Joseph Priestly Kennet & Avon

Joseph Priestly Kennet & Avon

Historical Account of the Navigable Rivers and Canals and Railways of Great Britain – Joseph Priestly 1831


Kennet & Avon Canal


34 Geo III. C. 90: R. A. 17th Apr. 1794 – 36 Geo. III. C.36. R. A. 24th May 1796.
39 Geo. III C. 18, R. A. 7th May. 1799 -.41 Geo. III C. 73, R. A. 21st May, 1801.
43 Geo. III C. 20. R. A. 27th June 1805, – 49 Geo. III. C. 64, R. A. 3rd, June, 1809.
58 Geo. III. C. 119. R. A. 3rd June, 1813.

The truly useful and highly important work which we have now to describe, had its first commencement in an act which received the royal assent on the 17th April, 1794, and is entitled ‘ An Act for making a navigable Canal from the River Kennet, at or near the town of Newbury, in the county of Berkshire, to the River Avon, at or near the city of Bath; and also certain navigable Cuts therein described By this act the proprietors are incorporated under the title of ” The Company of Proprietors of the Kennet and Avon Canal Navigation,” and have the usual powers granted on such occasions. In consequence of an agreement with the proprietors of the Wilts and Berks Canal, conformably to a clause in this act, the line first laid down was proposed to be altered, and the sanction of parliament to this alteration was obtained in the year 1796, in an act under the title of ‘An Act to vary and alter the Line of the Canal authorized to be made by an Act passed in the Thirty-fourth of his present Majesty, entitled, An Act for making a navigable Canal from the River Kennet, at or near the town of Newbury, in the county of Berkshire, to the River Avon, at or near the city of Bath, and also certain navigable Cuts therein described, and to amend the said Act, and also to make a certain navigable Cut therein described.

By the first act the company were authorised to raise £420,000 in three thousand five hundred shares of £120 each, part of which might be divided into half shares of £6O each, two of these to have one vote; and should the above sum prove insufficient, they were empowered to raise £150,000 in addition. By the second act no further sums of money were required to be raised. In the year 1798 the company found it necessary to make further alterations in the line of canal;. and they, in consequence, obtained the requisite authority by a third act, entitled, ‘ An Act to vary the Line of the Kennet and Avon Canal, authorized to be made by Two Acts passed in the Thirty-fourth and Thirty-sixth of his present Majesty, and also to extend the Powers of, and to amend the said Act.’

Various circumstances, which it is not necessary here to enumerate, having rendered an additional sum of money requisite for the completion of the work, by an act called ‘ An Act for enabling the Company of Proprietors of the Kennet and Avon Canal Navigation to complete the same ; and for amending the several Acts passed for making the said Canal,’ the company were em-powered to raise £240,000 by creating new shares and half shares, making in the whole four thousand new shares; three thousand to be taken by the original subscribers or their friends, and the remaining thousand to be sold by auction; but no interest was to be paid on the new shares, the tolls being directed to be applied towards completing the canal.

In 1805, a further sum being still wanting to complete the works, an act was obtained for that purpose, under the title of ‘ An Act for enabling the Company of Proprietors of the Kennet and Avon Canal Navigation to complete the same, and for altering and enlarging the Powers of the several Acts passed for making the said Canal By this act £200,000 more was directed to be raised for completing the canal, and for paying off the debts already incurred. A deficiency, however, still existed; and application was again made to parliament; and by an act, entitled, ‘ An Act for enabling the Kennet and Avon Canal Company to raise a sufficient Sum of Money to complete the said Canal, and for amending the several Acts for making the same, an additional sum of £80,000 was directed to be raised, and to authorize the borrowing of £50,000 as granted by the act previously obtained in 1805. But, to render the undertaking complete, the various sums already recited did not prove adequate; the company, also determined that it would be advisable to purchase the River Kennet Navigation; they, therefore, again obtained the sanction of parliament to their proceedings in 1813, in an act entitled,. ‘An Act for enabling the Kennet and Avon Canal Company to raise a further Sum of Money to purchase the Shares of the River Kennet Navigation, and to amend the several Acts passed for making the ‘ said Canal.’ By this last enactment, £132,000 were to be raised by creating five thousand five hundred new shares of £24 each. Power was also given to create a sinking fund ; and those proprietors of shares, resident within the bills of mortality, were directed to be called ” The Proprietors of the London District,” and to elect from amongst themselves three members of the committee of management. The following are the

For all Hay,Straw, Dung, Peat, and Peat-ashes, and all other Ashes used for Manure, Chalk, Marl, Clay, and Sand, and all other Articles used for Manure and forthe repair of Roads 1d per Ton, per Mile
For all Coals, Culm, Coke, Cinders, Charcoal, Iron-stone, Pig-iron, Iron-ore, Copper-ore, Lead-ore, Lime, (except used for Manure.) Lime-stone, and other Stone, Bricks .and Tiles 1d ditto, ditto.
For all Corn and other Grain, Flour, Malt, Meal, Timber, Bar-iron. and Lead. (except such Corn, and other Grain, Flour. Malt, and Meal, as shall be carried Westwards, on such part of the Canal as shall be situate betweenthe Town of Devizes and the City of Bath) 2d ditto, ditto.
For all Corn, and other Grain. Flour, Malt, and Meal, which shall be carried from the Town of Devizes to the City of Bath 3s per Ton
For all Corn and other Grain, Flour, Malt, and Meal, Which shall be carried Westwards on any part of the said Canal between the Town of Devizes and the city of Bath,and shall not pass the whole way between Devizes and Bath 1d per Ton, per Mile
For all other Goods, Wares, Merchandize, and Commodities whatsoever in respect of which no Toll, Rate, or Duty is herein before made payable 2d ditto, ditto
And so on in Proportion for any Quantity greater or less than a Ton, and for any
Distance more or less than a Mile.

Having thus presented our readers with the leading features of the various acts, obtained for completing this stupendous work, it may be useful to add the following scale of particulars respecting the money subscribed, before we proceed to describe the work itself By the different acts obtained for this canal, the following sums have been raised, vis.

By 34 Geo. III. c. 90.
Shares designed to be in Number
Of this Number there were lost by Failures, &c.
And by Consolidation with other Classes, 32 half shares
Remaining Shares
These were first created at..  £120 0s 0d per Share
And subjected to a further 17 4s.7d
£137 4s 7d
£407,576 163
Call of
per share
Carried over
£407,576 16 3
By 41 Geo. III. c. 43.
Shares created; intended to be
Lost of these
And by Consolidation with other Classes, 4 Half shares
Remaining Shares


£177,360 0 0
per share
By 45 Geo. III. c. 70
Shares were created  
at £20 per Share
£169,160 0 0
And Optional Notes  
at £33, 6s. 8d
£3300 0 0
at £20 per Share
£27,540 0 0
By 49 Geo. III. c. 138
Shares were created  
gained by Consolidation from the Two first Acts. 36 Half Shares  
At £24 per share
£96,432 0 0
£881,368 16 3

The Kennet and Avon completes a circuit of navigable canals, which traversing the northern, midland, and south-western counties of England, connect together its four largest rivers, the Trent the Mersey, the Severn, and the Thames. Viewed in this light, it forms an important link in that great chain of inland navigation, which has been rapidly increasing in this kingdom for the last fifty years, and which seems to know no other boundary than ,what the rugged and mountainous parts of the country naturally present. This canal, by uniting the Rivers Kennet and Avon, the former of which runs into the River Thames at Reading, and the latter into the Severn a few miles below Bristol, becomes, in conjunction with the Bristol Channel and the estuary of the Thames, the central line of communication between the Irish Sea and German Ocean. The line of navigation, which thus joins these two seas, passes through a very fertile and populous district. Upon the banks of it lie not only the metropolis, but a great many large towns and cities, the ordinary intercourse between which must necessarily produce a very extensive traffic; and if we take into consideration the numerous collateral branches from this grand line, the whole together forms a comprehensive system of water communication, which pervades the southern division of England, and connects the remotest parts of South Wales and Cornwall, with the counties of Essex and Kent. Thus favourably circumstanced, the Kennet and Avon Canal is highly beneficial to the commerce, manufactures, and agriculture of the south-western counties of this kingdom; in the same manner as the Trent and Mersey and Grand Junction Canals have contributed to the improvement and prosperity of the northern and midland counties.

The Kennet and Avon Canal commences at the head of the Kennet Navigation, at Newbury in Berkshire, and passes up the vale of the River Kennet, by Hungerford and Great Bedwin, to Crofton. The distance between Newbury and Crofton is sixteen miles and a half; and the difference of level between these two places is 210 feet, which is effected by means of thirty-one locks. The summit level begins near Crofton, and extends for two miles and a half to the village of Brimslade, passing, in its way, through a tunnel five hundred and ten yards in length, which is cut through the highest part of the intervening hill.

From the western extremity of the summit level, the canal begins to descend to Wootten Rivers, a distance of only one mile, in which there is a fall of 33 feet, which is divided into four locks. From Wootten Rivers it is carried along the vale of Pewsey to Devizes, a distance of fifteen miles, upon one level. From Devizes to a place called Foxhanger, there is a fall of 239 feet, within the short distance of two miles and a half ; along this abrupt descent it is carried by a flight of locks, twenty-nine in number. From Foxhanger the canal proceeds to the village of Semington, where it is joined by the Wilts and Berks Canal; the distance is four miles and a half; the fall 56 feet, comprehended in seven locks. From Semington it runs along a rich vale for five miles, upon one level, to Bradford; and at the latter place it descends into the vale of Avon by a lock of 10 feet After this it proceeds upon one level for nine miles, along the vale, to Sidney Gardens, Bath. About a mile beyond these gardens, it descends into the Avon, near the Old Bridge, sustaining, in this short distance, a fall of 66.5 feet, by means of seven locks. From this point that river is navigable to Bristol, as already described under the River Avon. Its whole length is fifty-seven miles ; its total rise 210 feet, effected by thirty one locks; and its whole fall 404 feet, effected by forty-eight locks. Its breadth at bottom is 24 feet; at the surface, 44 feet; and the least depth of water is 5 feet, but through a considerable length, 6 feet. The locks are 80 feet long, and 14 feet wide; and the barges which navigate it carry from fifty to seventy tons.

Few canals afford more specimens of deep cutting, aqueduct and tunnel., than the Kennet and Avon and we shall proceed to enumerate them, according to the order in which they arise from Newbury to Bath. Much labour has been expended upon this part of the canal, to prevent its interference with the channels, which have been made for the purpose of conveying water to the meadows (usually called Water Meadows,) between Newbury and Hungerford ; and the River Kennet has within the same distance been three times crossed by means of weirs ; once to avoid Hampstead Park, and twice to prevent its passing through the village of Kentbury. At a little distance above Hungerford the level of the canal has acquired a sufficient elevation to be carried over the Kennet by means of an aqueduct, consisting of three arches. Ascending from this aqueduct to the eastern extremity of the summit Ievel, it is carried in its passage from thence to the western extremity through the hill at Burbage, by a great deal of deep cutting, and a tunnel of five hundred yards long and 164 feet wide. From the extremity of this tunnel to the town of Devizes, no work of consequence occurs. From Devizes to Bath the country assumes a more hilly and rugged character. At the former place there has been an extensive piece of deep cutting Between the locks near Foxhanger, it has been found necessary to make very large side ponds, in which the water is permitted to expand itself, after it is let out of the locks, and is thus prevented from running to waste. From Foxhanger, the line of the canal continued through the long vale of Somerham Brook, by an expensive embankment. On leaving this vale, it proceeds along the valley of the Semington River, and at Semington is conveyed across the river by a stone aqueduct, having an arch of 30 feet span, with a long embankment at each end of it. From hence there is a considerable piece of cutting, as for as the River Biss, below Trowbridge; it then crosses that river over an aqueduct of the same dimensions as that at Semingtan, with a large embankment, 30 feet high, on each side of it.

From the aqueduct over the River Biss, the canal passes by Bradford, through a tract of country abounding with hills and rocks to Sidney Gardens Bath: and in its course is twice conveyed across, the River Avon by handsome stone aqueducts, the centre arches of which are about 60 feet span each. It enters and departs from Sidney Gardens through tunnels, which pass under the houses and rides. The walks of the gardens are carried over it by two iron bridges. The seven locks upon the remainder of the canal, between these gardens and its entrance into the Avon, have been made at considerable expense; several of them being so near to each other, that large side ponds have been required.

This canal, at its highest elevation at the Crofton Tunnel, is 474 feet above the level of the sea. In its course it passes within a short distance of Hungerford House, Tottenham Park, Wilcot Park, East Stowel, Hewish, New Park, Mount Pleasant, and a number of other seats of the nobility and gentry. The direction it takes, from its junction with the River Kennet Navigation, is nearly west. It has communication with the Wilts and Berks Canal at Remington; with the Frome Canal at Widbrook ; and with the Somerset Coal Canal near Bradford, all upon its line. From these and many other advantages, the traffic on it in coal, corn, stone, copper and iron, is of very considerable extent, and, from the almost daily addition to its communication with different parts of the kingdom, by connecting canals and railroads, must continue to increase as long as Great Britain maintains its character as a commercial nation.

Mr. Rennie was engineer for the canal, by whose abilities the most formidable obstacles were overcome. The aqueduct over the River Avon, about a mile from Limpley Stoke, and six miles from Bath, is greatly admired for its architectural beauty; and, indeed, wherever there is an aqueduct or a bridge upon the line, they are invariably distinguished by the excellent workmanship employed in their construction. The execution of the locks and tunnels is deserving of similar commendation.