Tamar Manure Navigation


An Act of Parliament was passed allowing the construction of a waterway route from the Bude Canal near Tamerton Bridge to Morwellham Quay on the River Tamar. The route was planned to be part river but mainly man-made and its cargo was to be lime and sea-sand- which were then more commonly known as "manure". In fact, the word manure was used to describe anything that we would now call fertiliser.

John Rennie supervised the survey and a 20 mile route was drawn up. The estimated cost was £80,000 and for once the estimate was not exceeded.However, this was because only 2½ miles of the route was ever finished - and only about one third of a mile was man-made!

Construction came to a halt with only 500 yards of canal completed. This was an arm off the River Tamar into Gunnislake, it contained one lock and cost £11,000 to construct. Nothing more was ever added to this short line though the Tamar Manure Navigation outlasted every other canal in the West Country and carried cargoes of bricks, coal, fertiliser and granite for nearly 120 years.

The River Tamar ceased to be a navigable waterway.

The Tamar Manure Navigation Company went into liquidation

The Route

Our reference book does not give an exact route though we suppose it doesn't really need one.

The southern terminus was in Morwellham which (since the 1960's) has been rebuilt from a derelict village into an open air museum and leisure area dedicated to local industrial history.

There was a quay (or basin) at Morwellham where copper was loaded onto ships and sent down the River Tamar to Plymouth.

The Tavistock Canal left the River Tamar at the same quay and headed north east via the mighty Morwellham Inclined Plane and Morwelldown Tunnel.

The Tamar Manure Navigation travelled north on the River Tamar for a little over 2 miles to Gunnislake. Mind you, the river leaves Morwellham heading south and then winds around in almost every direction on its way upstream.

There was one lock on the navigation, situated about 200 yards before Gunnislake gas works. It was made of granite and was 70 feet by 20 feet. My reference book (written in the early 1970's) says the chamber was in good condition and the gates and paddle gear could still be seen. Most of the coal carried on the navigation was bound for Gunnislake gas works which is situated at the side of the navigation below the town.

The course of the canal section is still clear and the basin at the northern terminus had some cottages around it which were described as "ruined" in 1971 - I do not know if they still stand. The basin is at the foot of a minor road which drops down towards the river from the A390 in Gunnislake.

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