The canal through Stonehouse runs along a ledge on the north side of the Frome valley, serving the town's coal wharf and several mills in the valley below.
The canal passes close to Stonehouse Court (1) and cut off part of the original burial ground of St Cyr’s church which is wrongly named on the map (2). It served the town's coal wharf (3), and coal was also unloaded on the towpath side near some of the bridges that carried roads to mills in the valley below. Nutshell Bridge (4) has houses on either side of the road built into the structure of the bridge.
During the construction of the canal, a wider area of water was created known as the Ocean (5). In later years, the Bristol & Gloucester Railway crossed the canal near the Ocean (6) and the Stonehouse & Nailsworth Railway crossed the canal over a remarkable skew bridge (off map to the east). Near the skew bridge, the Wycliffe College boathouse is still standing but derelict.
Always a significant wharf, it was given more importance by the opening of the Stonehouse & Nailsworth Railway in 1867. To appease opposition, the railway company widened the canal and built a new wharf wall at which barges could discharge without obstructing the canal, and they also provided a siding to facilitate interchange between canal and railway. As feared, however, much business transferred to the railway, and the canal had to cut rates to compete. The image shows a barge moored beside Stonehouse Wharf with rail wagons on the adjoining siding and Stonehouse Bridge on the right. For a fun event at Stonehouse Wharf, read Stonehouse Regatta.
In 1843, a bridge was built across the canal to carry the Bristol & Gloucester Railway, which continued south across the Frome valley on a huge viaduct. During construction, the Stroudwater Committee tried to have the work stopped as the railway company were proposing to deviate the towpath and narrow the canal too much, but after negotiations a compromise was agreed. Following withdrawal of the right of navigation in 1954, the bridge opening was in-filled, except for a small corrugated steel pipe for water flow and a larger one for pedestrians. For more details, read Ocean Railway Bridge. Re-opening the channel here for navigation is one of the main challenges for the proposed restoration.
The Ocean was formed during the construction of the canal as the earthworks for the towpath effectively dammed a stream that previously ran down to join the River Frome. It was later used by barges bringing sleepers and rails for the construction of the railway. These were loaded on to wagons on a siding on top of the embankment to be taken along the track to where they were needed. In later years, the railway company built a transshipment warehouse over a small dock to shelter goods being transferred from rail wagons to boats, but the extent of this traffic is not currently known. The image shows the boat Pioneer owned by Charles Braxston of Gloucester passing the Ocean with the transshipment warehouse in the right background.
The building adjoining Bonds Mill Bridge (off map to the west) was built in 1940 as part of a line of reinforced concrete pill-boxes intended to protect the Bristol area in the event of an invasion. This scheme was abandoned before it was completed, and the building found a new use defending a stategically important 'shadow' factory for Sperry Gyroscope who were using the Bonds Mill site to manufacture vital equipment for the armed forces. For a time it had an anti-aircraft machine gun on the roof, which can be seen in the image taken when Queen Mary visited the factory in 1941. The building was also used by observers for spotting any approaching enemy aircraft to warn workers when they needed to go to the shelters.
Boys from Wycliffe College sculling on the canal often used the Ocean as a place to turn their boats, but 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. (9/9 p96)