Southampton & Salisbury Canal: History

Part 3:   Second Attempt   1799 - 1810

If at First

In August 1799 it was “resolved to employ Mr John Rennie as Principal Engineer” with a Resident Engineer to assist him. They hoped

“by fixing their plans of future proceedings according to his recommendation, by keeping regular and accurate books of accounts, and by appointing a Cttee of Superintendence, they shall be able to compleat the canal in a way that will not only be satisfactory, but beneficial to the Public.”

What a pity they hadn’t done this four years earlier!

The deep cutting near West Dean.The deep cutting to the west of West Dean.
Image date: 22 May 2005 © 2009 Laura Sturrock.

To raise more money, a further Act of Parliament was needed. The company claimed it had already spent £56,000 and was unable to raise more by issuing additional shares. Authority was given to raise the additional £30,000 allowed in the first Act entirely by mortgage, and also a further £10,000 to cover rising wages and material prices. The Bill received the Royal Assent on 9 July 1800 (39 & 40 Geo III c. cviii).

The new Act led to old creditors presenting their bills hoping for payment before work began again. The committee instead offered bonds for repayment upon completion of the canal. Dealings in the shares began again but new capital did not flood in. Savery, the company’s Bristol banker, wrote:

“I’ve made every exertion I can, but no one here will advance further, and they’re particularly sicken’d on account of their Engagements in the Kennett and Avon (which is also a dreadfully bad Affair) so that you may as well persuade ’em to swallow Poison as pay a Shilling more.”

Some money began to came in though. Southampton Corporation agreed to make some payments on its shares and the Earl of Radnor offered a mortgage for £1,000. £2,000 came from the Andover Canal proprietors towards the Salisbury arm.

It was decided that the first priority was to finish between Kimbridge to the most convenient place at the end of Alderbury Shoot, nearest Salisbury, where a wharf on the road from the city could be built and to the east of the tunnel from Northam Quay to the Platform at God’s House. It decided the second priority was

“that as soon as the above parts are finished, the remaining part of the line from Southampton to Redbridge, and from Alderbury Shoot to Salisbury, be completed.”

The company concentrated on collecting money but, as only around £2,000 was was forthcoming from the shareholders, only essential maintenance work was undertaken.

April 1801 saw fresh contracts being let to contractors Brawn and Small but a new resident engineer was not appointed until October. A former Army engineer, George Jones was recommended by Rennie. Work began repairing and finishing the existing works on both arms. By January 1802, however, the contractors were bankrupt and wrote to Thomas Ridding that

“wee are sorry to be under the Disagrable nessaty of leaving the Country.”

The company now employed the workmen directly under Jones’ supervision. He bought bricks and got them on site ready for the next season’s work. The committee decided

“That four Miners be procured from Newcastle as soon as possible to work on the Tunnel at Southampton”.

At last, a determined effort appears to have been made to advance the work.

Success almost in sight

The Great Cutting at Alderbury.The now flooded “Great Cutting” at Alderbury.
Image date: 19 Mar 2005 © 2020 Peter Oates.

On 26 April 1802 the committee reported

“the Canal being now navigable to West Dean All Sorts of Merchandize in proper Barges may be carried on it by paying the regular Tolls.”

West Dean was about 5½ miles and six locks from Kimbridge Junction.

On 8 December 1802 the section from Redbridge to the west end of the tunnel was reported open for barges carrying 25 tons of cargo. It was decided that chalk, lime and other manures would be allowed to pass at half toll - 1d per ton mile. The tolls of 2d per ton per mile, fixed in September 1802 for goods other than manures, were lowered to 1½d in March 1803 “to cause a greater Trade”.

By January 1803 the canal was open as far as the beginning of Alderbury Common, 9½ miles from Kimbridge. Beyond this was the deep cutting leading to the 100 yard tunnel under the Southampton to Salisbury turnpike, not yet begun.

As there was not enough money to complete the canal line to Salisbury, there was a proposal in November 1802 to build a temporary wooden horse railway from the navigable end of the canal at Alderbury Common to the turnpike road (until 1978 the A36) at a higher level. The estimate for building it, made by Jones, was:

Item   Cost   £ s d
Beech Rails per Yard 10   d    
Sleepers per Yard 4½d  
Laying down per Yard 4   d  
Graveling horse Track 3   d  
  629 yards at 1s   9½d   £56 6s 11½d
  Cutting drain     £5 4s 10   d
  £61 11s 11½d

Road carriage could now be used onwards to Salisbury, and at the other end to the sea and the Itchen, but the canal was not yet attractive to carriers. However, business had begun.

Despite requiring additional transhipments, a new route for the carriage of goods between Southampton and Salisbury now existed. As most of the journey was by water, transport costs must have been reduced. As the Andover Canal company made complaints about overcharging in March 1803, the canal must have been in use at that date.

It was at this point that the canal company came nearest to success.

The Canal in Use

The deep cutting near West Dean.Dry canal bed beside Lockerley Road, Dunbridge.
Image date: 20 Mar 2005 © 2009 Peter Oates.

However, the shareholders were losing confidence again. England was at war with France, money remained in short supply and sometimes the bank refused to honour the company’s drafts.

In July 1803, Rennie estimated that £9,950 was needed for completion, including £2,503 19s. 4d needed to complete the Southampton Arm, and £2,000 to repair deterioration.

Matters showed little improvement as early in 1804 Ridding died and the new town clerk was soon in dispute with the new company clerk, Thomas Ridding junior.

Early in 1804 efforts were concentrated on obtaining money. A tontine plan to raise £15,000 was stillborn and a bill was even drafted to enable the company to be sold. Demands for money flowed in: for land used and goods supplied including the wood for the railway. Admiral Scott sent £50 “to distribute among the most Necessitous of the Men”. Even so, a meeting of the shareholders chose not to sell.

Request for more loans were turned down on all sides. The towns of Salisbury and Southampton showed no official interest, probably as it had become clear that insufficient traffic would be forthcoming to make the canal pay. Southampton Corporation refused to make a further loan. Shareholders would not put up more money. The company had earned a bad name.

It is not clear whether the tunnel was ever navigable. Work had involved digging out from the foot of each of the three shafts. The draft minutes for 31 October 1803 say that the tunnel was opened that day, and the accounts for January 1804 include two guineas for beer on that occasion. This may, however, mean that a heading was first opened on 31 October, not that a navigable tunnel was completed. According to an undated drawing, just 30 yards remained to be excavated between the east end of the tunnel and the centre shaft and 68 yards between there and the west end. On the other hand, Thomas Ridding’s letter in June 1804 (see below) refers to “an accidental Interruption in the Tunnel.”

The original survey of 1806 for the Ordnance Survey One Inch to One mile map shows that two lakes near West Grimstead had been made, but the southern one is no longer in existence. The northern one might have been constructed as part of the landscaping of Clarendon Park, the seat of part of the Bathurst family. Some digging of the canal continued along much of the length of the summit and the 1806 map suggests that some may have taken place down the other side towards Salisbury. Certainly, today there are some remains visible in the area of Shute End, Alderbury.

In Southampton work was still necessary on the sea branch, and the gaol lock was unfinished. The Northam line seems to have been completed, for on 14 June 1804 the company made their last effort with the clerk writing to the shareholders that

“THE SOUTHAMPTON and SALISBURY CANAL is now navigable from the West End of the Tunnel near Southampton, to the East End of Alderbury Common, and would be to Northam (the great Depot for Coals) but for an accidental interruption in the Tunnel.”

(For a full transcript of this letter see the April 2001 issue of the Southampton Canal Society’s Newsletter.)

On the same day (14th June) George Jones issued a writ against the company for his salary. The company was unwilling to defend the action, judgement went by default and in July and August the sheriffs of Southampton and Wiltshire seized the sections of the canal within their jurisdictions. Although this left only the section from Four Posts Hill to Redbridge in the company’s hand it continued to struggle to keep the entire canal open.

Abraham Seward, who was a shareholder and user of the canal, was the most active in this. He reported that George Jones had sold the railway and threatened to plough up the banks and pull down the locks. As many of the committee members failed to attend meetings Seward suggested that they should sell their shares to those who would. Meanwhile he ordered Thomas Ridding to proceed against Jones’ agents.

In December 1804 someone, probably Seward, put up a reward of twenty guineas for the discovery of the persons who had broken down the canal banks opposite Millbrook church.

By February 1805 the clerk could write that “The Southampton and Salisbury Canal is not going on at all at present but rather backwards as the Works are going very fast to Decay.”

Nevertheless, it continued in use. Tolls were still being collected at Southampton in December 1804. In June 1805 there was a complaint that the bargemen on the Salisbury arm left the gates open, broke down the fences and failed to close the drawbridges. A year later they were accused of taking all the water from the river. Abraham Seward provided what supervision and maintenance there was at that end, but from time to time the committee authorised minor repairs if the money was available or allowed carriers to do the work and recover the costs by withholding their tolls. As late as February 1810 a local landowner was told that he could use the canal if he was prepared to repair recent damage.

Road name in Alderbury.An appropriate road name in Alderbury.
Image date: 19 Mar 2005 © 2020 Peter Oates.

In 1806 Thomas Ogden of Salisbury came forward with a suggestion that the mortgagees should defer their claims and allow a further Act to be obtained. Many of the despairing mortgagees agreed although one from Bristol wrote that the only meeting he would attend was “any particular one called for the purpose of bringing to account those Persons who have squander’d away the Proprietors Money”.

John Rennie, who was owed £2,000, did not take the new proposals very seriously and since the company was unable to pay for an advertisement in the Bristol Mercury it was improbable that anything could be done.

In the following year (1807) a determined effort was made to collect tolls and permission was given to the landowners of Millbrook to repair and use the Southampton arm. It was also proposed to sublet corporation lands at the west end of the tunnel to a Miss Grosvenor, but the company had insufficient money to pay for the deed.

On 18 March 1808, as the Ports Junction scheme was being revived, the committee of the Southampton and Salisbury Canal held its last meeting. Thenceforward Thomas Ridding was left to do what he could for the canal.

It appears that traffic on the Redbridge - Southampton Tunnel section had ceased by the end of 1808, and probably soon afterwards on the Kimbridge - Alderbury line.

In 1809 Rennie wrote to the clerk asking for his bill to be paid, and was told that there were two plans for the future of the canal, but that it was difficult to get the creditors together. The clerk ends:

“It is now running to ruin very fast.”

Thomas Ridding’s last act as clerk to the company was an attempt to collect an outstanding debt in 1811.

Some sources claim that completion of the canal was halted as a consequence of meeting with an extensive quick-sand, the canal would not hold water and was therefore abandoned. However, there appears to be no truth in this assertion.