Southampton and Salisbury Canal

The Canal in Use

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 reservoirs at West Grimstead had been made, but the southern one is no longer in existence. Some digging 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.

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 Society's Newsletter.)

On the same day George Jones issued a writ against the company for his salary. The company was unwilling to defend the action, judgment 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.

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.

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