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 containers.

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.