Stonehouse Ocean

The large area of water known as the Ocean was formed during the construction of the canal. The waterspace was later used by barges bringing material for constructing the nearby Bristol & Gloucester railway line and again for receiving goods off-loaded from railway wagons. In later years the Ocean was a popular place for angling. (For sources, see end of page.)

Formation

1839 Tithe Map superimposed on c1880 OS map
1839 Tithe Map superimposed on c1880 OS map
1839 Tithe Map superimposed on c1880 OS map
1839 Tithe Map superimposed on c1880 OS map

The Ocean was formed during the construction of the canal when the earthworks for the towpath embankment effectively dammed a stream that previously ran down to join the River Frome. The image shows an extract from the c1880 Ordnance Survey map with a paler area superimposed from the 1839 Tithe Map. It can be seen that formerly the water extended as far north as the main road, and earlier maps support this but with confusing evidence as to the eastern boundary. The northern part was filled in by c1880, leaving the water area much as it is today.

Supporting Wall

Stone wall supporting towpath
Stone wall supporting towpath
Stone wall supporting towpath
Stone wall supporting towpath

By 1836, there was concern about the stability of the top of the towpath embankment, and the water side was supported by building a long stone wall. The image shows how this wall was exposed recently when the water level in the Ocean was lowered in preparation for replacing the nearby railway bridge. The specification for the wall called for it to be topped by flagstones linked together by iron dowels, but these have not survived.

Bristol & Gloucester Railway

The Ocean was put to good use in the early 1840s when stone and other materials were delivered by barges during the construction of the Bristol & Gloucester Railway. A discharging platform was constructed on the west side of the Ocean, and deliveries peaked during the summer of 1843. In just four months a small fleet of vessels delivered 950 tons of timber from Bristol and 1420 tons of iron rails from Newport. Some of the rails from Newport arrived in vessels that were too big to pass up the Stroudwater Canal, and these were trans-shipped into canal boats at Saul Junction.

Railway to Canal Interchange

Boat passing the interchange warehouse (Glos Arch GPS/609/13)
Boat passing the interchange warehouse (Glos Arch GPS/609/13)
Boat passing the interchange warehouse (Glos Arch GPS/609/13)
Boat passing the interchange warehouse (Glos Arch GPS/609/13)

The Ocean was again used by barges in the early 1850s after the Bristol & Gloucester Railway was converted from broad to standard gauge and a new siding was laid beside the main lines on top of the embankment. In 1852 the railway company proposed to cut an inlet from the Ocean to form a loading place for barges and 'shoot from the railway'. A warehouse structure was built over the inlet to protect goods in transit (seen in photo right). Further study is needed as to how much use was made of this facility, but several brief references have been found to wool being taken from the Ocean to Bonds Mill in the period 1869 to 1888.

Leisure Uses

For many years, the Stroudwater Company had banned any form of fishing in the canal, but in 1873 they started issuing licences to anglers, and the Ocean became a popular location. A few years later, boys from Wycliffe College started sculling on the canal, and they often used the Ocean as a place to turn their boats, but this caused a problem. In 1890 the Stroudwater Company had to ask them to stop rowing round the Ocean splashing the water with their oars as they were interfering with the holders of angling licences, and there were a number who would not purchase tickets in consequence.

Ocean Swing Bridge

Ocean Swing Bridge
Ocean Swing Bridge
Ocean Swing Bridge
Ocean Swing Bridge

The bridge adjoining the Ocean carries a minor road to a hamlet on the other side of the railway embankment that is clustered around the site of the former Leonard Stanley Mill. This mill had a long history of making woollen cloth, the original water power being supplemented by a Boulton & Watt steam engine for which coal was delivered by canal.

Inscribed Stones

Beside the towpath just west of the swing bridge are two large stones from the bridge that was here before the present structure. Each has been inscribed with a poem by Jim Pentney in Haiku style, based on feelings and playing with words. The writing on the stone that housed the swing bridge pivot refers to turning and to the child saint to whom the nearby church is dedicated, and the words on the other stone refer to its location and its origin from the Old Red Sandstone geological series:

Turn tern turn return
Here hear little Cyr cry here.

Ocean ageless wave
Lying still and timeless here
In the Old Red Sand.

Ownership

The Stroudwater Company initially believed they owned the whole area of the Ocean, but this was put in doubt in 1851 when they tried to stop a fisherman who said he had permission from neighbouring landowner N S Marling. When contacted by the Company, Marling asked to see the conveyance agreed at the time of purchase, but neither the Company nor their solicitors could find any trace of it! Over the next few years, the northern part of the Ocean was gradually filled in, while a cart house and granary and a cowshed for Court Farm were built nearby. Later, it was agreed that the boundary of the Company's property was a line of withy trees at what was then the top of the Ocean and that the Company would lop the trees to maintain their right to the land to the south.

Clarifying the Boundary

Further encroachment of the waterspace was noted in 1872 when farmer John Chandler was told not to deposit refuse in and near the Ocean. Eighteen months later he was reported for washing his sheep in the Ocean without payment, but in this case the Stroudwater Committee agreed to turn a blind eye as he gave 'some facilities for landing coals and other goods on his land near the swing bridge'. After Sir W H Marling inherited the Stonehouse estate, the Stroudwater Committee thought it was time to clarify the boundary of the Ocean, particularly on the eastern side. A plan was prepared and signed by both parties in 1884, and three years later withy trees were planted along the boundary. By this date, the waterspace was only a little larger than it is today.

Sources

For date of formation of the Ocean, compare D1180/10/50 (1776) with D1180/10/2 (1781)
For wall supporting towpath, see D1180/1/4 p109-117
For discharging platform, see D1180/1/5 p138
For deliveries of railway materials, see D1180/4/19 May-Sep 1843
For loading place for barges, see D1180/1/5 p138
For carriage of wool from the Ocean, see D1180/1/6 p61, 96, 160, 316, 1/7 p19.
For start of fishing licences, see D1180/9/4 p206.
For sculling on the canal, see D1180/9/9 p96.
For missing conveyance, see D1180/1/5 p123-125
For provisional boundary of the Company's property, see D1180/1/6 p308
For depositing refuse in the Ocean, see D1180/9/4 p124.
For washing sheep in the Ocean, see D1180/1/6 p157.
For agreed boundary of the Company's property, see D1180/1/6 p400; D1180/10/11; D1180/1/7 p1.
 

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