Southampton and Salisbury Canal

Exorbitant Charges

Almost all of the workers had been dismissed by the end of 1798 and only a little maintenance was being undertaken. Joseph Hill refused to do any more until paid for work lready done on both the Southampton and Salisbury and the Ports Junction Canals. Hill was given 6 months notice to expire in August 1799. Rennie was asked to make a further report on the canal.

The weather then dealt a blow. On 10 February 1799, the River Dun flooded, sweeping away the bridge at West Dean, badly damaging a lock and other canal works down the valley.

Rennie sent an assistant, James Hollingsworth, over from the Bursledon Bridge Company although the canal company had problems getting together the £21 for his expenses. Hollingsworth measured up the work actually done in comparison with the money paid out. When Rennie reported on 17 May 1799 he was devastating both about Hill and the contractors. Apologizing for not having done the work more thoroughly, he said that

"The extra demands of the Contractors over or above their regular Contracts, which they could not be prevailed on to deliver till the 30th ult, are such that it is out of my power to ascertain them with any degree of accuracy, and your Engineer Mr Hill is unable to satisfy me on many of the Points, where charges beyond all reason and decency are made. I should have examined the different Charges on the Spot, when I went over the work in April last."

He continued,

"But this was impossible, the Contractors being confined to their Houses to avoid the Sheriff's Officers who were in search of them."

Despite this, he commented that

"charges for extras along the old Town Ditch and the new Pond is exorbitant in the extreme, these charges amount to at least three times the worth of the actual work performed  . . . the extras on the Lock under the Gaol and at Northam pumping water there, etc., are equally extraordinary, this must either have arisen from the most gross inattention on the part of the Contractor or deficiency in the plans pursued. . . . There seems to have been a fatality in every proceeding about the Tunnel."

For the Southampton to Redbridge section there was

"the Largest extra Bill I ever beheld on so small a contract - and where so few difficulties existed."

On the Salisbury arm the disputes were mainly about the amount of earth excavated by the contractor Gee. Rennie considered that Hill's calculations of this were no better than Gee's.

And of the whole business he observed:

"I must say  . . . that I never had through my hands a work where less attention seems to have been paid to the Proprietors' interest than has been here."

Another special meeting considered this report and decided to seek counsel's opinion on suing Hill and to ask shareholders to put up another 35 per cent. A committee was set up to investigate the accounts. The resulting dispute led to arbitration with Rennie and William Jessop for the company and Thomas Dadford for the contractors. Counsel advised against suing Hill unless negligence could be proved and even against not paying him. Hill retired to Wolverhampton an embittered man believing there was a conspiracy against him.

It seems that Joseph Hill never received his salary from either the Southampton and Salisbury or the Ports Junction companies. By March 1800 he was threatening legal proceedings through an attorney. In December he was in King's Bench prison as a debtor. He appealed for money in March 1801 as his wife was ill and his children were "stroling about the Country barefooted endeavouring to get a little Bread". By November 1802 he was bankrupt.

In the meantime, the shareholders were not forthcoming with any more funds.

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

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