The story of the building of the Hereford and Gloucester canal is widely available online
more importantly in Richard Skeets book 'Rescued from Obscurity' (ISBN 978-0-9929441-0-0) which is readily available from the Trust's on line shop
The canal is being restored by The Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal Trust, but
cannot be restored on the route discussed here, for more details see their
The Ledbury section however has never been researched in detail until now and
this page gives details of the history of the construction whilst a second page, Along the Towpath,
shows the canal on the ground through Ledbury.
From the Hereford Journal, 4th April 1798:
We have the satisfaction to announce the completion of the above Canal from Gloucester to Ledbury. The opening of the Navigation took place on Friday last,
when several of the Proprietors and Gentlemen of the Committee embarked at the junction of the Coal Branch near Newent, in the first vessel laden with merchandise,
consigned to Ledbury, which was followed by three others laden with coal. They passed through the Tunnel at Oxenhall, which is 2192 yards in length, in 52 mins,
and at the extremity they were met by several Gentlemen, and entertained with a cold collation at the Boyce, the seat of Mr Moggeridge, one of the proprietors of
the valuable Coal Mines recently opened at Oxenhall. Both ends of the tunnel, as well as the banks of the Canal, were lined with spectators who hailed the boats
with reiterated acclamations, indeed the sight was extremely pleasing, and it is supposed that upwards of 2000 people were present on their arrival at Ledbury
(a distance of about nine miles) which took place in about four hours from their setting out. A dinner was provided on the occasion at The George Inn, where
the utmost conviviality prevailed, and many appropriate toasts were drank.
The greatest advantages will result from the inland communication by water, and the adjoining country. In the article of Coal, the inhabitants of that district
will reap an important benefit in the immediate reduction in price of at least 10s per ton. Coal of the best quality, by this conveyance, at the Wharf close to Ledbury
, at 13s 6d, whereas the usual price at that place has been 24s per ton.
No detailed map or plan exists of the original canal route as built in the 1790s
so where was this wharf?
NB The top of the map may not be North
Lying between the roads to Dymock and Ross, ie Plot 1277, the location can be easily identified on this map adapted from the Enclosure map of 1813. Boats cannot be turned in the width of a canal so a side channel
would have been necessary, (known as a winding)
and remains of all this can be found under the garden centre part of Countrywide and the area known today as Old Wharf.
The Canal company never owned this plot, it was only ever a temporary arrangement
waiting later developments, the area's name though has remained for over 200 years.
Interestingly the map shows that the only building near the site is the Hazle Tollhouse with Toll gates on each road.
The associated schedule for the 1813 Enclosure map shows Plot 1277 usefully described as 'Wharf'
and owned by John Biddulph.
John Biddulph was the major landowner of the district and a shareholder in the Herefordshire
and Gloucestershire Canal Navigation Company, the full name of the Company building the canal.
Whether John Biddulph or the Company built the wharf is not
known but it would have been in both their interests to have one there.
Developments on the Old Wharf site
On the 19th January 1838 George Skipp Cider Merchant signed a lease for a plot of land at £ 3 per annum for a term of 18 years.
The plot is described in the lease as:
All that part or parcel of land lately forming part of land called Mrs Dingley's Meadow situate near to the Canal leading from Ledbury to Gloucester
and in the parish of Ledbury in the County of Hereford and on which said piece of land or part thereof certain warehouses or other buildings have
been erected and which said piece of land contains in length running out from the road leading from Ledbury to Dymock toward the said Canal one hundred yards
and in breadth against the said Canal and towing path twenty five feet.
This description applies to the plot 1277 shown on the map and within living memory a long low building existed there .
This brick built warehouse replaced an earlier one, probably wooden, as on Saturday 15th October 1836 the Hereford Times reports:
'Much damage was done in the neighbourhood of Ledbury, by the violent wind of Thursday night. Trees of all sizes were blown down
in every direction. A large cider warehouse, nearly 100 yards long, at the Wharf, Ledbury was entirely blown down; fortunately,
it only contained a few empty casks'
George Skipp went bankrupt in 1842 and the warehouse was advertised for sale in the Hereford Times of Feb 26th 1842 with the following description:
'The Warehouse is 100 yards long by 25 feet wide and extends from the Canal on the West end to the Turnpike road leading from Ledbury to Newent on the East end.
From their proximity to the Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal these premises may be appropriated to any purpose requiring Warehouse room and there is every
facility for forwarding goods to all parts of the Kingdom having now an abundant supply of water'
The auction took place at the Biddulph Arms on Thursday 3rd March 1842 and the details confirm the length of the lease:
'All that Cider Warehouse situate at the Wharf Ledbury now in the occupation of Richard Higgins Esquire as a yearly tenant.....and which will be held for
the residue of a term of eighteen years commencing the first day of August one thousand eight hundred and thirty seven.'
There must have been little interest at the sale as an advert in the Hereford Times on May 28th offers the premises for sale by Private Contract.
The original terms of the lease ended in August 1855 and shortly after this an advert in the Hereford Times of 17th November 1855 shows that a James Mayall*
now leased it (the Biddulphs still owned it) and gives the warehouse a very descriptive title:
A recent picture of the Long Cellar - now demolished.
The Ross/Dymock road Toll House, seen in the 1813 map above, provides a useful reference point regarding the 'Wharf Houses' that exist today on the Ross Road.
An advert in the Hereford Times of May 9th 1835 describes 'a good dwelling house with an extensive wharf to be let and
situated on the banks of the Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal on the side of the Turnpike Road between Ledbury and Ross.'
and the 1851 census locates two cottages next door to the Toll House described as 'Old Wharf' as it is today!
The map, on the left, dated 1871
shows the 'Long Cellar' warehouse and the cottages.
In the associated schedule the warehouse (Plot 121) is described as Cider Warehouse, yard and shed, unoccupied,
and Plot 120 is described as two houses, outbuildings, piggeries and garden. Again note North is not necessarily the top of the map.
A map from 1887 shows the remnants of the canal
nothing having been added to the Old Wharf site.
Note the realigned Ross Road, now on an embankment, to take it over the new railway.
The Biddulph family, never the Canal Company,
always owned the site and following the improvement to the canal's fortunes it seems likely they decided to cash in
on the site which was
conveniently served by both a canal wharf and a road.
There is a long standing, unsubstantiated, myth that the building that stood on the Old Wharf site was a Navvies Barracks,
but what any navvies housed here were constructing is never explained.
When the section of canal between Gloucester and Ledbury was being constructed in the 1790's the building wasn't there.
Later, as will be shown, it was a cider warehouse for the period covering the building of the extension of the canal
to Hereford so any navvies working in Ledbury at this time were not housed there.
When the Worcester to Hereford railway was under construction (mainly the viaduct) the workers were housed in Railway
Huts located on the other side of the viaduct. These can be found in the 1861 census, so no navvies were housed at the Old Wharf at that time.
No census shows anyone ever living in 'Barracks': The building was never used as such.
Moat Meadow and beyond
In April 1797, the Committee of the Hereford and Gloucester Navigation Co ordered Mr Hall, a surveyor, to make an estimate
to complete the canal
from Gloucester to Moat Meadow. Moat Meadow was on the Ledbury side of the Ross Road, more on this later.
His estimate of £ 4000 (£ 400,000 today)
was duly presented to the Committee and by September of the same year they sought to raise this sum by issuing
400 £ 10 (£ 1000 today) shares.
In April 7th 1798 an agreement was reached between the Canal Company and Michael Biddulph to purchase two acres,
part of a field known as Moat Meadow, opposite what is now The Full Pitcher, for
the sum of £ 272,(£ 27,200 today.)
Moat Meadow ran between the river Leadon and the Little Marcle Road including, today, the river walk, the bypass and
various industrial premises.
At its eastern end there was a curious square moat with an island in the middle. Presumably full of water this must have been seen from very early
days as an ideal terminus in Ledbury.
A copy of the sketch map attached to the purchase agreement is shown here:
The section the Company bought is coloured green, it may not look much but amounted to 2 acres.
The Enclosure map of 1813 is repeated here
for convenience and shows that the canal had reached Moat Meadow by that date and became the main base for the canal
The associated schedule shows
that Plot 1275 is now owned by The Canal Proprietors. John Biddulph owns Plot 1276, called 'Island'.
At Moat Meadow the Company now had a terminal at Ledbury where boats could unload and turn, lack of funds prevented any
more development for the next ten years, On May 19th 1827 Stephen Ballard, just 23, was appointed
clerk to the Canal Company,
needing little introduction to Ledburians, more information can be found about him
With Stephen's appointment in 1827 a new energy seems to infect the Committee and in October of that year it
was ordered; 'that a new Carpenter's Shop be erected on the wharf at the Moat Meadow' and that 'A Plan and
Estimate of a Dwelling House for the clerk together with an Office and Committee Room be made out by the Clerk
and laid before the Committee in addition to the Carpenter's Shop before ordered.'
The following year the Company bought the remainder of the Moat Meadow site coloured pink in the above map and
in September 1831 Mr Biddulph has this to say about the canal in Ledbury:
Previous to the year 1827 the company had no shop whatsoever on Ledbury Wharf nor even a Carpenter's workbench
There was no place of security for workmen's tools except the small counting house under the Machine House which
then consisted of but two rooms one up and one down. There was no warehouse to receive anything carried on the Canal
there was no timber yard but all the stock the Company had was exposed on the open Wharf.
There is now on the Wharf an excellent carpenter's workshop, a warehouse, a stable, a drying shed
for timber an enclosed timber yard. The Machine House is enlarged and now contains six rooms and a new basin
has been made which is a great convenience to the traders in unloading coal.
Financial and other problems meant little progress was made until in 1839 when more funds were raised and work started
A copy of the Borough Tithe Map of 1841,
shows the canal, the green line being the Borough boundary.
The New Street Turnpike house, at the bottom of the picture, identifies
the junction of New Street and what is now Little Marcle road, the canal had not got much further than that.
Although this map would have been surveyed before 1841, things were moving quickly as on March 31st 1841 Stephen Ballard
was able to report to the Company:
'Gentlemen.- Since your last General Meeting, the works on the line of the Canal have
gone on satisfactorily. The severe frosts of last winter caused some hindrance, but the three new
locks at Ledbury are completed, and about 7000 cubic yards only remain to be excavated between Ledbury
and the Moorend, a distance of five miles and a half.'
And on a cold day in February 1842 the Canal Company proudly treated the residents of Ledbury to a boat trip!
From the Hereford Times Saturday 19th February 1842:
This useful undertaking is gradually pressing towards completion:
about a fortnight since the embankment across the Leddon (sic) valley was made passable for long boats.
The Canal is therefore navigable now as far as the Moor-end bridge, which is within a short distance of
the tunnel at Washington, (sic. Wassington) and on Friday last, a party of nearly fifty of the inhabitants of
Ledbury availed themselves of the opportunity thus afforded them, of making a voyage to inspect the works of
the tunnel. The party sailed in one of the Canal Company's boats from the new wharf Ledbury, and were loudly
cheered as they passed under the several bridges near the town. Although the morning was an unpropitious one,
the rain falling without intermission soon after the commencement of the voyage, still the party in 'spite of
wind and weather' seemed determined to be merry; they arrived at the tunnel at one o'clock and were highly delighted
to find it so near completion, about one half of it remaining to be finished. Having partaken of an excellent dinner
provided for the occasion, many toasts were drunk - The Rev K E Money's health, with three times three, Mr S Ballard
and his able assistants, with many others. Among the party were several musical gentlemen who greatly added to
the enjoyment of the day, by singing many very excellent glees and songs. After a few hours stay at the tunnel,
all again embarked and returned to Ledbury, delighted with their voyage.