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Tennant Canal


Records concerning the Rhondda and Swansea Bay Railway Bridge over the Tennant Canal 1893-early 20th century.


1893-early 20th century

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Administrative /‚Äč Biographical history

Officially the canal was called the Neath and Swansea Junction, but from 1845 it was referred to as the Tennant Canal. George Tennant had leased the 3 1/2 mile Glan-y-wern Canal in 1818. It had been used to transport coal for twenty years after its completion in 1790, but was abandoned after its owner died, bankrupt. George Tennant widened it and deepened it, and then cut the Red Jacket Canal with a river lock, to enable boats to navigate from the River Neath to Swansea. It was linked to the Glan-y-wern by a branch about 1 1/2 miles long. Initially he intended to link to the Neath Canal via a river lock, by which boats could leave the Neath Canal and enter the River Neath, whereby they could cross it to the Red Jacket Canal's river lock. Instead, George Tennant revised his plans to extend his canal from Red Jacket along the river to a junction with the River Neath at Aberdulais, crossing it by means of a ten-arched aqueduct. His engineer was the same William Kirkhouse who had worked on the Red Jacket Canal. No Act was sought for compulsory purchase of land before it began in 1821; however he agreed to pay tolls to the Earl of Jersey and Duke of Beaufort for the length of canal built over their land. Delays were caused when L W Dillwyn refused to sell George Tennant the land he needed in 1821. Part of the canal had already been built and after a year it was clear that L W Dillwyn would not relent, George Tennant was forced to change his plans. The new terms for a junction at Aberdulais were favourable to the Neath Canal and they accepted them without negotiation. The extension from Red Jacket was almost 5 miles long and was completed in May 1824, meaning that Tennant's canal measured 8 1/2 miles in total from Swansea. From Red Jacket to Aberdulais the average depth was 5 feet; from Red Jacket to Swansea it averaged 7 feet. The only lock on the former length was at Aberdulais and was capable of taking boats 60 feet by 8 feet 10 inches. At Port Tennant, Swansea, was a tidal dock and wharf, and from 1827 a passenger service ran between there to Neath. This had stopped by 1857. Red Jacket Lock was rarely used once the main canal opened and traffic through it had ceased entirely by 1832. Tennant considered its removal and communicated this to Kirkhouse, but nothing was done. It was briefly used again but this had petered out again by the 1880s. Traffic was plentiful and bolstered by Charles Lambert & Company's copper works at Port Tennant, which provided regular trade from the 1850s to 1890s. The opening of the Swansea and Neath Railway's Neath to Swansea line in 1863 caused traffic to fall but did not have a devastating impact upon trade. The downturn in commercial traffic began in the first decades of the 20th century and traffic ceased in about 1934, the same year as navigation ended on the Neath Canal. Certainly there could have been no traffic after 1945 because the canal suffered bomb damage during the Second World War. A second lock was added in 1828 on the River Neath and the same year the canal acquired a private branch to the Neath Abbey works. A multitude of branches were built: a private 1/16 mile Vale of Neath Brewery branch in 1839, paid for by the brewery; a branch of the same length to Dulais in 1840; a private 1 mile Tir-isaf Canal leading to a colliery in 1863 which was leased by the Tennant family; and the last in 1879 between the Tennant and Neath River, built to replace the 1828 Neath branch, which was then closed. Both Glan-y-wern and Tir-isaf canals were derelict by 1918, having been disused for nearly a decade, and Red Jacket Canal was also disused by 1922. Port Tennant had always presented problems because it was tidal. George Tennant had wanted to improve it as early as 1823 but did not have the resources. A wet dock, the East or Prince of Wales's Dock was completed in 1881, still providing access to the canal but increasingly out-competed by Swansea Docks. Red Jacket Lock had been disused for a decade but was rebuilt in the hopes of encouraging trade to the new dock. Swansea Docks took Port Tennant over at the beginning of the 20th century, and built the King's and Queen's Docks in 1909 and 1920 respectively on top of Port Tennant, thereby shortening the canal. Charles Tennant inherited the canal after his father's death in 1832. The Tennant family still own and maintain the Tennant Canal. It is an important source of water to the industries along it. For further information on Tennant Canal see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations' and Charles Hadfield's 'The Canals of South Wales and the Border'.

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. There is one series which has been arranged in chronological order.

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