History of the Canal

The Kington, Leominster & Stourport Canal was being built to provide a conduit for agricultural produce to reach the Severn, and thence much of the known world, its primary function was to open up the area to incoming industrial goods and materials from Birmingham and the Black Country. Immediately upon the line opening the price of coal, the staple fuel for industry, halved in Leominster from 30 shillings (£1.50p) to 15 shillings (75p) per ton.

Of necessity it also had to pass through the South of the Wyre Forest coalfields and to negotiate some hilly country in doing so. The coal trade was seen as essential even though taking the line through Pensax and Abberley was hardly the most economical route to build and with hindsight it would be easy to suggest the venture, surveyed by Thomas Dadford jnr. in 1789, was from the outset hopelessly optimistic.

But with a planned 4 tunnels, one of them over 2 miles long and the 100 yards Newnham tunnel not even mentioned in Dadford's original plans, 3 aqueducts and in excess of 60 locks, a wildly miscalculated budget, a line which was never anywhere near completed and a pool of shareholders who never received a penny dividend it is fair to say the facts eventually spoke for themselves.

Work commenced in 1791 but despite the grandiose scheme to link Kington with the Severn through 31 miles of waterways only a little over half was completed between Leominster and Southnet wharf. Some work was undertaken between Leominster and Kington but beyond that there was very little further progress. In 1797 a ceremonial sod was cut near Stourport where the canal was due to enter the Severn around Areley Kings but by 1800 financial difficulties prevented further development to Stourport and the existing line of 18½ miles was limited to transporting coal from Mamble pits.

An idea to continue to Stourport via tramroad never materialised. For the next quarter of a century the canal company tried to raise the necessary capital but the advent of the railways left little option but to strike a deal with a railway company. After being sold to the Shrewsbury and Hereford Railway for £12,000.00 the canal was finally closed in 1859 and drained, apparently by the simple expedient of opening up the banks into adjacent streams.

Despite never being completed and subsequently abandoned for almost 150 years there is still much to see along the line though much is now on private land so the usual caveats about seeking permission apply. Perhaps the most striking feature is the Teme aqueduct, or what remains of it, having been partially destroyed by the army as a training exercise during the last war. Near Marlbrook the Rea aqueduct is reputed to contain a million bricks. A section of canal nearby was later used for fish ponds. Tunnel portals, lock chambers, embankments, canalside buildings and wharves can all be traced. And what canal does not have its own ghost story; Southnet tunnel collapsed in 1795 never to be repaired yet it is rumoured that two souls and their boat still lie entombed there.