The Stroudwater Navigation by Joan Tucker, Tempus Publishing
Ltd, Stroud, paperback, 192 pages, 250 x 170 mm, illustrated
throughout, 32 colour plates, ISBN, Price £16-99, 2003.
As reviewed in the Gloucestershire Society for Industrial
Archaeology Journal for 2003
It is now more than 20 years since the detailed history
of the construction of the Stroudwater Canal and a separate
towpath guide were written by Michael Handford. There
has been a new look at the Thames and Severn Canal by
David Viner in his book in 2002 and so it would seem appropriate
for something similar for the Stroudwater Canal, particularly
in the light of the exciting proposals for its restoration.
Few can claim to be better equipped to write this account
as Joan Tucker and her family lived on a narrowboat at
Walk Bridge, Ebley, in the early 1960s. Mrs Tucker is
also a Director of The Company of Proprietors of the Stroudwater
Navigation and has been their Archives Director for the
past twenty years.
The Stroudwater Canal is less than a quarter the length
of the Thames & Severn Canal as it is only eight miles
from Framilode on the River Severn to its terminus at
Wallbridge Stroud. However, this short length of canal
possesses much of great interest today and this has been
splendidly brought out in this publication.
The book opens with a very brief introduction to the history
of the canal and then takes the reader on a ‘perambulation’
which gives a brief account of the main features along
the line as they are today. This is followed by three
chapters looking at the different types of structures
to be found along the line, that is, the basins, wharves,
locks and bridges. However, the structures are treated
much more from an historical point of view than an engineering
one. The author has carried out very detailed research
into the Company's archives and drawn heavily on this
work for much of the material in the book. The section
on 'the working canal' looks at diverse topics such as
the towpath, dredging, boats, boat builders and carriers,
withies and the traders who made their living on the canal.
Withies, otherwise known as osiers provided a subsidiary
income for the Company as many withy beds were acquired
when they purchased the land for the cut. Baskets woven
from withies were used extensively in the woollen cloth
industry in the Stroud Valleys and for market garden produce
until fairly recently when they were supplanted by plastic
The Canal Company had dealings with various public utilities
as the canal towpath was used as a convenient means for
running gas mains and telephone wires. The final chapter
looks at 'the canal and leisure' and the list is surprisingly
long as it encompasses, fishing, pleasure boating, cycling,
rowing, canoeing, bathing, and even ballooning and public
houses! Ballooning refers to a flight made from by the
canal at Wallbridge in 1783 making it one of the earliest
ascents in England. Unfortunately, most of the public
houses that lay by the canal have been demolished, although
who knows what developments the restoration of the canal
will bring. One of the photographs in this chapter is
of the Wycliffe College boathouse by the side of the canal
at Stonehouse in 1916. The building still survives but
is now in a very poor state since it was vacated many
years ago for the present boathouse at Saul Junction.
It is to be hoped that it will be restored, one day, and
put to a suitable re-use. The coal pen at Ryeford and
the Dudbridge Crane have both featured in articles in
the GSIA Journal. It is pleasing to note that both of
these have become listed structures in recent years.
The text is accompanied by an interesting selection of
black and white historical photographs which have generally
reproduced well. The colour section is excellent and gives
a good snapshot of some of the key sites as they existed
in August 2003. Long standing members of the Society will
be pleased to see a charming photograph of the late Fred
Rowbotham taken during repairs to Nutshell Bridge in 1987.
Fred was for many years Engineer to the Canal Company
and was also a well known member of GSIA.