At Taunton another waterway (to be known as the Bristol
& Western Canal) would head north east and connect with the River Avon
at Morgan’s Pill (near Bristol).
The B&W Canal route was surveyed by Robert Whitworth
under the supervision of James Brindley. Around the same time a second plan
was also surveyed by Whitworth.
This rival scheme was promoted as the Taunton & Uphill
Canal which would run from the Grand Western Canal at Taunton to the Bristol
Channel near Weston Super Mare.
In the end, none of these plans even reached the stage of an
Act of Parliament but the ideas were not forgotten...
Robert Whitworth was asked to re-survey his route for a canal from Exeter to Taunton. However, it took 4 years
for the Grand Western Canal Company to obtain their Act of Parliament. It took another 4 years after that
before any work was started and many more years before the canal actually reached Taunton.
Also in 1792, proposals were put forward once again to create the Taunton to Uphill route
but these were defeated due to strong opposition from landowners who feared that such a waterway would affect
land drainage and irrigation. I expect the owners of the Tone and Parrett navigations also made objections to
the proposed canal which would almost certainly damage their business.
The whole idea of a Channel to Channel canal via Bridgwater and Taunton was quashed when a separate (rival)
company in Dorset gained an Act to build their own Channel to Channel route. This was named the Dorset &
Somerset Canal and work on it was started immediately. However, the company soon ran into financial
difficulties, the work was stopped and the canal never saw a boat.
After a very long delay, the building of the Grand Western Canal began though construction began at Tiverton, a
long way from Taunton. At the same time the Kennet & Avon Canal (from Reading to Bristol) was almost
complete. This lead to a meeting in December where a plan was put forward to create the missing link which
would not only connect the Bristol Channel to the English Channel but at the same time connect London to
Exeter. John Rennie, who was involved with both the K&A and the Grand Western, was asked to re-survey the
old Bristol & Western plans - now referred to as the Bristol & Taunton Canal.
In his report Rennie said "No line of country can be more favourable for a navigable canal".
He proposed a ship canal, built all on one level from a lock on the Avon at Morgan’s Pill (near Bristol) to the
River Parrett near Bridgwater. There were then two alternative routes to the south coast. The first would drop
through two locks at Bridgwater, cross the Parrett and then head for Taunton where it would join the Grand
Western Canal. The second plan would run from the River Parrett to the River Axe on the south coast near
Seaton. In the end it was the Taunton route which was promoted, possibly helped along by the Kennet & Avon
company who had shares in the Grand Western Canal.
In January, a meeting of landowners between Bristol and Bridgwater made objections to the newly planned canal,
claiming it would harm their businesses and be a hazard to drainage. Further south, the river Tone Conservators
and its traders also objected to the proposed canal which would bypass their river. Despite this opposition the
Bristol & Taunton Canal Act was passed later in the year though a number of restrictions were placed upon
the new company - some of them rather bizarre...
The new canal company were ordered not to build a tunnel at Clevedon (south of Bristol) or
to start work at Bridgwater until all other sections of the canal were complete. There was also a time
restriction placed on the company. If the route was not completed within 4 years, their Act of Parliament would
be considered void. The company were also told that they had to pay off all outstanding debts owed by the River
Tone Navigation - and they had to do this within 3 months. The only part of all this that the new Bristol &
Taunton Canal Company actually managed to do was to rid the rival Tone Navigation of all its debts. Work on the
canal never got under way.
Canal mania was just a distant memory and 11 years had lapsed since the B&T had obtained its Act - which
had now long since expired. The whole idea of a connection between Bristol and the south coast had been dropped
- only a short section of the Grand Western Canal near Tiverton had been completed. Nevertheless, in March a
group of B&T shareholder’s agreed that an attempt should be made to obtain a new Act to build a canal from
the River Parrett at Huntworth to Taunton. This would create an alternative to the River Tone Navigation which
was often unnavigable due to drought in summer and floods in winter. The shareholders also asked the Grand
Western Canal company to complete its line to Taunton or allow them to build a link to the GWC. This would
create a continuous route from the Bristol Channel to Tiverton and might even revive the idea of a Bristol
Channel to Exeter canal.
At the same time (and possibly the reason for the resurgence in B&T activity) promotion
began for a waterway connecting Bridgwater to Seaton under the name of the English & Bristol Channels Ship
A new Act of Parliament was obtained by the B&T company, allowing the building of a canal from Taunton to
Huntworth with a lock and a basin at Huntworth where it would link into the River Parrett. The new canal was to
be known as the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal although it did not actually start in Bridgwater. The new
company were obviously very keen this time and work began straight away - this was probably because plans were
still underway to build the English & Bristol Channels Ship Canal from Bridgwater to Seaton.
James Hollinworth was appointed engineer on the B&T. His canal was to be 13 miles long
with 6 locks each measuring 54ft by 13ft.
An Act of Parliament was passed allowing the construction of the rival English & Bristol Channels Ship
Canal. It was to be a wide and deep waterway, built very straight in order to take fast ships across the West
Meanwhile, the B&T canal was being built very quickly across a landscape that brought
very few problems. This (along with the threat of the English & Bristol Channels Ship Canal) spurred the
neighbouring Grand Western Canal into action and (at last) they started connecting Tiverton to Taunton. In
turn, this seems to have had a bad affect on the ship canal because the promoters of that waterway found it
impossible to raise the necessary cash to begin construction and the whole idea was dropped.
On January 3rd, a cheering crowd came to Taunton to watch a canal barge, with flags flying, enter the town -
the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal was officially open.
Like a lot of canals, the B&T’s construction had cost a lot more than estimated by the
surveyor. It took the company 10 years to pay off extra money which had been borrowed to complete the route.
Nevertheless, the early years of the canal were a good success with tonnages and tolls rising every year.
Of course the opening of the canal was not cheered by everyone. After 110 years of
unhindered business, the River Tone Conservators now found themselves with a big rival. Their greatest problem
was that their waterway suffered badly from droughts and floods while the well controlled canal could stay in
water (and in business) all year round. And so, a period of "dirty tricks" began! The Tone Conservators did
everything they could to hinder the canal’s water supply (which came from the River Tone at Taunton). It would
appear that they were pretty good at this because the B&T was eventually forced into breaking down the
river bank at Taunton to make a new connection with the river. The next trick was to dramatically reduce the
tolls charged on the river. The B&T company objected to this of course but they lost the battle in court.
This angered them enough to announce (in August 1827) that they were going to take over the river navigation
using powers given to them in the Act of 1811. The Tone Conservators objected but in November the canal company
forcibly took charge of the river and immediately returned the tolls to their original rate. On top of this,
they ended all maintenance on the river navigation.
The Tone Conservators - booted out of office by the canal company - went back to court and again won their case
when it was decided that the B&T could not use powers obtained in 1811 because that Act had been voided
(timed out) in 1815. The Conservators repossessed their river in July and immediately reduced the tolls again.
They also started to cut water supplies to the canal once again. This time they weren’t holding back! A dam was
built to block the canal from the river at Firepool Lock in Taunton. The courts soon forced the Conservators to
take the dam away so they then threatened legal action against any boat that attempted to enter the river from
In November, the canal company made a final offer to buy the River Tone but once again it was rejected.
The River Tone problem was finally resolved when the B&T company took the matter to the House of Commons.
An Act was passed in July enabling the canal company to buy out the Tone for just £2,000. Weirdly, the
Conservators retained the right to an annual inspection of the navigation and if it was not maintained properly
they had the right to repossess the river!
Despite all the problems - and having a canal as a direct rival - the River Tone was still
carrying almost 40,000 tons a year and receiving over £2,000 in tolls at the time of the take-over.
The B&T company were now free to complete all their plans. Their first job was to build
a short canal in Taunton connecting the River Tone to the Grand Western Canal (which was still under
construction). When complete this would create the continuous route from the Bristol Channel to Tiverton as
they’d planned in 1822.
The B&T company probably thought that the River Tone was the only rival they would ever have. However, in
May an Act was passed in Parliament allowing the creation of the Bristol & Exeter Railway, which was to
have branches to Dunball Wharf and into Bridgwater. A new fight for survival was about to begin though before
the railway was built, the canal continued to do very well.
To combat the immanent arrival of the railway, the B&T company took a gamble and decided to build an
extension of about two miles from its terminus at Huntworth into Bridgwater where a dock would be built and a
new connection would be made with the River Parrett. It was a gamble because there was little chance that the
extension would increase traffic. The hope was that it would prevent the loss of traffic to the railway. The
new extension was to pass right through Bridgwater, snaking through the town to pass close to as many
businesses as possible.
The new extension was opened on March 25th to the sound of bells, cannon fire, the playing of the national
anthem and (best of all no doubt) the consumption of "roast beef and plum pudding"!
As soon as the new extension was opened, Huntworth lock and the basin at the old terminus on
the River Parrett were closed and never used again.
Somewhat surprisingly - considering the growth of railways in the area - another new canal
was built in 1841 which linked with the Bridgwater & Taunton. The Chard Canal (the last "small" canal ever
to be built in the UK) initially ran from Ilminster to Creech St Michael on the east side of Taunton. This was
a great bonus to the B&T because it increased traffic just at a time when it needed it most.
The B&T reached its peak, carrying over 118,000 tons and collecting over £8,000 in tolls.
Despite this, the profit made by the canal in the first two years after building the
extension into Bridgwater was nowhere near enough to pay off the money borrowed to construct it.
The situation was made worse when a railway between Bridgwater and Taunton was opened on
July 1st. The canal company had no choice other than to lower its tolls. In an effort to keep traffic on the
canal they also agreed to pay the Grand Western Canal a subsidy to encourage its traffic to continue to use the
B&T instead of transferring onto the new railway.
The story for the B&T was a familiar one echoed throughout the UK at this time. Railway competition was
simply too much to deal with and as the rail network grew, business on the canal steadily declined. With no
hope of turning this around the canal company decided they would become the "Bridgwater & Taunton Canal
Railway"(!). The plan was to drain the canal and convert the bed into a railway line. A number of other canals
decided to follow suit including a Kennet & Avon scheme to create the (wait for it...) "London, Devizes
& Bridgwater Direct Railway Company". This was part of a plan to turn as many West Country canals as
possible into railways under the banner of the "West of England Central & Channels Junction Railway
Company" which would have been able to carry goods and passengers from London to Penzance - but would have been
a nightmare to pronounce! Of course none of this materialised and after a short time, with income plummeting,
the B&T Canal was put into the hands of a receiver.
As a result of the B&T going into receivership it could not keep up its subsidy deal with the Grand Western
Canal Company, this led the GWC to stop using the B&T and use the railway instead. Of course this meant
there was now even less trade on the Bridgwater & Taunton.
With the canal now deep in debt, the receiver obtained an agreement with the Bristol & Exeter Railway
Company to lease the waterway. This eventually led to the railway buying the canal (though not for another 16
years). During this time the neighbouring Grand Western Canal also had a long battle with the B&ER and it
too eventually had to sell out to the railway.
On April 8th, the Bristol & Exeter Railway Company took possession of the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal,
paying £64,000 for it. This paid off all loans and debts and provided a small amount for the shareholders.
Surprisingly the railway company began its ownership by building a new wharf at Bridgwater dock. Other
improvements were made and things were not looking so bleak for the waterway. But...
The Bristol & Exeter Railway Company amalgamated with (or was taken over by) Great Western Railway - a
company who did not much like messing about with boats. The canal went into an instant decline.
The River Severn railway tunnel was opened and this meant that coal from Wales was no longer carried across the
Bristol Channel into Bridgwater docks. From this point on the canal became little more than a local
thoroughfare with hardly any goods being imported from, or exported to, other parts of the country.
Canal tonnage was now down to just under 14,000.
As if matters weren’t bad enough, the canal began to suffer badly from water shortages. During the next 5 years
there were numerous occasions when goods had to be carried by train. By 1905 water levels were back to normal
but by this time many of the canal’s customers were lost to the railway forever.
The last tolls on the B&T were collected and the canal slowly but surely fell into dereliction, used only
as a water source and a drain.
During WW2 the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal (along with the Chard Canal and River Axe) were used as defence
lines. Sadly, the many iron swing bridges along the canal were melted down for the war effort and were replaced
with fixed wooden ones. These were stronger bridges which could take large amounts of military traffic and also
had the advantage of being easy to destroy if necessary. Pillboxes and tank traps were also placed along the
canal. Some of these can still be seen today.
The B&T Canal (like most canals in the UK) was nationalised and the British Transport Commission took
control of the derelict waterway. It should be noted that during all this period the old River Tone remained
navigable - though also mostly unused. It too was nationalised by the BTC.
In the BTC waterways review, both the B&T Canal and the River Tone were placed into Group 3, "Waterways
having insufficient commercial prospects to justify their retention", and - to be fair - nobody could really
argue with this at the time. What this meant was the canal would not be maintained and would eventually be
filled in and sold off.
The Bowes Committee said that the canal might be suitable for redevelopment - what they had in mind is not
clear but nothing was actually done
The B&T Canal became one of the first canals to carry water commercially. Wessex Water reached an agreement
with the National Rivers Authority and the British Waterways Board (who had replaced the BTC) which allowed
them to pump water from the canal into Durleigh Reservoir. Since its closure in 1907, the B&T had kept a
very good water level due to its connection with the River Tone at Firepool Lock in Taunton.
Thirteen years after the BTC report had said the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal was fit only for closing down,
nothing had changed. Its use as a water supply channel kept it intact. The 1968 Transport Act classified it as
a "remainder" waterway - not fit for maintenance or development as a navigation.
Around this time the Bridgwater & Taunton Restoration Group (later the Somerset Inland
Waterways Society) was formed. Pleasure boating was becoming very popular around the country and a number of
derelict canals were already being restored. The long term plan was to put boats back on the B&T. Luckily
for the restoration society they gained good support from Somerset County Council.
Restoration of the canal began, mostly funded by Somerset County Council with the work being done mostly by the
British Waterways Board. It was reported that SCC were planning to spend £15,000 on the canal during 1972,
£5,000 of which was to raise the height of some of the bridges. However, this didn’t go down too well with
restoration society because the bridges were to be lifted only to a height of 3ft 6ins - high enough only for
canoes and rowing boats! The society managed to postpone the work on the bridges while trying to persuade the
council to raise them to a height of about 7ft. Of course it is not just a matter of putting an old bridge on
stilts! Most bridges needed to be completely renewed and all approach roads would need to be altered.
But the local council were certainly keen to see the canal restored, for example, later in
the decade they spent £20,000 just to restore one retaining wall and they announced plans to convert the
derelict docks in Bridgwater into a sport and leisure area. Ware’s warehouse, which faced the docks, had become
a Listed Building and was to be converted into an indoor leisure centre which would also include a nightclub.
The barge lock into the River Parrett and an original bascule (lifting) bridge were also to be restored. (Note:
The leisure area was never built though, as we shall read, the docks were eventually redeveloped).
Work began on clearing Newtown Lock in the centre of Bridgwater leading into the old docks. The lock was found
to be full (almost 12ft deep) of silt and other accumulated rubbish. By this time the SCC had also restored
Maunsel Lock in the middle of the route and dredged most of the canal, but they confounded the restoration
sociey by planning to build a bridge at Bathpool with just 4ft clearance. Once again the council had to be
persuaded that this was ludicrous considering the amount of money they had spent on making other stretches of
the route navigable.
BWB work parties completed repairs to virtually all the locks on the canal. By the end of the year only the two
locks at either end of the route, Firepool Lock in Taunton and Newtown Lock in Bridgwater, were still to be
fully restored. This meant that the canal was now a continuous working waterway for about 13 miles. There was,
however, still one major problem. Almost all of the bridges which crossed the canal were still too low to allow
boats to pass under them. Originally nearly all the bridges had been swing bridges, now they were either fixed
in place or had been replaced by new bridges which left no headroom. By the this time, keen as they were, the
SCC simply couldn’t afford to raise the bridges. Cutbacks in local authority spending meant a big rethink was
During the year a convoy of small outboard powered dinghies passed through the newly
reinstated locks as they cruised from North Newton to Bathpool (near Taunton). They were the first boats to use
the B&T locks for over 70 years
In April a report made by the West Somerset Inland Waterways Association appeared in Waterways World magazine
describing a plan which would create a cruising network of 100 miles within the West Somerset area. As well as
the B&T Canal restoration this also included reinstating the Wesport Canal along with the rivers Tone,
Parrett, Yeo and Isle to full navigable routes. In the case of the B&T the report said that its restoration
would be relatively simple with only one lock and a handful of minor bridges needing to be restored. This seems
to have been wishful thinking, it took another 14 years to get all the bridges raised on the canal and the
chance of all the other waterways being restored is still very very slight.
In January it was reported in the waterways press that the disused Bridgwater Docks were to be redeveloped into
a 160 berth marina by the newly created Bridgwater Marina Company who had purchased the docks from the Somerset
County Council for £300,000. Most of the berths were to be for sea going vessels but 20 moorings were to be
provided for canal craft. A new lock was also being built by SCC with the help of the BWB. This would allow
boats up to 16ft long to enter the new marina from the River Parrett. The main building at the docks, Ware’s
warehouse, was also to be restored and converted into flats, a pub, a restaurant and a museum. The work was
expected to be complete that summer.
Details of the rest of the restoration project are somewhat sketchy but throughout the
1980’s work continued, bridges were lifted one by one, some made into swing bridges as they had been
originally. The last bridge to be raised was Priorswood Bridge in Taunton which was replaced in 1993.
In June the B&T canal was officially reopened from end to end. For the first time since 1907 boats could
once again navigate the whole canal from Bridgwater Docks to the centre of Taunton. This, of course, is
fantastic news but there are still some disappointments. The biggest of these is the lack of a connection from
Bridgwater Docks to the River Parrett. The barge lock remains closed, apparently to stop mud and silt getting
into the "lovely new marina". The marina is "lovely", but aren’t marinas supposed to hold boats?!!
It would be unfair to end on a sour note. The canal restorers, BW and the Somerset County
Council should be praised for their many years of work in bringing back to life one of the UK’s nicest "country
Back to Top
The Bridgwater & Taunton Canal is 14½ miles long, it crosses the lowlands of Somerset in
which there are numerous SSSI’s (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) and it also runs through rolling
countryside along the Tone Valley. Almost all of the route is rural and peaceful, there are only a few villages
and two towns (one at each end).
The canal begins in the centre of Bridgwater (OS Grid Ref ST 298376) at the docks which were
created when the canal was extended in 1841. The docks were once ranked 5th amongst Britain’s ports, as well as
a transhipment wharf they were also used as a safe haven for fishing vessels from the Bristol Channel, some 9
miles downstream via the River Parrett.
There are two basins at the docks, a large non-tidal "inner" basin and a smaller tidal one.
Redevelopment in recent years has changed the docks dramatically. Today there is little to be seen of the old
wharves, warehouses or other canal buildings. The area is surrounded by new housing - built to look like old
warehouses. One of the only structures which has survived is Ware’s warehouse which was completely derelict
until the 1980’s when it was transformed into flats, offices and a pub. It now forms the centrepiece of the
The old warehouse and new housing stand alongside the larger of the two basins, this is now
a modern marina complete with lots of mooring pontoons. However, there are hardly any boats here because the
lock into the basin from the River Parrett is kept closed to prevent the basin from silting up. This means that
only boats which use the canal can enter the basin and because the canal can only be entered via a slipway
(there is no connection to any other navigation), there aren’t many boats at present.
Between the two basins is an original bascule (lift) bridge which has been restored to full
working order just as it was in 1841. From the bridge it is easy to see the smaller (outer) basin. You can also
see the tidal gates which were once used by coasters though these are now closed, blocked by a concrete dam.
The old barge lock can also be seen, also blocked. The smaller basin is surrounded by sluices which are needed
to flush out the mud which the Parrett brings in with the tide.
The River Parrett runs alongside the docks with a footpath along its bank. Across the far
side of the river is a bottle shaped kiln which has survived from a former brick works. Just a short walk
upstream on the Parrett is an unusual bridge called the Telescopic Bridge. This strange structure is a former
railway bridge which had a central section that could slide away, allowing boats to pass through the gap. Today
the bridge is fixed in place but it is still used by pedestrians. Further upstream are a number of other
bridges; some very old, some very new.
Back at the larger canal basin, boats can now leave Bridgwater Docks and enter the canal
through the restored Newtown Stop Lock. A new swing bridge has been installed beside the lock, replacing a
fixed bridge which used to block the canal. Bowerings Animal Feed Mill stands close by and although the mill is
old (and its name seems to reflect this), it is actually still a working mill, still producing feed for
The canal curves anti-clockwise around Bridgwater, starting by heading south west with the
towpath on the western side. The route soon enters a shallow cutting and passes under a large bridge (the A39,
Wembdon Road) where towrope markings can clearly be seen on its arches.
The cutting deepens as the canal continues to curve left, now facing south east and
eventually straightening out into Albert Street Cutting. This cutting is nothing like those seen on such canals
as the Shropshire Union where the waterway was cut through a hill which now towers above on each side, covered
in trees and plants. Albert Street Cutting is made of stone and brick! Huge walls line each side of the narrow
canal, making it look like a tunnel with its roof removed (like Rose Hill Tunnel at Marple on the Peak Forest
Canal). Half way along the cutting there actually is a small tunnel (which is really just a very long road
bridge). Emerging from the bridge you would be forgiven if your first thought was "get me out of here"! At this
point, the huge stone walls of the cutting are (apparently) only prevented from coming down on top of you by
huge wooden cross-buttresses which stretch across the waterway above your head.
Beyond Albert Street Cutting the surroundings open up and you can see as far as the Quantock
Hills some 5 miles away to the south west. The towpath is well used by locals at this point, it is wide and
nicely surfaced. On the east bank of the canal is a YMCA which has provided moorings and a slipway. Next to it
is a supermarket which also has moorings alongside it. On the towpath side is a small brick building which is
the extraction point for Bridgwater’s water supply. Do they really drink canal water in Bridgwater? (Still,
anything is better than cider I suppose!!!!).
The canal passes under 3 bridges (one of which is the A38, Taunton Road) and then passes
moorings used by the Somerset Navigators Boat Club. The route then curves right (south) to come right alongside
the west bank of the River Parrett - or, to be more precise, it comes alongside the flood bank which runs along
the west bank of the River Parrett. On this stretch, near Hamp (ST 304357), there is a weir (on the east side)
which allows excess water to run into the river and there is also a pond (on the towpath side) which is
actually a flooded clay pit.
About ½ a mile past Hamp Bridge is Crossways Swing Bridge (which was the first on the canal
to be restored). This is on Marsh Lane near Huntworth (ST 309353). All the new swing bridges on the B&T
Canal have instructions on them which look awfully complicated. They tell boat crews how to operate the
hydraulic gear though when I was here the gear on Crossways Bridge was not in place and all a boatman had to do
was lower the "Stop" barriers on the road and then push the bridge open!
Before the construction of the Bridgwater extension in 1841, Crossways Swing Bridge was
where the canal joined the River Parrett. The old basin has long since been filled in but it was situated close
to the WW2 pillbox which can be seen on the east side of the canal. The towpath changes to the east bank at
Crossways Swing Bridge and the River Parrett now moves away in a south easterly direction. It is possible to
take a path alongside a row of cottages which roughly follows the line of the former canal basin down to the
river. A footbridge crosses the Parrett beside Somerset (railway) Bridge and a path runs along the river bank
back towards Bridgwater. However, this is not the greatest of waterside walks, the river runs alongside
industrial buildings and at low tide the banks become very muddy.
Back on the canal, the route continues south. Within another ½ mile the M5 motorway bridge
crosses over. Very close to this large bridge is the much smaller Mead’s Swing Bridge with the Boat &
Anchor pub nearby, now with boat moorings and a picnic area. South of here the canal becomes more and more
rural though the railway from Bridgwater can be seen, and heard, over to the east.
Huntworth Lane bridge is next (ST 317343), followed by Fordgate Swing Bridge and then
Standards Lock (ST 315316). The locks on the B&T are different to those seen elsewhere in the country.
Their ground paddles are fitted with metal counterweights on a chain and pulley. This makes it much easier to
work the paddles (in theory anyway). I have also seen a description which says the lock balance beams are
"unusual" because they are made of concrete. The word "unique" also springs to mind. Something else unusual is
that the locks must always be left empty (when not in use!) with the bottom gates left open.
Up until now the route has been passing through the flat landscape of the Somerset Levels.
Standards Lock marks the end of this and the route now begins to climb up, around and through rolling
countryside. Beyond Standards Lock the canal deviates from its mainly southern course to curve around
(anti-clockwise) close to North Newton (ST 302311). Church Road runs close to the canal on the east side and
eventually crosses the canal close to Kings Lock. The "Alfred Jewel" (a Saxon ornament and the oldest surviving
crown jewel) was found in North Newton churchyard. However, I have seen two different references as to when it
was found. One book says 1693 and another say 1963! You can easily(?) find out as the jewel is on display in
Oxford at the Ashmolean Museum. North Newton is a lovely village with a pleasant pub called the Harvest
Beyond the village the waterway regains a southerly direction and near the settlement of
Hedging it arrives at Maunsel Lock (ST 308295) with its adjacent lock keepers cottage - the only one left on
the canal. Just a few yards further south is the lock which takes the canal up to its summit level.
The B&T now passes over a high embankment with excellent views all around. On this
stretch is Black Hut bridge named after a former building used by canal lengthsmen (maintenance workers). At
the A361 bridge (ST 302281) the railway line comes close to the canal. A few hundred yards to the east there
was once a station and a pub called the Railway Hotel - now both long gone.
To the south of the A361 the canal does a quick right-left-right meander. Over to the east
is Cogload Viaduct and an impressive elevated railway junction. On this section (between trains) the canal is
amongst the most peaceful to be found anywhere in Britain.
Next the canal passes the small settlement of Charlton and the Charlton Engine House (ST
291265), now standing almost completely derelict. It dates back to 1827 and it used to house steam engines
which were used to pump water from the River Tone into the canal. The Tone is now within ½ a mile to the south
east (on the far side of the railway). It is worth remembering that the Tone was navigable long before the
canal was built and was still officially navigable until after WW2.
The canal now reaches the village of Creech St. Michael (ST 272255) which is well worth a
visit. Apart from being very pleasant, it has two pubs and a strangely large Baptist Church. On the canal at
Creech St. Michael is the site of the former junction with the Chard Canal which was opened in 1842 (the last
"small" canal to be built in Britain) but was closed just 26 years later. It was 13½ miles long with just 2
locks. However, it also had 4 inclined planes, 3 tunnels, 2 aqueducts and a number of high embankments. Today
there is not a great deal of this waterway left and there is absolutely no chance that it will ever be fully
restored. All the same, much of its route can be followed on foot. At the junction there used to be a towpath
bridge, a stop lock and a lock keeper’s cottage. Nearby are the remains of the buttressed walls of an
embankment that carried the Chard Canal onto an aqueduct over the River Tone. The embankment and aqueduct can
still be seen by walking across the railway to the bridge which crosses the river. From here the Chard Canal
can be seen over to the right.
Leaving Creech St. Michael (now heading west) the canal passes an ivy-clad pillbox and there
are houses on the north bank. The M5 is reached again within a mile and then the B&T Canal arrives at the
eastern outskirts of Taunton. The A38, Bridgwater Road, crosses over at Bathpool (ST 254260) where there is a
BW maintenance yard. A small marina has now been developed here.
Beyond the A38 the canal runs westward until it comes close to the A361, Priorswood Road. It
then begins to curve south west to Priorswood Bridge (ST 238258). This bridge used to block the canal and was
one of the last obstacles which the council had to remove, which they did in 1993.
Beyond Priorswood Bridge the canal passes under another new road bridge (A358, Obridge
Viaduct). After another 300 yards the route passes under the railway line which has been close to the canal
throughout the route - so close that it put the canal out of business before buying it out and finally closing
it down in 1907.
The final section of the B&T curves west, passing through an industrial area which
includes an old GWR water tower (to the north) which was once supplied with water from the canal. Nearby are
the remains of limekilns which were also served by the canal, this time with coal and lime.
The canal ends at Firepool Lock (ST 230253), which lifts boats into the River Tone. This is
a very easy place to find in Taunton - it’s at the end of Canal Road! A small bridge crosses the canal close to
Navigation does not end here however because the river is navigable for about one more mile,
upstream to French Weir (ST 219249). This takes boats through Priory Bridge and the main town bridge which
carries the A3027. The town authorities have done a lot in recent years to make Taunton’s waterfront very
pleasant indeed. For those wanting to visit the canal by car, there are numerous car parks near to the
Firepool Lock was also the site of the junction with the Grand Western Canal, a waterway
which contained 7 vertical boat lifts and an inclined plane. The first of the lifts, Taunton Lift, was situated
just to the north of the junction but has now been wiped out by railway lines and a depot. The lift raised
boats about 20ft, up from the level of the B&T to that of the GWC which then headed west out of Taunton and
eventually south west towards Tiverton.