The Report of the Committee of Works of the Stratford-on-Avon Canal Navigation October 1813

At the AGM in 2013 the Society’s purchase for £337.50 of a rare book for the archives was recorded with a photocopy available for inspection. The Report of the Committee of Works of the Stratford-on-Avon Canal Navigation was ordered to be printed at their General Assembly held on 8th October 1813. It contains a report on the state of the works, their present condition and where the subscribers to the canal’s money had been spent together with the engineer’s estimate for the completion of the canal.
At that time the canal had reached beyond Kingswood where a cut had been made to link it with the Warwick and Birmingham Canal under a separate Act of Parliament. It was this latter Act, and the costs incurred in reaching that stage that gave rise to the General Assembly and the issuance of the report. The report is a blatant call to shareholders to subscribe more funds to complete the works and then to earn attractive dividends. As an accountant it is interesting to read how such optimistic statements were allowed then, today’s investors are protected from such practices but they make interesting reading.
The initial enthusiasm for get-rich canal schemes was probably over by 1813 and the harsh reality is demonstrated by 21% of the called up capital being in default (i.e. it hadn’t been paid over). 19 separate calls had been made in an attempt to raise 90% of the £120,000 par value of shares in issue. Interest was charged on unpaid calls but the whole accounting story is one for another day (and probably another audience so I will stop here) but it shows that there was probably a confidence gap between the company and its shareholders.
The link at Kingswood with what is now part of the Grand Union Canal is fascinating and helps to explain this unusual layout of the junction near BW’s Lapworth office creating probably the county’s smallest inhabited island (note that lock 20 was built much later). The Act enabling the link specified that water from the last lock before the link must enter the Warwick Canal if the boat was to pass that way. Hence, what we now call lock 21 needed to be able to empty into the Kingswood cut (and hence to the Warwick Canal) by a cast iron paddle in the side of the lock via a 19” cast iron pipe into the stop lock with a cast iron stop gate (guillotine style) at the top end and mitre bottom gates leading into the Kingswood cut. The basin below lock 21 being shaped as now to allow boats to turn into the stop lock. The level in this basin was to be kept the same as that of Kingswood cut by balancing it with water drawn from the reservoir (where the new moorings have been installed) via another pipe and paddle.
I hope that you have followed the above without me reproducing the plan and the indexing of each part. If you have followed so far, you will appreciate that a boat going straight down to Stratford did not operate the side paddle (the Warwick canal were not entitled to that lock’s water) and that a boat coming up from Stratford from lock 22 and wishing to enter the Warwick Canal had to balance the pound between locks 21 and 22 after entry to that pound (with water from the reservoir) to allow the stop lock to be used for passage. The mitre gates of the stop lock probably had no paddles so they would only open when water from the Stratford reached the level in the cut.
The report explains all this work and calls for the money to complete it together with the money to complete the canal from its then terminus at Wootton to Stratford (£69,600 estimated for the 6.5 miles including the barge lock at Bancroft basin). Note that the stop lock itself was already in place but the Warwick canal objected to its use until the arrangements outlined above were built and adopted to allow passage, hence the Stratford canal was then still missing out on the valuable toll income anticipated when the Kingswood cut was planned and built.
Now, this explanation is at variance with the Society’s own guide published some years back before the stop lock route was re-opened since it mentions the Stratford canal level being 6’ higher in the pound below lock 21 than it is now but, as I’ve wondered in the past, why have lock 21 if that was the case. Also, the water would have run down the hill to Stratford since the land to the south falls away. If anyone doubts my interpretation I’ll be glad to discuss but the report does clarify why progress beyond Wootton was held up and why so much of the money had been spent getting over engineering problems and marshy land etc all of which are outlined in the report. Hence the barrel roof cottages built only in the section below Kingswood towards Wootton to save money.
There is so much more information and background in the report and I recommend others to read the photocopied version. A footnote is that the report was written by William James the canal’s engineer, a local man from Henley in Arden who will be commemorated with a biographical plaque erected on the Yew Trees (ex hotel) in the High Street on Friday 13th June this year, the 232nd anniversary of his birth. He is a more important individual in the historical railway scene so the unveiling will be by them. A biography is being written and if anyone would like more details please let me know but celebrations will probably include some trips to view and appreciate his aqueducts, currently undergoing restoration with the help of the Heritage lottery fund. Anyone donating £10 or more to the fund for the plaque will be invited to the unveiling, send to the William James Memorial Fund, c/o Miles Macnair, The Brook House, Ullenhall, Henley-in-Arden, B95 5PD.

Clive Henderson


Clive Henderson, Membership Secretary, Stratford upon Avon Canal Society,
The Bridge House, Church Lane, Lapworth, Solihull, B94 5NU
Tel: 01564 783672 or email