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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Beard's 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.
In 1901, there was a confontation here when the headmaster of nearby Wycliffe College led a party along the towpath while it was officially closed for the day and a Stroudwater company official ended up in the canal with his leg broken. The closure was a regular event to ensure the towpath could not be claimed as a right of way, but the headmaster was an early advocate of free access for all. The headmaster was ahead of his time and he was forced to make a formal apology.
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.
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! The result was that, as the upper end of the Ocean silted up, the Company lost control of it. This continued until 1884 when both parties ageed that a small triangle of filled in land belonged to the Company, and the boundary of this was planted with a line of withy trees.
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.
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 confrontation on the towpath, see D1180/1/7 p305, 313.
For missing conveyance, see D1180/1/5 p123-125.
For agreed boundary of the Company's property, see D1180/1/6 p400; D1180/10/11; D1180/1/7 p1.
For start of fishing licences, see D1180/9/4 p206.
For sculling on the canal, see D1180/9/9 p96.