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Company of Proprietors of the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal


Records of the Company of Proprietors of the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal: list of shareholders 20th century (1795), letter to shareholders 20th century (1847).


20th century

Reference code


Administrative /‚Äč Biographical history

The Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal is sometimes referred to as the Moira because it only reached Moira, otherwise known as Ashby Woulds. Ashby-de-la-Zouch is about three miles to the west. It was built because there were coalfields around Ashby-de-la-Zouch that local landowners were keen to develop, and because those responsible for the upper Trent to Burton wanted a coal supply independent of the Trent & Mersey Canal. An initial survey by Robert Whitworth in 1781 was not acted upon because it was felt his estimate was too low, and therefore that the canal would not be as profitable as the promoters suggested. William Jessop reported six years later. Again the project stalled until the 1790s. There were many discussions and quite a lot of enthusiasm, and Robert Whitworth's revised line, checked by William Jessop, was accepted in October 1792. At first the Coventry Canal was awkward, relenting their opposition to the Bill but rejecting offers of compensation tolls and suggesting alternative routes, branches and junctions with their canal. Progress was only made when the Ashby promoters gave them an ultimatum. Coventry accepted the offer without further negotiation. Other opposition now appeased, the Bill was finally presented to Parliament. It failed the first time due to a technicality, but passed in May 1794. Both Robert Whitworths, father and son, were jointly employed as engineers. Whitworth senior had to spend three months a year on the canal whilst his son was appointed to work on it full-time. Thomas Newbold was brought in to replace the Whitworths in May 1797. It seems that the catalyst was the younger Robert's poor health; neither were accused of any wrongdoing and were both given the opportunity to work on a day-to-day basis. Work began in autumn 1794. Two years later it was apparent that the actual amount required for the Marston to Moira/Ashby Woulds length was going to be four or five times that estimated by Robert Whitworth. A decision was made to build a tramroad between Ticknall and Cloud Hill instead of a waterway, subject to landowners' approval. An unsuccessful attempt was made to amalgamate with the owner and lessee of the upper Trent to Burton. In 1798 the canal was open from Market Bosworth to Ashby Woulds. A year later, Benjamin Outram supervised construction of the tramroads from the canal to the area of Ashby-de-la-Zouch to replace the canal branch. Some shareholders had not responded to calls and had to be prosecuted for their arrears, but taking such action did not seem to encourage people to pay. In 1800 calls were still unanswered and work was financed partly through loans. Benjamin Outram was frequently kept waiting for payment. The tramroads were opened in the middle of 1802 and in April 1804 the canal was open from Marston to Ashby Woulds. The broad canal linked the Coventry Canal at Marston to Ashby-de-la-Zouch, designed with a possible junction to the Trent in mind. Completed, the canal was 30 miles long and had just one lock, a 14 feet wide stop-lock at Marston. The lock had been built to take wide vessels in anticipation that the Coventry Canal would be broadened. These works were not completed so in 1819, the Coventry and Ashby canal companies shared the cost of having Marston Lock narrowed. The other notable engineering work on the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal was a broad, 250-yard long tunnel at Snarestone, near Measham. There were no opening celebrations. Earlier enquiries had correctly revealed there was not enough coal available along the canal. Shareholders were informed that they were unlikely to make a profit in the foreseeable future. For the first twenty years it was difficult to persuade enough shareholders or committeemen to gather to hold a meeting. Tolls were extremely low. No coal from the surrounding collieries was transported on the canal until several years after Lord Moira opened the Moira Colliery in 1804. From this inauspicious start trade built up and there was heavy traffic on the canal by the 1820s. Moira coal was transported to London, Oxford and the Midlands from 1815. It was this coal trade that revived the canal's fortunes. A private passenger boat was in operation from 1816 and it became even busier in 1826 when medicinal salt water was discovered in Moira Colliery. Water was taken to spa hotels to fill the baths and the visitors travelled by coach or canal. Ashby Canal sent their engineer William Crossley on a trip to examine the toll and drawback system on eight neighbouring canals. In October 1822 the canal company extended their drawbacks, probably as a result of Crossley's findings. Trade increased so rapidly that the benefits were appreciable within three months, and the success continued year on year until well into the 1830s. Tolls were always kept low, so the increased revenue was entirely due to an increase in traffic. Between 1826 and 1827 a tramroad from the canal to Gresley Green was constructed, to link the canal to a network of privately-built tramroads belonging to colliery owners. Railways were first mentioned in 1830. An agreement was reached with the Grand Junction Canal about toll reductions and drawbacks, but the committee had no reason to be overly concerned until 1833, when the Coleorton Railway was authorised. It connected the canal's Coleorton tramroad to the Leicester & Swanningham Railway and the Leicester canals. The response was to construct tramplates and edge-rails along 2 miles of the canal company's tramroad so that the lessee of Cloud Hill limeworks would not have to tranship goods to Leicester. By 1845 the Midland Railway was wary of competition for Leicester coalfields. Several proposed railways would have served them, the Moira collieries and several other mineral deposits in the Ashby Canal area. The Midland Railway bought the canal in 1846, despite protests from Coventry and Oxford canals, agreeing to maintain it until and even after the railway was finished. For further information on the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations' and Charles Hadfield's 'The Canals of The East Midlands'.

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.