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Company of Proprietors of the Stroudwater Navigation


Records of the Company of Proprietors of the Stroudwater Navigation: invoice 1887, boat permit 1898, reports and financial statements 1995-1996.



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Administrative /‚Äč Biographical history

John Hore proposed the canal to Stroud in 1728 after surveying the area. An Act was passed in 1730 but its focus was on improving the river at Stroudwater, not constructing a new canal. Opposition from mill owners prevented further action. Thomas Yeoman carried out a survey in 1754 at the behest of commissioner John Dallaway. In 1758 it was proposed to build weirs and install cranes at every change of level, by which means the cargoes might be transferred from boats on one level to boats on another. Because this involved no locks, it had the approval of the mill owners. This was authorised by an Act the following year. Five miles of such improvements were finished by 1767 but were rarely used, as this method was expensive and potentially damaging to the cargo. Thomas Dadford junior, John Priddey and Thomas Yeoman all conducted surveys in 1774 and concluded that a canal would be the best option. John Priddey was appointed engineer, replacing Samuel Jones after only a few weeks, and Benjamin Grazebrook as clerk and deputy. Several of the original nine commissioners had died and replacements were appointed. The 1730 Act had only authorised river improvements, not canal-building. The commissioners had been aware of this, but advised that the new plan was covered and that the Sankey Brook Navigation had set a precedent for building a canal when the Act specified river improvements. Those who objected to the canal did not agree and neither did Gloucestershire Assizes. Work was halted only a few months after it had begun. The joy of the landowners and mill owners was short-lived, as a new Act was passed in March 1776. Work recommenced but the staff soon changed. Edmund Lingard replaced John Priddey only fifteen months after he, Priddey, had replaced Samuel Jones. Joseph Grazebrook was appointed clerk, and former clerk Benjamin Grazebrook became engineer when Edmund Lingard left in November 1877. At about this time the canal opened to Chippenham. Benjamin Grazebrook later became a carrier on the canal he helped build until his death in 1810. In 1788 Joseph Grazebrook changed from clerk to become the company's treasurer until 1830. George Hawker served as clerk from 1814 to his death in the 1840s. The 8-mile canal from Framilode on the River Severn to Walbridge in Stroud opened in July 1779. Its 12 broad locks were 72 feet by 15 feet 6 inches and were capable of handling both trows and barges. No towing path had been built. All boats were sailed or, more frequently, pulled by men. Despite requests for a horse-towing path in 1799 and 1812 from the Thames & Severn Canal company, it was only in 1825 that the Stroudwater company started to build one. It was by then the only canal in the region that did not have a horse-towing path anywhere along its length. In 1859 the locks were widened to allow a steam barge through. What later became the Thames & Severn Canal started off as a proposal by Stroudwater to build a branch from Lechlade to the Thames. A meeting was convened in April 1781 to discuss the possibility, and resulted in a new company being set up. Many of the Stroudwater shareholders were involved in the new company and relations between the two were usually good. The Thames & Severn Canal opened fully in 1789, and consequently the Stroudwater became part of the main route from the South West to London. At the Thames & Severn's request, Stroudwater had built a basin above Framilode lock in 1794. The only dip in trade occurred between 1810 and 1819, when the Kennet & Avon Canal opened but before the North Wilts Canal did. The company were very supportive of the proposed North Wilts Canal linking the Thames & Severn Canal and the Wilts & Berks Canal that opened in 1819. They understood that it would provide much better access to the lower Thames and London. From the 1820s their access to markets in Bristol and South Wales also greatly improved. The promoters of the Gloucester & Berkeley Canal had contacted the Stroudwater in 1792 and received assurances that the latter did not object to a proposed junction between the two, provided the Stroudwater did not lose water. This required a modification to the line of the Stroudwater and the construction of new locks at the junction, completed at 1820 at Saul. The Gloucester & Berkeley Canal was finished in 1827. As the Stroud Valley opened up, the Stroudwater Navigation grew more prosperous. The 1820s brought potential threat from railways. Within weeks of meeting with the Stroud & Severn Rail Road promoters, tolls on the Stroudwater were reduced. The company could not persuade the railway to drop their Bill, so the Stroudwater successfully opposed it in 1825. More reductions of tolls and charges were introduced, almost all of which had been repealed by 1828. For another ten years trade continued to be good and a number of drawbacks on tolls to encourage trade, in particular on cargoes carried long distances. It was this tactic that the canal reverted to when it began losing trade to the competition. Competition arrived in the form of the railways. Great Western Railway's Stroud to Gloucester line was completed in 1845. The Stonehouse & Nailsworth Railway, authorised in 1863, ran almost parallel to the canal, much to the detriment of its trade. The company was more successful in their opposition to an 1865 Bill proposing to convert the Thames & Severn Canal into a railway. In 1872 the Stroudwater's clerk, W J Snape, and several traders complained to the Thames & Severn company about the state of the navigation, backed up by Edward Leader Williams' survey. After another attempt to get a conversion Bill in 1882, the Stroudwater joined the Allied Navigations with the Birmingham Canal Navigations, Staffordshire & Worcesterhsire Canal company, Sharpness New Docks and Gloucester and Birmingham Navigation Company, Wilts & Berks Canal company and the Severn Commission to try and take over the Thames & Severn Canal. They got a partial victory; they did not have control of the Thames & Severn Canal, but it was not converted into a railway either. The company's financial situation continued to worsen. Despite this, an offer was made to buy the Thames & Severn Canal in 1888. It was rejected, but the company did not give up on the Thames & Severn. From 1895 the company made annual payments to the organisations responsible for the Thames & Severn; however when the opportunity came to lease part of that canal, the Stroudwater company could not afford it. A year later, in 1915, P G Snape was appointed clerk, but there was little he could do to stem the decline. Basic maintenance on the canal had gone undone and it had fallen into a state of disrepair, yet the annual payments to the Thames & Severn continued until 1933. All commercial traffic along the canal stopped after 1941. Until 1954 the company existed but only to manage property and supply water. That year the Act was passed that would allow the canal to be abandoned, apart from the Saul junction to Whitminster stretch that passed to the control of the British Waterways Board. Parts of the abandoned section have now been restored and are open for navigation. For further information on the Stroudwater Navigation 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.