaining the canal and parts of it were soon unnavigable. At a meeting in 1912 with the Syndicate, the Swindon Corporation decided to try again. An Act to abandon the canal was sought and obtained in 1914 for the closure of the whole length of the canal, including North Wilts, and gave the corporation control of Coate Reservoir. The rest was disposed of by the United Commercial Syndicate, which remained unable to pay off all monies owed. For further information on the Wilts and Berks Canal see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations' and Charles Hadfield's 'The Canals of South and South East England'.

System of arrangement

It has not been possible to ascertain any original structure of record-keeping from the small number of records held for this company. The fonds has therefore been arranged in chronological order.

Associated material

[See also BW27 for records of the Wilts and Berks Canal during other periods of ownership]

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