A Brief History

Robert Whitworth, (a pupil of James Brindley), suggested a canal from Stourport-on-Severn to Hereford, via Leominster, with a return link to the Severn near Gloucester, making a semi-circular route of at least seventy miles.

Richard Hall submitted plans for a route from Hereford, via Ledbury to the Severn near Gloucester. Hall was a local surveyor of repute, who had worked as an efficient clerk of the works, for both the Stroudwater and Thames and Severn Canal Companies.
Shortly afterwards the course east of Ledbury was revised down the Leadon Valley to Gloucester, with a branch to Newent.

At a meeting held on the 18th March, Hall’s plan met with general approval and a share subscription of £100 shares was opened. The presence of a coalfield of sorts near Newent, may have been used as a ruse to encourage investment in the canal company. Josiah Clowes of Middlewich, Cheshire, was appointed as engineer and he estimated the cost of a canal following Hall’s route, for boats 70’x 8’x 3’6’’ draught, to carry 35 tons as £69,997.13.6d. In 1783, Clowes had been appointed as resident engineer at £300 per annum, to the Thames & Severn Canal Company.

In April the enabling Act of Parliament was passed without amendment.

The capital was fully subscribed by the summer and Hugh Henshall, (James Brindley’s brother-in-law), was asked to re-survey the route: Henshall advised taking the canal by way of Newent, necessitating the construction of a third tunnel on the line of the canal, at Oxenhall.

The enabling Act for the revised route was approved and by the autumn the first three and a half miles of canal from the Severn at Over, near Gloucester, was completed.

The canal was opened to Newent, but construction was falling behind schedule. During the 1795-96 winter, exceptionally severe storms caused flooding and swept away a number of bridges in the Severn valley.

The construction of Oxenhall tunnel was meeting considerable difficulty and incurring ruinous expenditure. At a meeting in November, the shareholders were informed of the company’s predicament; for an expenditure of £100,000 – more than Clowes’s original estimate for the whole line, the half-way town of Ledbury had not yet been reached.

As a result of raising a further £4,000 the canal was opened to one mile short of Ledbury, on the Ross-on-Wye road.

Stephen Ballard, (aged 23), was appointed clerk.

Ballard submits a detailed report on the completion of the canal, which he estimates would cost £53,000.

The canal was extended from the Ross road to the Little Marcle road, in Ledbury, in order to convey coal to the recently opened Ledbury gas works.


On the 29th September, Ballard and the civil engineer James Walker, walk an alternative route from Prior’s Court to Hereford, which Ballard had proposed. However, Walker advised adherence to the original line of the canal

In May, the Act enabling the company to raise £50,000 by mortgage and £45,000 by a further share issue, in order to complete the canal to Hereford, was passed: on the 17th November re-building commenced.

In February the first barge loaded with coal arrived at the Bye Street wharf, in Ledbury.

In August, the feeder from the River Frome, (within the grounds of Canon Frome Court) to the summit level of the canal was completed.

The canal was opened to Canon Frome wharf, in January.

In February the canal was opened to Withington wharf.

On the 22nd May the Hereford basin was filled with water and the canal was completed. The cost of completion was £141,436 – virtually three times Ballard’s estimate. Following completion, trade barely improved at all and the company sought to sell the canal to one of the railway companies, for conversion into a railway. However, the initial schemes to build a railway to the city of Hereford came to nothing. Consequently, the company concentrated on bolstering trade as best as it could


Income was sufficient to pay mortgage and interest charges.

After March, trade had increased to such an extent that it was necessary to introduce a timetable for the passage of boats through Oxenhall tunnel, which had been built to a bore of only 9’ and proved to be a troublesome bottleneck.

The delivery in September of 130 tons of rails for the Hereford to Shrewsbury railway, brought a transient increase in income.

The Hereford to Shrewsbury railway was opened in December.

The Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford railway was opened.

The rails of Brunel’s broad gauge reach Hereford in June, from Gloucester, via Ross-on-Wye.

Traffic on the canal during the year reaches 47,560 tons, but only as a result of rate-cutting incentives.

Financially the most successful year for the company, with income amounting to £7,061, but largely due to carrying materials for the Worcester and Hereford Railway.

The Worcester and Hereford railway was completed.

On the 17th January the company concluded an agreement with the Great Western and West Midland railways, for the future conversion of the canal to a railway. The railway company was to pay the canal company £5,000 per annum rent, in perpetuity.

The last complete year of business on the canal.

On the 30th June the canal was closed to permit the construction of the Ledbury to Gloucester railway. The canal company continues distributing the annual rent of £5,000 received from the Great Western Railway.

Nationalization of the railways and the closure of the canal company’s books.

The above is very largely taken from David Bick’s book, entitled, “The Hereford & Gloucester Canal”, published by the Pound House, Newent, Gloucestershire.

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Nigel C. Jefferies – March 1984, revised Dec. 1996 & Oct. 2006.