Minutes Tue 16 Jan 1894

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Tue 16 Jan 1894


Mr Hooper and Mr Snape in deputation to President of Board of Trade, respecting action of Thames & Severn Canal Co. in closing canal from Chalford to Inglesham with aim of asking aid of Board of Trade. Effectively introduced by Sir Michael Hicks Beach, former President of Board of Trade. Reports in public papers. Those in Gloucester Journal and Daily Telegraph especially worthy of notice for details. Clerk directed to add report in public papers to the Minute Book.

Verbatim text

Committee Meeting held at Wallbridge on Tuesday the 16^th day of January 1894 @ 3,o,clock pm
Present: Mr E C Little Chairman, Mr C H Hooper, Mr E P Little, Mr W^m Davies, Sir W H Marling Bart, Mr H H Mills.
Mr Hooper informed the Meeting that accompanied by Mr Snape he had represented the Committee in the important Deputation which waited upon the President of the Board of Trade (and of which very short notice had been given) on the 10^th January respecting the action of the Thames & Severn Canal Co in the closing of that part of the Canal which runs from Chalford to Inglesham, with the object of asking the aid of the Board of Trade in the matter. Mr Hooper presented a Memorandum of the proceedings of the Deputation before the President, which had been effectively introduced by Sir Michael Hicks Beach a former President of the Board of Trade, and handed to the Chairman reported that had appeared in the public papers, of which those in the Gloucester Journal and Daily Telegraph were especially worthy of notice for the details given in them; and as the report in the former comprised in addition to other particulars, those in the Daily Telegraph, the Clerk was directed to place in the Minute Book the report of that Journal for future reference.
The Committee thanked Mr Hooper for so kindly representing this Company in the Deputation and for the trouble generally he had taken on the subject.
The deputation alluded to waited upon the President of the the Board of Trade as intimated on Wednesday afternoon, the object being to ask the aid of the Department in preventing the proposed closing of a portion of the canal which runs from Englesham to Wallbridge, the part of which it has been proposed to abandon being between Englesham and Chalford. The deputation was introduced by Sir Michael Hicks Beach MP and consisted of Earl Bathurst, Mr Xachary ad Mr Ellett, representing the Cirencester Local Board; Mr E Williams Cripps, managing director of the Cirencester Brewery; Mr J Faulkner, owner of the Kempsford estate; Mr Edgecombe Parson, representing the owners and occupiers of the parish of Coates; Mr E B Haygarth, representing Mr Price Jones, owner of the Elm Green estate, Kemble; the Rev Mr Clements (Lechlade), Mr Brynmor Jones MP, Messrs P H Evans, E W Witchell and H Philpotts representing the Stroud Incorporated Chamber of Commerce; Mr W Adams, representing the Gloucester Incorporated Chamber of Commerce; Mr Livingston Wood and Mr Willis Bund, representing the Severn Commissioners; Messrs C H Hooper and W Snape, Stroudwater Navigation Company; Mr Waddy, Sharpness Docks Company and Gloucester and Birmingham Navigation; Mr E Hulbert, Stroud Local Board; Mr R Phillips, Gloucester County Council; Mr Ainsworth, Wilts and Berks Canal; and Mr Scarborough, representing the Stroud traders. There were also present Sir John Dorington MP, Mr H Lawson MP and Mr T Robinson MP. The President was accompanied by Sir Courtnay Boyle.
Sir Michael Hicks Beach said he had been asked to introduce the deputation from the districted affected by the Thames and Severn Canal. As Mr Mundella was aware, notice had been given by the company -- whoever they were -- owning the canal, of the intention to close a portion of the canal at an early date, if, indeed, closing had not already been effected. Mr Mundella was also aware that the canal was a very important link in the water communication of the country east and west, and it had been in existence for many years, and that its position had been materially affected by clauses which had led to similar difficulties with respect to other canals. The deputation did not exactly know who were the proprietors of the canal, but it was a curious fact that the letters from the company were dated from Paddington Station. They understood that it had been a constant policy of the Legislature to prevent canals getting into the hands of the railway companies of the country, and they felt sure they would have Mr Mundella's sympathy as maintaining that policy. Now the point they wished to bring before the Board of Trade was that it would be a very great injury to the district which the deputation represented if this canal was closed, as was contemplated by the company owning it. That the company had no right to take such a course as they were proposing, but they ought to afford facilities for traffic going over the canal which they were bound to afford by law, or failing that to apply to the Board of Trade under the Railway and Canal Traffic Act of 1888 to close the canal; and least of all had they the right to close one part of the canal and keep the other part open. They appealed to Mr Mondella not merely for his sympathy, but for his assistance in the matter, as it was of very considerable public importance, not perhaps only to the district affected, but as affording a precedent with regard to similar cases; and looking to the very remarkable circumstance connected with the ownership of the canal at the present moment, and believing, as they did, that this was a case which might properly be brought before the Railway Commissioners, if the views of the deputation were correct, they thought they might fairly ask the Board of Trade, on behalf of the public to take that course.
Mr Brynmor Jones MP for the Stroud Division, said he represented a large number of public bodies of importance. First of all, there was the Stroud Water Navigation Company which was carrying on operations in an efficient way, and was largely interested in immediate connection with the Thames and Severn Canal. Then there was the Stroud Chamber of Commerce, who had some time ago sent a memorial to the members for the County of Gloucester and others, calling attention to the systematic way in which the Thames and Severn Canal was neglected, and the way in which traders were hampered in consequence. The Corporation and a large number of manufacturers and traders also complained of they way in which they were hampered by the existing conditions of the canal. There had been considerable difficulty in ascertaining who were the persons responsible for the existing state of affairs. From a legal point of view there might be a difficulty in showing that the Great Western Railway Company were the owners of the canal; but, from correspondence laid before him, it appeared that 2,140 shares out of 2,450 were vested in persons who appeared to be trustees for the Great Western Railway Company.
The President: That is so.
Mr Jones said there was a letter that showed that the Great Western Railway Company did not deny they had control of the Canal Company, but they contended they were acting in the interests of the public in the line which they were taking, and there was also that fact that notice as to closing a portion of the canal was dated from Paddington. They had given notice of the closing of a portion of the canal after December 31, leaving open only four or five miles. That, the deputation contended, was practically abandoning the canal. He explained that by the Acts of Parliament the canal became a derelict canal if for three years a portion of it was disused or became unfit for navigation, and if the proprietors declared they were unable to effect repairs the Board of Trade might authorise the abandonment by the present proprietors. He maintained that by the action taken the canal had become a derelict canal, and that is a local authority made an application under the Act the Board of Trade had the power to transfer the undertaking to that local authority. The consequence would be that all the present shareholders would lose their interest in it. If, therefore, the Board chose to exercise its powers he thought the proprietors of the canal would probably see there way to doing something with regard to repairing the canal and keeping it open for navigation.
Mr H Lawson MP said he gave expression to the opinion universally entertained in his constituency when he said he supported what had been said; and he trusted the Board of Trade would take the course suggested by Mr Brynmor Jones and thus remedy the great grievance which the traders of Cirencester suffered.
Mr P J Evans, representing the Stroud Chamber of Commerce, said that the upper reaches of the Thames and Severn Canal had for some time been in a very bad condition. This matter affected a very large number of traders and manufacturers. For some interests it was a matter almost of life and death. Many people in the Stroud Valley had actually built works and established businesses which were dependent upon the canal being kept open to traffic. He instance the case of a maker of launches who had a steam launch waiting to go to Oxford. If the canal was available he could send it in two days as a cost of £5, but if the canal was closed it would take six days to send it by rail, at a cost of £40, which was almost prohibitive. Other trades -- brickmakers, millers, and timber merchants -- were similarly affected. It was almost incredible, in the face of Acts of Parliament intended to prevent railway companies from strangling canals, that a railway company should have possession of this canal, and have the audacity to propose to close it.
Mr Hooper said this canal was a communication between east and west. It was, he urged, important to maintain this waterway in the interest of traders, inasmuch as it brought produce to their doors, whereas it could not be brought so readily by rail.
Mr W J Ainsworth pointed out that the Berks Canal Company had spent considerable sums of money in improving their canal, which would be wasted if the Thames and Severn Canal was closed. The summit of the canal was in a defective condition.
Mr Willis Bund having spoken,
Mr Adams said if the link in the waterway were broken it would be very serious thing for the trade of Gloucestershire. Since 1885 there had been very little possibility of getting stuff over the canal because the navigation had been so uncertain they could not advise their customers to use it. In many cases their customers preferred to get the goods by canal because they were received in better condition that when sent by railway.
Mr Waddy said that some time ago the Stroudwater, the Sharpnes Docks, the Severn Commissioners, the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, and the Wiltshire and Berks Canal formed a committee which was prepared to raise a certain amount of money, to take over the canal. He had not doubt that that association could be revived, and would undertake to raise money to buy the canal if the Great Western had no further need for it.
Mr Mundella: That is a very important statement. You say you believe if the canal were declared derelict you could get a body together to take over the navigation?
Mr Waddy said he had vey little doubt about it. (Hear, hear).
Earl Bathurst having briefly supported the views of the deputation,
Mr Cripps said if the Great Western Company had its way a great blow would be inflicted upon the agricultural districts of that part of the country. It had been almost impossible to get a cargo of corn along the canal in the disgraceful way it had been kept. (Hear, hear). It that part of the country there was an area of something like 15 miles long by 10 miles broad where there was no railway, and if the canal closed that area would be absolutely deprived of its communication.
Mr Snape having addressed the President,
Mr Mundella, in reply said: Nothing is more disastrous that that the canals of the country, or any part of them, should ever have falling into the hands of a railway company. (Hear, hear.) In the interests of trade they ought to be kept open and developed and improved and made progress, in accordance with the times, so as to maintain fair open competition with the railways. Cheap transport is of utmost importance now to our trade, more than it has been at any moment of our existence as a community, because we all know how cheaply foreign produce, especially agricultural produce, can be imported into the country, how vital transport is to them, and how important it is to our home produce and trade generally that we should have the advantage of cheap water communication. (Hear, hear.) I believe but for the great misfortune of the railway companies throughout the country putting on here and there strictures upon lines of traffic, we should have had a much better system of canalisation and much more traffic by water on our waterways that we have at the present moment. Well, there is no doubt, this is a very bad case. Sir Michael Hicks Beach found it to be a bad case in his time, for he sent Sir Courtenay Boyle to make a full and exhaustive enquiry into it, and he did so. Nothing can be more simple and straightforward than the evidence which was received by Sir Courtenay Boyle, and he who runs may read. It tells the whole story upon the face of it. And now the railway company, or practically the railway company, in their notice to us with regard to the closing of the canal -- for although it is addressed as from the Thames and Severn Canal Navigation, it is sent from Paddington Station, London -- (laughter) -- so that the source it comes from is very evident -- say: "In pursuance with sec 39, sub-sec 3 of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act, 1888, and with reference to the concluding paragraph of your letter of the 1st inst, I am desired by the Committee of the Thames and Severn Canal to inform you that in consequence of the loss of revenue doe to the recent coal lock-out, and to the total cessation of through traffic from the shortness of water in the summit level, the Committee are compelled to concentrate their efforts upon the only portion of the canal upon which any remunerative traffic is carried -- viz that between Stroud and Chalford -- and to close the remainder of the canal at all events for the present." That means that twenty-six out of twenty-nine miles are to be closed, and it cuts off communication from east to west. That is the very serious part of it. Among the letters addressed to the Board of Trade on the subject I find one from the Great Western Railway, London Terminus, Paddington, of May 26th, 1886, in which they say that the "attempt to convert the canal into a railway was neither to the interest of this company, nor to that of the district, and it being known we were opposed to the scheme offers were made to us by the proprietor of certain shares of assistance to frustrate the project." Why did they frustrate the project? They say: Of this offer the directors availed themselves, with the sole object of preventing the canal being closed as a navigation. Since that time the directors have been desirous of exercising the influence which they so acquired, not only in maintaining the navigation in the state in which it then existed but of improving it, and they have always expressed their willingness, as far as they were in a position to do so, to assist in any way in which this object could be best effected." It is a sad commentary on this observation of their willingness to assist in maintaining the canal, that they have now announced their determination to close it. Apart from the representations of the deputation, it imposes a very serious duty upon the Board of Trade, and your representations ought to stimulate us, no doubt, to make every effort in our power to restore the navigation, and keep open the waterway from east to west. That is what I understand you want. I can assure you we are entirely in sympathy with the object, and as far at the Board of Trade is concerned we should do everything in our power to bring about that desirable end. The Navigation Company are either to maintain the navigation or to abandon it; I am not sure whether they cannot be compelled to maintain it. It is with them not only to question the liability in respect of money; it is a question of liability of public engagement. There is no doubt that the proprietors of seven-eighths of the shares are very well able to put this canal into perfect condition, and maintain it in perfect condition, and we must see what power has been given to us to enforce that obligation. After due consideration on the part of the Board of Trade, I will communicate with the Members of Parliament and Lord Bathurst, who represent you; but of course we must first ask what are the intentions of the Railway Company or the so-called Thames and Severn Canal Company, and I hope they will frankly recognise their obligations to the public.
Sir Michael Hicks Beach, on behalf of the deputation, thanked Mr Mundella for his sympathetic and favourable reply, and the deputation then withdrew.

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