This short article was published in Cirencester Miscellany No 2 in 1991, p.22. Prof Jeremy Black, then at the University of Durham, spotted this Cirencester reference in the provincial press and submitted it for our local record in the Society’s Miscellany.
The canalisation of Gloucestershire:
Cirencester news in the Newcastle press
The local section of eighteenth-century newspapers commonly only printed items originating in the locality. An interesting exception to this occurred in 1787 in the Newcastle Chronicle, one of the leading weeklies published in the city. The publication of the item in the issue of 8 January 1787 probably owes much to the comment in the last sentence concerning the impact on the price of coal.
‘A letter from Cirencester, Gloucestershire, says: ‘A navigable work of a most arduous and extensive nature is now carrying on in this neighbourhood, which is nothing less than a junction between the Thames and Severn. In this undertaking a prodigious mountain, of more than two miles and a half in length, will be cut through so that barges of 50 or 70 tons’ burthen may pass. Near two miles of this subterraneous work are nearly finished, and the whole navigation, which is nearly thirty miles long, is expected to be finished in a year and a half. When completed, London will have a grand inland navigation with almost all parts of England and Wales, so that the trade thereupon must be immense. The people near the part of it that is already finished feel its good effects by a considerable reduction in the price of coals.’
The editor adds: The Thames & Severn Canal was largely constructed from west (Stroud) to east (Lechlade) over a five-year period, opening in Nov 1789. The tunnel referred to is Sapperton tunnel, completed the previous year. The canal’s opening to Cirencester wharf (via a short branch or arm from Siddington) shortly after was much celebrated in the town, and the price of coal dropped from 24s to 18s a ton.
On the history of the Thames & Severn, see: Humphrey Household, The Thames & Severn Canal (first edition 1969) and David Viner, The Thames & Severn Canal: History & Guide (2002)