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Company of Proprietors of the Shrewsbury Canal Navigation


Records of the Company of Proprietors of the Shrewsbury Canal Navigation: plan 1793, section early 19th century.


1793-early 19th century

Reference code


Access Status

These records are immediately available for research

Administrative /​ Biographical history

The Shrewsbury Canal Navigation was promoted in 1792, almost entirely by local people, to supply Shrewsbury with coal from Donnington Wood. George Young surveyed the route. After the Act was passed in 1793, Josiah Clowes was appointed as engineer under William Reynolds, but Clowes died two years later and was replaced by Thomas Telford. Notable engineering works include the 970-yard Berwick tunnel and the cast iron aqueduct at Longdon-on-Tern. Josiah Clowes had built a masonry aqueduct but that was destroyed by flooding around the same time he died. Thomas Telford does not appear to have been responsible for the change of material but he did direct its construction. The Berwick Tunnel was unusual in that it had the towpath built through it, though it was removed in 1819. Each of the eleven locks was 81 feet by 6 feet 7 inches, to allow 4 tub-boats to use the lock at a time. An inclined plane allowed the canal to meet the Wombridge Canal near Trent. Opened in February 1797, the canal was 17 miles long, not including the 1 mile 88 yards of the Wombridge Canal bought by the company. As the canal had originally been built to supply coal more cheaply to Shrewsbury, it is understandable that the town was annoyed to find in 1799 that it was more expensive transporting it by canal. The Shrewsbury Canal was firmly enough established by then to raise its tolls. Its profits were remarkably stable, with the trend being a steady, gradual increase over the decades. In January 1835 the 10 ¼ mile long Newport branch was completed. It linked the Shrewsbury Canal to the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal, opened in March 1835, and therefore to the wider waterways system. The Shrewsbury company intended to widen all locks and bridges but the estimate prepared in 1831 convinced them that this was too expensive. Two locks, those at Eyton, were widened to allow narrow boats to use them, but the remaining nine were not and could only be used by specially-constructed vessels. Likewise the bridges on the Wappenshall to Shrewsbury length were widened but those farther up the canal were not. Although the Newport branch had opened up opportunities, the total amount of coal sold at Shrewsbury's wharves decreased. Coal-owners wrote to the company in 1843, blaming their high tolls. The company responded by accusing the coal-owners of overcharging. Despite these protestations, the company realised that their tolls were twice those on the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal and compared unfavourably to those charged on other waterways. A small reduction was made in 1844. By this time, major changes were already underway. There was gathering interest in suggestions that the waterways should be converted into railways. In July 1845 plans were put forward to amalgamate several canal and railway companies, including the Shrewsbury, into a new company called the Shropshire Union. Many of the waterways would be converted to railways but where this would potentially damage trade, the canals would remain waterways. The Shrewsbury Canal was included in this list. The Shropshire Union took over the Shrewsbury Canal once the Act was passed in 1846. For further information on Shrewsbury Canal see Edward Paget-Tomlinson's 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations' and Charles Hadfield's 'The Canals of The West 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 chronologically.

Associated material

[See also: BW152 for records of the Shrewsbury Canal during other periods of ownership]