Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal

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The Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal (sometimes known as the Hereford and Gloucester Canal) is a canal in the west of England, which ran from Hereford, the county town of Herefordshire to Gloucester the county town of Gloucestershire, where it linked to the River Severn. It was opened in two phases in 1798 and 1845, and closed in 1881, when the southern section was used for the course of the Ledbury and Gloucester Railway. It is currently the subject of an active restoration scheme.



The first plans for a canal between Hereford and Gloucester were made by Robert Whitworth, one of James Brindley's pupils, in 1777. The route was part of a grander plan to link Stourport on Severn and Leominster as well. Twelve years later, Richard Hall submitted plans for a canal via Ledbury.[1] The route was revised to pass to the west of Ledbury, rather than to the east, and with Josiah Clowes as engineer, parliamentary approval was sought. An Act of Parliament was obtained in April 1791. Hugh Henshall, who was the brother-in-law of James Brindley, was asked to re-survey the route in 1792, and recommended a diversion to Newent, where there were minor coalfields. This route required a tunnel at Oxenhall, and another act of parliament was obtained in 1793 to sanction the new route. Josiah Clowes died in 1795, and was succeeded as engineer by Robert Whitworth. By late 1795, the initial section was open to Newent, but the tunnel was causing major problems.[2]

In order to build the tunnel, twenty shafts were sunk along its route, so that there could be multiple working faces. However, there were considerable difficulties caused by the volume of water entering the shafts. Horse-powered pumps proved inadequate, and eventually steam-powered pumps were employed, but this added to the cost, and the tunnel was a large factor in the failure to complete the canal.[2]

The canal was opened to within one mile of Ledbury in 1798, but stopped there as the cost had far exceeded the estimates. The Coal Branch to the mines at Newent was never a success, as the coal was of very poor quality, and the branch fell into disuse very quickly. The price of coal in the region dropped from 24 shillings (£1.20) per ton to 13/6 (68p) but the coal was a good quality product which travelled up the canal from the River Severn.[2] Ledbury remained the terminus for another forty years, although a short extension to enable coal to be delivered to the Ledbury gas works was completed in 1832.

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