Herefordshire Hopes

Canals That Never Were: NarrowBoat, Spring 2016

Richard Dean

Richard Dean looks at the western end of the unfinished Leominster Canal.

<p>Proposed canal (red). Canal built (blue)</p>Credit: (c) Crown copyright 2016 Ordnance Survey Media 003/16

Proposed canal (red). Canal built (blue)

(c) Crown copyright 2016 Ordnance Survey Media 003/16

In December 1796 the Hereford Journal reported that the Leominster Canal had been fully opened from the collieries at Mamble to Leominster, and 14 ‘barges’ of coal had arrived there on the opening day. The wharf at Leominster was initially a temporary affair, adjoining the main road a mile outside the town, but by default it became a permanent feature as the planned continuation of the canal faltered.

When the Leominster Canal had been first promoted there was pressure from a separate group to extend it further into Herefordshire and the resulting Act of 1791 authorised a continuous canal of 45 miles from Kington to the River Severn at Stourport. However, the shares issued were only sufficient to fund the central section, enabling coal to be brought to Leominster. Some work was started on the easterly section (see NB Autumn 2015), and also west of Leominster, but the available money soon ran out.

Thomas Dadford’s survey for the 14 miles from Leominster to Kington involved 28 locks with a rise of 253ft through fairly easy country. The proposed crossing of the valley at Leominster generated some apprehension that the low embankment would throw the River Lugg floodwaters further towards the town, but it does not appear that this was the cause of any delay.

The biggest engineering work, apart from a deep cutting at the start of the summit level, was an aqueduct over the River Lugg at Kingsland. It was here that construction had commenced and, by the time work stopped in 1794, the contractors had largely completed the structure, which John Rennie described in a detailed report at the end of 1795:“The aqueduct over the River Lugg is of stone; it consists of three arches, twenty one feet span each, segments of circles, which spring six feet; but at this time there were only four feet seven inches above the water’s surface. The masonry seems good, but from having too little water way, and from the piers being founded too shallow, the great flood in February last undermined one of the piers and carried away part of two arches, notwithstanding the floodwaters had no interruption, on the south-west side of the River Lugg, where the ground is not more than four feet above the surface of the waters in their summer state. If therefore under these circumstances the water way of the aqueduct has been found insufficient, it would surely be the extremity of misconduct to rebuild it again on the same plan.”

He recommended complete rebuilding to larger dimensions at an estimated cost of £2,200 but no further work was done. The damaged structure survived for about 50 years, but there is now no trace, other than a few stones and the foundation of one of the piers.

The embankment across the meadow west of the aqueduct does not appear to have been started. It may have been intended to boat earth for this over the aqueduct from the eastern side of the river, and there are indications of what may have been a feeder from Kingsland Mill to fill the canal near the aqueduct.

<p>Extract from Dadford&rsquo;s report of June 1794 detailing the works carried out at Kingsland.</p>

Extract from Dadford’s report of June 1794 detailing the works carried out at Kingsland.

Further west, traces of canal cutting remain, the works being described by Rennie: “From Kingsland there is above a mile of Canal partly cut, with some Stone Bridges and Locks upon it. The soil seems to be open and porous, and will require to be lined. The Locks and Bridges are well built, and do the workman credit.”

Rennie estimated £500 would provide a towpath, puddling, and other finishes but this isolated part of canal remained unused, and the two locks in the Great West Field and the two completed road bridges have long since disappeared. The local name ‘Drybridge’ reminds us of the point where the canal passed under the present A4110 road.

The only other recorded work between Leominster and Kingsland is that some bricks and stone are prepared for two locks. John Rennie estimated in 1796 that £56,600 would complete the Leominster-to-Kington length, but the needed investment was never forthcoming for this or a shortened version as far as Milton Cross, nor for later schemes to substitute a tramroad. After 1820 the area was served by the Kington Railway, a tramroad reaching the district from the south.


Proposed canal (red). Canal built (blue).

<p>Map showing what was built at Kingsland</p>

Map showing what was built at Kingsland

Base of the south pier of the Lugg Aqueduct exposed during the drought of summer 1995.

Base of the south pier of the Lugg Aqueduct exposed during the drought of summer 1995.