Andover Canal: Construction

First Proposals

The first attempt to introduce navigation to the Test Valley seems to have resulted in powers granted by an Act of Parliament of 1665. This was entitled the “Act for making divers Rivers navigable”. This is the same Act that led to the construction of the Itchen Navigation but the powers for the Test seem not to have been exercised.

In 1692, Justices of the Peace issued a Certificate to obtain an Act of Parliament for making the River Test navigable from Stockbridge to Redbridge “for convenience to the County”. However, no trace of such an Act has been found. The Justices came to another decision in 1699, this time using their powers under the 1665 Act:

“That Wm Payton of Abbington in the County of Berks millwright be undertaker of and for the making of the River Test Alias Tost navigable from Redbridge to Romsey in this County, and to perfect the Same according to the directions powers and Lymitations of the Statute etc within three years from the date of this order. But to give a Bond of £1000 to Mr Cobb and Mr Brewer to perform this order and not to transgress or abuse the power of the said Act.”

Again nothing seems to have been done as a result of this decision - possibly the task was too difficult. In 1711, the Justices appointed J Popham, W Preston and W Wethers Esquires as Commissioners for Navigations. Nothing further happened for more than fifty years.

Obtaining the Act of Parliament

It was reported that in 1769 James Brindley, the renowned canal engineer, had made a survey for a canal from Salisbury to Redbridge, a small port on the estuary of the River Test about 3 miles north-west of Southampton (see Southampton & Salisbury Canal).

Star and Garter Inn, AndoverStar and Garter Inn, Andover, February 2013
© 2013 Chris Talbot (cc-by-sa/2.0). Image from www.geograph.org.uk

A number of prominent men of the Test Valley, particularly in the Andover area, re-activated the idea of making the Test navigable. In 1770 they had discussions with Robert Whitworth, an assistant of James Brindley, and came to the conclusion that the difficulties of rendering the Test navigable were such that it would be better to construct a canal. Trade in Andover was on the decline and it was hoped that a canal might revive it. This was quite a progressive proposal as the first artificial canals, such as the Bridgewater Canal and the Grand Trunk Canal (today called the Trent & Mersey), were only just coming into use.

As a result, Robert Whitworth made a survey in 1770 for a canal from the Hampshire town of Andover to Redbridge, and quoted £18,982 for a narrow canal and £31,654 for a wider one. A petition was presented to the House of Commons in February 1771 about the need for a canal. Although this was referred to a Committee, it appears that no report on the petition was made. Although meetings took place during 1771 between the supporters of the canal and Robert Whitworth, nothing more is heard of the project after October.

In 1788, a meeting was called at the Star and Garter Inn (now called the Danebury Hotel) in Andover for those interested in reviving the project. As a result, Whitworth was asked make a further survey and he reported in February 1789. His estimate must have been acceptable for things now moved quickly: another petition to the House of Commons was made on 20 March and leave was granted on 6 April to present a Bill to the House. The Bill was presented by Andover’s two MPs in early May and after passing all its stages in Parliament, the Act (29 Geo III cap 72) received the Royal Assent on 13 July 1789.

Building the canal

Section of canal south of NurslingCanal south of Nursling, November 2005
© 2005 Peter Oates

Very little is known about the actual construction of the canal but it seems to have started soon after the Act was obtained and appears to have been completed in about May 1794: a loaded barge was reported to have reached Clatford, two miles from Andover, in January 1794. The waterway was constructed at a cost of £48,000: £35,000 raised as shares and £13,000 by loan.

Andover Wharf was on the west side of the River Anton and the south side of Bridge Street, about quarter of a mile from the Town Hall. From Andover, the canal followed the valley of the River Anton south-east past Upper Clatford and through Goodworth Clatford to its confluence with the River Test at Fullerton where both rivers were crossed by aqueducts. The canal turned south down the Test valley on the east side of the River Test. It passed through the towns of Stockbridge and Romsey to Redbridge, then a small port and shipbuilding village on the tidal section of the river which the canal entered just above the medieval Red Bridge.

Various proposals were made between 1789 and 1810 to build further waterways in the area, including ideas for a link between the Andover and Basingstoke Canals that would have provided an inland waterway route from London to Southampton. Another idea was for a canal from Wootton Rivers on the Kennet & Avon Canal to Andover. However, the great expense, the shortage of water in an area of chalk hills, and an uncertain amount of trade were problems that probably stopped such schemes proceeding. One associated scheme was the Southampton & Salisbury Canal upon which work did start but was never completed.