Thames and Severn Canal

Thames and Severn Canal

The Thames and Severn Canal is a former canal in Gloucestershire in the south of England, though there are plans to restore it. Its eastern end is Inglesham Lock near Lechlade where it connects with the River Thames. Its western end is Wallbridge near Stroud, where it connects with the end of the Stroudwater Navigation. It has one short arm (branch), from Siddington to the town of Cirencester.


An Act for the construction of the canal was passed in 1783 ["The Penny Cyclopædia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge", George Long, 1843, C. Knight] . Josiah Clowes was appointed head engineer, surveyor and carpenter to the canal in 1783 to assist Robert Whitworth. Clowes became resident engineer and was paid £300 per year. Clowes' work on the canal developed him a reputation which made highly sought after in the last five years of his life. He left the construction of the canal shortly before completion to work on Dudley Tunnel ["A Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland", A. W. Skempton, 2002, Thomas Telford (ISBN 072772939X)] .

The canal was completed in 1789 at a cost of £250,000 ["The Development of Transportation in Modern England", W Turrentine Jackson, W H Chaloner, 1962, Routledge (ISBN 0714613266)] . With the Stroudwater Navigation, which had been completed in 1779, it completed a link between the River Severn and the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal in the west and the River Thames in the east. Both the Stroudwater Navigation and Thames and Severn Canal are "broad canals". This means that boats with a 14 foot beam could use them.

The Thames and Severn Canal was just under 28 3/4 miles long and had 44 lockscite book|author=Charles Hadfield|title=The Canals of South and South East England| year = 1969|pages=376|isbn=0-7153-4693-8] . The branch to Cirencester added a further 1 1/2 miles. The canal's summit is 363 feet above sea level and includes the 2.1 mile long Sapperton tunnel. At the time of its completion, this tunnel was the longest in England.

The canal always had problems with its water supply due to springs breaking through the clay lining of the canal bed. In summer when the springs receded, water was lost through these holes at a rate greater than the available supply. In one of the attempts to rectify this problem, the size of the locks was reduced which resulted in their unusual double headed appearance. In a further attempt to prevent water loss, King's Reach, the section immediately east of Sapperton tunnel, the canal was lined with concrete rather than puddle clay.

In 1819 another canal company, the North Wilts Canal, completed a link between the Wilts and Berks Canal at Swindon and the Thames and Severn Canal at Latton.

As the 19th century progressed, railway competition took much traffic from the canals. The Thames and Severn Canal was in economic difficulties by the 1890's. Much of the canal, including Sapperton Tunnel, was abandoned in 1927. A western section survived in use until 1933, and the Stroudwater Navigation was not abandoned until 1941.


Volunteers for the Cotswold Canal Trust have been working since 1972 to restore both the Stroudwater Navigation and the Thames and Severn Canal. The trust has rebuilt a number of locks and bridges and some small sections of the route are now in water. The first phase will be the reopening of the Stroudwater Navigation between Stonehouse and Wallbridge and the Thames and Severn Canal between Wallbridge and Brimscombe Port.

The original line of the Stroudwater Navigation between Stonehouse and Saul Junction on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal has been divided by both the construction of the M5 motorway and development of the A38 trunk road. The trust will conserve this section of the route until alternative links under these roads can be devised and funded.

Restoring the central section of the Thames and Severn Canal will also pose engineering difficulties: firstly to overcome the water supply that was always inadequate, and secondly Sapperton tunnel is blocked by two rock falls.

Restoration of the eastern section between Latton and Lechlade could be more promising. It would form a link between the upper Thames, the North Wilts Canal and the Wilts and Berks Canal.

Literary connections

In 1953, C. S. Forester published "Hornblower and the Atropos" (ISBN 0-316-28929-9), a historical novel set during the Napoleonic Wars, in which Horatio Hornblower travels along the canal (including the tunnel) to London.


ee also

*Canals of Great Britain
*History of the British canal system

External links

* [ Cotswold Canals Trust]
* [ Excerpt from "Hornblower and the Atropos"]

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