Traffic on the Stroudwater Canal in 1881

By Hugh Conway-Jones                   (return)

April 2007

This note presents a summary of the vessel movements on the Stroudwater Canal recorded in the Canal Company’s tonnage books from 1 January to 31 May 1881 (Glos Archives D1180/4/35 & 36). The survey nominally covers 21½ weeks, but due to severe icing during January, the time when vessel movements were possible was about 20 weeks. In this period, over 800 cargo-carrying trips were recorded, mainly taking goods eastwards into the Stroud valley and only a few carrying goods outwards. Full lists of barges and narrow canal boats and their typical movements are given in Tables 1 and 2.

Table 1 includes 42 different barges, typically capable of carrying 50 to 70 tons. Most of these were owned by men whose main business was conveying cargoes for others, but some owners were primarily merchants who presumably carried their own goods. The traders with barges making six or more trips during the period were as follows (those marked with an asterisk had their tonnage charged to an account and the others paid cash):

          James Ayliffe, coal merchant of Framilode           Elsie
          Butt & Skurray*, millers of Stratford & Cainscross           Ceres and Gertrude
          John Clark, barge owner of Framilode           Wherry
          Amos Field, barge owner of Saul           Reform and Sarah
          Ford Bros, millers of Ryeford           Emily
          Harry Knee, coal merchant & carrier of Stroud           Annie
          Thomas Pearce, barge owner of Brimscombe           Annie Maria, Finis, Mystery, Sarah and Try
          George Powell, mariner of Leonard Stanley           Severn Bridge
          Samuel Rowles*, barge owner of Frampton           Valiant and Volunteer
          James Smart, barge owner/coal merch of Chalford           Flora, Industry and Perseverance
          Stroud Gas Co*           Reliance
          E T Ward, coal agent of Dudbridge           Rapid
          James Webb*, coal dealer of Chalford           Endeavour
          Zacchaeus Whiting, coal merchant of Eastington           Jane

Most of the barges collected coal from Lydney or Bullo Pill (or roadstone from Bristol or Chepstow) and delivered to wharfs along the Stroudwater and Thames & Severn Canals as far as Chalford. Only a few passed over the summit to Cirencester and Lechlade. Those bringing coal from Bullo Pill entered the canal at Framilode, but those coming from Bristol, Chepstow and Lydney generally joined the canal at Saul Junction. Those owned by the milling firms commonly brought in corn from Bristol and sometimes returned with flour. The Reliance, owned by the Stroud Gas Co, regularly delivered coal from Newport. The Annie, owned by Harry Knee, collected general cargoes from Bristol as well as making trips to collect coal.

Canal Boats

Table 2 includes 63 different narrow canal boats, typically capable of carrying 30-35 tons depending on the depth of water available. The largest group of owners were merchants who were carrying their own cargoes, and the remainder were general carriers or owner-boatmen. The traders with boats making six or more trips during the period were as follows (those marked with an asterisk had their tonnage charged to an account and the others paid cash):

          William Bird, boat owner of Randwick           Garibaldi
          William Butler & Co, tar distillers of Sandhurst           Endeavour
          John H Butt, waterman of Bowbridge           Fanny
          Thomas Butt & Son, coal, salt & builders merchants of Stroud           Good Intent
          Clark Brothers, millers of Chalford           Serapis
          Jasper Couldrey, coal & salt dealer of Chalford           Brothers and Emma
          Job Gardner, timber & coal merchant, Daneway Saw Mills           Albert
          G Hazle (not identified)           Hope
          Matthew Hicks, coal, corn, salt & general merchant & maltster, Lechlade Wharf           Good Intent
          Harry Knee, coal merchant of Stroud           Ellen
          Thomas Pearce, barge owner of Brimscombe           Ann
          Charles Phipp, farmer & coal merchant Kempsford           Annie
          James Smart, carrier & coal merchant of Chalford           Beatrice, Charity and Kate
          Charles Smith, waterman of Eastington           Flora
          William Smith, boat owner & master of Chalford           Emma
          T & S Canal Co*, carriers of Brimscombe           Alice, Edith, Excelsior, Frederick William and Hope
          J Whitehouse, (not identified)           William
          William Wolley, coal merchant of Painswick           William

Most of the boats were recorded as carrying coal from Worcester, but this was evidently a convention, as the Thames & Severn Canal Company toll books recorded the same cargoes coming from Staffordshire or the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. These boats joined the canal at Saul Junction, and the coal was delivered to wharfs all along the Stroudwater & Thames & Severn Canals, including Lechlade. Some timber or hay was taken on the outward journey to Birmingham but this was not common. Around one third of the narrow canal boats made the short but potentially hazardous trip across the River Severn to collect coal from Bullo Pill on occasions. Two of James Smart’s boats carried general cargoes, and the five Thames & Severn Canal Company boats carried corn, timber and general cargoes between Gloucester, Sharpness and wharfs along the two canals. The Serapis, owned by the Clark Brothers carried corn to their mill at Chalford, and the William, owned by J Whitehouse, carried timber from Hereford to Ebley saw mill. The Endeavour, owned by William Butler & Co, carried gas tar from Stroud and Cirencester gas works for processing at Sandhurst on the River Severn north of Gloucester.

This note reports a snapshot of traffic on the Stroudwater Canal in the early months of 1881. When more studies have been carried out at other times in the history of the canal, it will be interesting to compare results and analyse trends.