Stover Canal - an introduction
Other posts in this series:
1. Introduction (this post)
2. Ventiford Basin
3. Teigngrace Lock
5. Graving Dock Lock
6. Teignbridge and Clay Cellars
7. Jetty Marsh Locks
The Stover Canal.... where on earth is is that? I hear you cry.
The occasion of my sister's wedding took me to Torquay and, knowing my passion for lost canals, my brother in law generously organised a guided tour of the diminutive Stover Canal on the Sunday (I know, on the day after his wedding maybe I shouldn't have encouraged this expedition, but one dosn't look gift horses like this in the mouth!). This is a short two mile barge canal which extended inland from the five mile tidal Teign Navigation at Newton Abbot.
Entrance to the Graving Lock
For a short disconnected canal I have to say that it is packed with interest, with no less than five locks of which three remain today. And, much to my surprise, there is an active restoration group beavering away to get water in the channel and include the towpath into the Templer Way, a local footpath.
Map of the Stover Canal and Teign Navigation
Over the next few days I will run some posts showing how the canal looks today, interspersed with some images from the web which show how it looked when it was operational. But first a bit of history:
The Stover Canal was built by James Templer between 1790 and 1792 to exploit the extensive ball clay deposits in the Bovey Basin. This is an unusual clay and only two deposits are found in the UK, both in South Devon. The clay is made of very fine silt which settled in a calm lagoon and is a vital ingredient in fine china. It is so sought after that the clay was transported all the way to the Potteries of the Midlands, starting out on pack horses till the canal facilitated greater exploitation. But why ball clay? The clay was lifted using a special square spade and the resulting cubes were manhandled onto the barges and then stored in cool damp clay cellars before being shipped around the coast. All this handling smoothed off the corners and by the time it reached Stoke on Trent the cube had become a ball. If the idea of Ball Clay excites you there is a whole society devoted to its history - click here to find out more.
The canal triggered a sharp uplift in the clay trade with 400 boat loads moving in 1790 rising to 1000 boats in 1854. If the clay trade was not enough, the Templer family added a five mile tramway to the end in 1820 on which granite was transported from a quarry on Haytor Down which rises to the north west of Newton Abbot. This tramway was itself unusual as it spurned iron rails and instead used grooves cut into locally mined granite. The remains can be seen here and there on the ground but if you look closely at the sides of the railway bridge at the head of the Ventiford Basin you will see recycled blocks with regular three inch grooves running across their faces (picture in a later post) - remains of the track!
Remains of the Stover Canal Today
Nothing stays static and the granite trade ceased in 1841 and the canal was bought by the Moretonhampstead and South Devon Railway, who laid their track beside the channel. For a while the two co- existed but by 1867 the top section was abandoned, used only by craft moving to the graving lock for repairs. The southern section remained operational serving the clay quarry, and amazingly it remained profitable so the Railway Co kept it running till 1937. It was closed in 1942 and de watered following a breach.
The years have been mixed for the Stover. Whilst the upper two lock chambers remain complete with some fast decaying lock gates, the middle one, which was only ever a turf sided stop lock, has crumbled into the undergrowth. The bottom two locks formed a staircase pair of which just the lower sea lock remains, its upper chamber buried beneath a railway embankment with only a 5ft high culvert to mark its location.
So fast forward to the present day and the canal is still owned by the railway, now Network Rail / Railtrack who leased the canal to the local council who in turn have leased it to the Canal Society for 30 years. Whilst this venerable old waterway may never see anything bigger than canoes, it will be great to see it back in water. A linear water park for use by the locals with some great navigational remains thrown in.
My thanks to John, my brother in law (sporting the stylish pink shirt in the photos), who left his wife of one day to walk the line of this canal with me, Paul Taper of the local Canal Society who shared his lifetime of local knowledge and of course Belle, Dr D and Jeff who made up the remainder of the group.