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Canal decline started during the First World War

Published: Friday, 16 November, 2018

Just days after the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, new research reveals how the Stroudwater Canal fell in to decline during First World War.

Canal historian Lois Francis has discovered how loss of labour as men joined up for military service caused the canal to fall into disrepair. As a result, three years after the start of the war men were lent by the Army to assist with dredging around Stonehouse Wharf. 

At the same time, weed growth was becoming a major problem and canal bosses tried to get extra help from mill workers during their summer holiday, her research has found.

Lois is carrying out the research with colleagues at the Stroudwater Navigation Archive Charity (SNAC). The group of volunteers are researching the extensive Stroudwater Canal archives in the Gloucester-based Gloucestershire Archives. “We want to unlock the canal’s archives so that the community knows the real story behind the canal,” said Lois.                                                                                                                                                      

“Increasing costs and lack of maintenance caused use of the canal to decline,” she said. “In the first year of the war, the tonnage using the canal fell by 18% and this trend seems to have continued throughout the war.”

“There is no doubt that the canal never recovered from the Great War,” explained Lois. “By 1918, it was in poor condition, with fewer boats, higher costs and a shortage of labour. That caused tolls to increase, which probably made things worse. Usage never recovered and with a last delivery of coal to Stroud Gasworks in 1941, the scene was set for the canal to close in 1954.”

Sadly the archives do not reveal how many of the Company’s employees perished during the conflict.

“With over 95,000 separate pieces of paper to look through in the archive we are always happy for new volunteers to join us,” said Lois. “Not everyone enjoys being out in all weathers doing physical work so joining SNAC is a great way to volunteer for the canal project while staying warm and dry.” Anyone interested in finding out more about joining SNAC can contact Lois at

The historical research is mainly funded by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Initial support* and development funding of £842,800 has been awarded to progress plans for a major project, with an application for a full grant of £8,956,200 to be made late next year. This would see the canal restored between Stonehouse and Saul Junction, bringing major leisure, health, wildlife and heritage benefits and a link to the national inland waterways network.

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