Leominster Canal

Leominster Canal History

The Leominster Canal was intented to link Kington in Herefordshire to Stourport in Worcestershire (via Leominster) but the whole project became a complete commercial disaster. Only 18½ of the 46 proposed miles were ever completed. It never reached Kington or Stourport and didn't pay its shareholders a single dividend.

A route was surveyed by Thomas Dadford Junior who planned a line which would head west from Stourport, climbing up to one of three proposed summit levels. It would then pass through Pensax Tunnel which was to be over 2 miles long and Sousant Tunnel (now known as Southnet) which was to be about ¾ of a mile long. The route would also need two substantial aqueducts to cross the rivers Rea and Teme. The canal would pass through Tenbury Wells to Woofferton where it would turn south to Leominster, passing through the short Putnal Field Tunnel on route. Past Leominster it would cross the River Lugg as it headed west to Kington.

The canal's Act was past and work began.

The middle section of the canal opened from Tenbury Wells, heading west towards Woofferton.

A second stretch opened from Woofferton to Putnal Field Tunnel.

There were delays in building the short Putnal Field Tunnel though the longer Southnet Tunnel near Mamble (between Tenbury & Stourport) was completed. However, before Southnet could be used by boats its northern end fell in, reputedly entombing 3 workmen.

John Rennie was called in by the company to inspect the canal's workings. To the company's horror he found many cases of bad workmanship, declaring all the tunnels and aqueducts unsafe for navigation.

Money ran out while building an aqueduct over the river Lugg on the section west of Leominster. A new Act of Parliament to raise more money was sought and granted.

Putnal Field Tunnel was completed and the canal was opened to a wharf house one mile north of Leominster. Coal was carried from Mamble through to Leominster - its price dropping by half almosr over night.Virtually all the coal was for private use as there was very little industry along the route.

A ceremony was held near Stourport, on the west side of the River Severn, where the first sod of earth was cut on the 17 locks which would take the canal down to the river. Unfortunately the second sod - or any others - were never dug! Some digging did continue on the route east of Mamble towards Pensax Tunnel even though the Southnet Tunnel collapse at Mamble was not repaired. The company, low on cash again, began to think about completing the route with tramways which would connect the completed sections of canal - though this was never done.

All work stopped, the canal was as long as it was ever going to be and the company was £25,000 in debt. Even a third Act of Parliament failed to raise enough cash to continue.

A "Leominster Guide" was published describing the canal. Strangely this included a full description of the 17 locks down to the River Severn even though they never actually existed. How this happened is not reported but it has apparently misled many writers and historians since.

A new proposal was put forward to connect the eastern end of the canal to the River Severn at Stourport via a tram-road. Two years later the canal's fourth Act was obtained but no money was raised and no tram-road was ever built to the Severn.

It was decided that the whole canal should be drained and tram lines be installed along its bed. However, for one reason or another, this never happened.

The company must have been somewhat relieved when the ever growing railway networks finally got round to taking an interest in the Leominster Canal. However, it took 3 hard years of negotiating before a deal could be struck.

The Shrewsbury & Hereford Railway agreed to buy the canal for just £12,000 but even at this low price they still had to be compelled by Parliament to honour the agreement. They can't have been encouraged much when receipts for the first 5 months of 1858 totalled just £29.

The S&HR soon drained the canal and sold off the land. Part of it was sold to the Tenbury Railway which laid its track on parts of the old canal bed.

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Leominster Canal Route

For a pictorial guide to the Leomister Canal visit Ian Grant's Lost Labours web site.

The finished canal line took 5 years to build, cost £93,000 had 16 locks, 3 tunnels (one of which had not been in the original survey) and 2 completed aqueducts. In "Lost Canals of England & Wales" (1971), Ronald Russell said The Leominster Canal passed through some of the most beautiful countryside in Britain. However, he added that tracing it was a very muddy affair! I'm sure that most of the route appears on OS maps but you will not find much of it on an ordinary road map.

About 1 mile north of Leominster on the A49 is the wharf house where coal was brought from Mamble. The canal bed appears from time to time as the route heads north but all locks and bridges on this stretch are long gone.

The first canal structure of any note appears 3 miles north of the terminus and can be found near the minor road to Orleton. About 1½ miles along this road is a railway bridge and about 50 yards past this (running parallel to the railway) is the 330 yard Putnal Field Tunnel. Both portals can be seen on either side of the road. Stretching for about half a mile south of the tunnel is a beautiful watered stretch which is marked on a good road map.

Nearly 2 miles further north the line can be easily traced again. On the B4362 opposite the former Woofferton Station is a gate and a path which leads (for about 200 yards) to a point where the railway crossed the canal. Here there is (or was) the only surviving piece of lock masonry though a tree rooted itself to it many years ago. Nearby is the site of more locks and a lock keepers cottage (which is still inhabited) with old stables near by. Recent photographs show the canal is in water with a well used towpath.

East of Woofferton the canal closely followed the route of the A456 though this part of the line was bought by the Tenbury railway. Their disused railway bed can easily be followed on the north side of the main road.

The original canal route swung left just north of Gosford and headed for the River Teme on an embankment. The next passage is taken from "Lost Canals" by Ronald Russell.... "The Teme aqueduct was once a 3 arched brick construction but the centre arch was deliberately blown up during the war, presumably to stop the enemy seizing it and thereby taking control of Britain's inland transport system".... I should co-co! (One funny thing is that the writer of an article on the canal which appeared in Waterways World magazine appears to have read the above sentence and believed it)!

Most of the minor roads north off the A456 lead to evidence of the canal. From one of these minor roads (near Ledwich Bridge) the canal can be found heading towards the small Ledwyche Brook aqueduct, it then passes the northern side of Tenbury Wells. East of Tebury the canal's route crosses Corn Brook.

Before reaching the River Rea, to the north east of Newham, there was a 94 yard tunnel. Although this was filled in some time after 1957, its site was (apparently) still easy to find in 1971. This tunnel was not part of the original survey and I have found very little information about it.

The canal route continues east across a field and passes near to two cottages which look very similar to other buildings on the canal. The canal then crosses the route of a former railway and arrives at the River Rea. The wide single arched aqueduct over the river is still standing but is said to be looking rather fragile. Mind you, it has been described this way for many decades, even John Rennie said it looked unstable when he inspected it in 1795.

Past the Rea Aqueduct the canal line can be followed for 2 more miles. It passes the site of 7 locks (though only a couple are traceable) and a lock cottage (which has been added to and is now a private residence). This stretch can be seen on my road map running parallel to the A456 on the north side of the road. It comes close to the road beside the Broom Inn where a lane leads from the road to Wharf House, a beautifully preserved red brick building at the eastern end of the canal. A dock where boats were repaired has been filled in and converted into cellars while the wharf itself is now a well kept garden though coal dust can apparently be found in the soil. The canal ended here though a short tram-road brought coal to the wharf from mines near Mamble.

Although we have reached the eastern end of the canal, our trail does not end just yet as there is one more canal structure still to be seen. The collapsed north end of Southnet Tunnel has long since disappeared and tree roots and long grass were about to obliterate the southern portal "forever" according to Ronald Russell in 1971. However, the south portal can still be seen today, though maybe only die-hard "canalcoholics" will attempt to reach it. It can be found off the A433 on a minor road running to Frith Common. This road crossed the proposed route of the canal after about ¼ of a mile and the tunnel is to the north of the sharp right bend in the road. It is said to be in the long grass in the grounds of a farm - somewhere!

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