Though public access to the canal was initially restricted, arrangements were made for boating, angling and even bathing, with such uses being subject to strict conditions and payment of a fee.
The Company made a charge for having a leisure boat on the canal, with a reduced rate for canoes that did not need to use the locks. Many were owned by local residents while others were visitors coming from the River Severn and intending to continue over the Cotswolds to the Thames valley. An additional charge was made if a local landowner wanted to make an inlet in the bank for a boathouse. Occasionally a working barge was pressed into service as a passenger boat to provide an outing for a church group or a temperance organisation, and the image shows such a trip leaving from the Bristol Road Wharf.
For many years, the Company banned all forms of fishing in the canal but changed their policy in 1873. They then made a charge for anyone wanting to fish with rod and line, and they had the power to impose a fine if someone broke the rules. The image shows a blank licence costing 2s 6d for a year. Use of a net was not allowed, and any offenders were likely to be prosecuted.
For many years, bathing in the canal was considered to be trespassing on private property. Those who were reported were required to appear before the Committee to explain themselves, and persistent offenders were taken to court. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, however, the Company's policy changed, and arrangements were made with local organisations for bathing to be authorised at certain places during specified hours.
Casual walking along the towpath was tolerated, but the Canal Company closed the path one day a year to prevent any claim of a right of way along it, and cycling was not normally allowed.
Information about Leisure Activities during the operational period up to 1941 can be found by searching the Minute Book and Letter Book pages in the Archives section of this website. Additionally, a list of relevant documents that can be consulted at Gloucestershire Archives can be found in the Subject Listings page under the heading Leisure Activities.
Found in the Archive
After banning swimming in the canal for over one hundred years, in 1883 the Stroudwater Company gave the headmaster of Wycliffe College permission to use a portion of canal on the eastern side of the Stonehouse & Nailsworth Railway Bridge as a bathing place for his pupils, on payment of 1s per week. (D1180/1/6 p379)