Basingstoke Canal

Historical Profiles: NarrowBoat, Spring 2008

P. A. L. Vine

P. A. L. Vine takes a detailed look at a once privately owned canal, now restored and in local authority care, but whose future is again uncertain

The history of the Basingstoke Canal differs from that of many waterways. It tells of great enterprise, but its commercial activities were fraught with a singular lack of success. The company never paid a dividend; it could seldom pay interest on its debentures; its profit margins were in doubt even before the coming of the railways; and yet for 150 years every effort was made to turn it into a successful trading venture. A glance at a map to determine the route of the Basingstoke Canal immediately provokes a host of questions as to the reason for its construction; apparently, the navigation did no more than link the market town of Basingstoke with a tributary of the Thames. However, when the original Act for constructing the canal was granted in 1778, the waterway was visualised as forming part of a national route from London to Bristol on the one hand and to Southampton on the other. But because of the war with America and the problem of raising capital during economic crises, it wa…

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