Grand Imperial Ship Canal

Canals That Never Were: NarrowBoat, Summer 2009

Richard Dean

Richard Dean traces Nicholas Cundy’s ambitious 1827 plan for a London to Portsmouth Ship Canal

The coastal passage between London, the naval facilities on the Thames, and Portsmouth, had always been busy, and an inland route would save many days’ sailing. Added to the 100-plus shipwrecks yearly, heavy losses in the English Channel during the Napoleonic Wars made the idea particularly attractive at the beginning of the 19th century. Several schemes for a barge canal were surveyed, culminating in John Rennie’s Grand Southern Canal of 1810 from the Medway Navigation at Tonbridge to the Arun Valley, Chichester, and Portsmouth. It was a lengthy and winding route which was soon set aside for a more modest proposal, which became the Wey & Arun Junction Canal, opened in 1816, supplemented by the Portsmouth & Arundel Canal in 1823. These barge canals were ultimately unsuccessful, but this did not deter the engineer Nicholas Wilcox Cundy from promoting the idea of a canal big enough to take the largest naval and commercial ships afloat, needing a depth of 28ft. Promi…

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