Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Chard Canal

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Part of display board near site of Chard incline. The water turbine and operator's building shown on the map are long gone

Connected Chard with the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal at Creech St. Michael, near Taunton, Somerset.

A relatively late, and short-lived narrow canal. Opened in 1842, closed in 1868.

The route was only 13½ miles long, but the Chard end was 231 ft above the Creech St. Michael end, with several hills in between, dealt with by inclined planes and tunnels. The work was started by James Green in 1837, but he was replaced by Sydney Hall.

A good account of the Canal's history may be found on line[1]

Despite being so little-known, many parts of the canal infrastructure survive, including the large reservoir, tunnels and the remains of bridges and aqueducts.

The embankments and cuttings were used as part of the defensive Taunton Stop Line in WW2.

Inclined Planes

There were four inclined planes on the system. Three were conventional, having two parallel sections of track to carry a pair of counterbalanced caissons in which the tub boats floated. The fourth, near the canal's terminus just north of Chard, was unique, having a single track for a wheeled cradle, the hauling power coming from a water turbine supplied by Whitelaw and Stirrat.

The turbine and its initial performance were described in the Mechanics Magazine in 1843[2], from which the following information is extracted:-
Inclined plane 810 ft long, gradient 1 in 10. Weight of boat and cargo 18 tons. Speed: 16.9 feet vertical height gain per minute, once moving at steady speed. Turbine worked with 25 ft head, passing 725 cu ft per min. 60 - 63 rpm. 9.55 ft diameter wheel. Water supply pipe 26" dia.

Delays with the installation and commissioning meant that the final section of the canal was not fully opened until summer 1842.

'A new wire-rope, of substantial dimensions, has been substituted for that which had frequently broken at the Chard plane, and Mr. Hall, the engineer, has left.'[3].

Evidence of the inclined plane can be seen just north of the reservoir, close to the Sustrans cycleway. A nearby display board (see photo) shows the approximate location of the water turbine, but no tangible remains are visible. Note the method shown for keeping the wheeled cradle level.

Sale of Equipment, 1869

To Engineers, Contractors, Iron Founders, Shipowners, and others.
Mr. MORRIS, having been favoured with instructions, will SELL by AUCTION. at the George Hotel, Ilminster, ..... the valuable PLANT & MACHINERY, Wrought and Cast Iron Works, Brass, Copper, and other Metal Fittings, weighing upwards of 500 tons; Consisting principally of iron tram rails, cog, spur, pinion, pulley, and other wheels; powerful chain ditto, spiral and undershot iron and copper water wheels (applicable to almost any power), capstans, break gear, wrought iron shafts, axles, iron water-pipes, chain cables, brass castings, cassoons, sluices, wire rope, wood screws, scrap and sundry iron. Also, the massive and solid cut stone masonry, timber work and materials, work-shops, store houses, &c. on the said canal.
Comprising Ham, lias, free and other stone blocks, pavement, costly coping and building-stone, bricks, &c.; oak and other lock gates, balk sleepers, planks, transoms, framing, hollow tiles, &c.
The miscellaneous stock includes camp forge, smith's tools, set of excellent screw tackle, bar iron, grind stones, benches, vice, smith's bellows, crab, pulley blocks, patterns, oak and other planks, Memel and elm timber, swing cranes with chain, &c.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] UK Canals Network - Chard Canal webpage
  2. [2] Mechanics Magazine, edited by John I Knight and Henry Lacey, Volume 38, Jan - July 1843: Whitelaw and Stirrat's Water Wheel
  3. Exeter Flying Post, 11 August 1842
  4. Central Somerset Gazette - Saturday 20 March 1869