Southampton and Salisbury Canal

Early Proposals

In 1768, James Brindley was reported to have made a general survey from Salisbury to Redbridge on the tidal section of the River Test. It was through Redbridge that goods were imported by sea to the city with, it was thought, around 12,000 tons passing between the two places each year. Brindley estimated that a 24 mile long canal would cost £38,230.

On 21 August 1770, a meeting about the construction of a canal to Salisbury was held in the Council Chamber in the city. Interests in Andover had engaged Robert Whitworth to survey the route for a canal from that town down the Test Valley to the estuary at Redbridge near Southampton. This led to the investigation of various routes from Salisbury:

As the canal engineer James Brindley was too busy to carry out the surveys himself, he sent an assistant. In September 1771, a committee considered plans and estimates and the route to Kimbridge Mill was decided upon. However, the scheme was abandoned when a bill for the Andover Canal failed to reach Parliament in 1772.

A promoter from Tavistock, Christopher Gullet, appeared in 1774 with proposals for an independent canal from the city to Eling including plans, estimates and a draft Parliamentary Bill but matters seem not to have been proceeded with.

Promotion and Speculation

War with the American colonies in 1775 and with France and Spain in 1778 caused attention to be diverted from canal promotion. It was 1789 before the scheme saw the light of day again, as the bill for the Andover Canal came to Parliament. A meeting in Salisbury agreed on a canal from the city to Kimbridge, but felt further surveys for a route from the Redbridge area to Southampton were required.

It was agreed by many that a connection was required with the wharves at Northam, on the north east side of Southampton, where much of the town's sea-going trade was conducted without payment of Southampton's port dues. However, this would mean transhipment at Redbridge as the canal boats it was intended to use would not be suitable for use on a tideway.

The Salisbury interests decided upon the construction of a "collateral branch" from Redbridge along the north shore of the Test estuary to Northam. This would involve digging a tunnel to the north of Southampton under the ridge upon which the town stands. A map of this branch appeared in 1791 and early 1792 saw the entire scheme resurveyed and remapped. The 1792 map also shows the canal extended north from Salisbury up the Avon valley to Pewsey on the proposed Kennet & Avon Canal.

Discussions were held with the committee of the Basingstoke Canal (then under construction) on the establishment of a London to Southampton and Salisbury canal route. John Rennie undertook the survey of a wide (14 ft beam) canal from Basingstoke to Kitcomb Bridge at Fullerton on the Andover Canal and from Kimbridge to Salisbury including 1210 yards of tunnelling. His cheapest estimate of £135,770 was too much for the Basingstoke Canal interests.

A meeting at Southampton Guildhall in September 1792 saw a subscription list opened with nearly half of the 89 who put their names down coming from the Bristol area. Sub-committees were set up at Bristol, Southampton and Salisbury to promote the project and raise money. The clerk to the main committee was a Southampton solicitor and the town clerk, Thomas Ridding.

At a time of poor communication, the use of local committees was widely used. It enabled more subscriptions to be raised and, once construction had started, allowed closer supervision of the contractors' work. But it had the side effect of encouraging local rivalries.

In the second part of 1792, Bristol had became enthused by the wave of speculation that gripped the nation and we know as the 'Canal Mania'. The promotion of a number of canals in the Bristol area led to many rumours. A group seems to have tried to monopolize shares in the Kennet & Avon Canal. Fearing an outcry from potential subscribers deprived of the chance of a profit, the group seems to have put an anonymous advertisement in a Salisbury newspaper announcing a meeting in Devizes on 12 December to consider a canal from Bristol to "the interior parts of Wiltshire." This phrase was taken by many to refer to the Kennet & Avon Canal as they were unaware that the subscription was already filled.

The half-secret way in which the meeting was called caused the infamous “Ride to Devizes”. Many rode from Bristol and Bath to Devizes through the wintry lanes. There was a scramble for beds and in the morning the town was scoured for the meeting. The local magistrates nearly read the Riot Act. The town clerk was eventually persuaded to chair a meeting and, at length, the meeting agreed to accept a project for a canal from Bristol to Salisbury.

A newspaper reported in February 1794 that John Chamberlain had surveyed two routes from the Kennet & Avon Canal, the first from Wilcot near Pewsey to Salisbury, the other from Wootton Rivers to the Andover Canal.

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Page created 21 May 2005 - published 17 February 2009. Layout and content updated 7 April 2017.

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