In 1831, Joseph Priestley wrote his "Historical Acount of the Navigable
Rivers, Canals and Railways of Great Britain" to accompany a grand new map
which was to be published. His account of the Bridgewater and Taunton Canal
is interesting as it illustrates the difficulties of these enterprises. The
failure of the company to construct the eastern end of the planned route
was one factor which contributed to the long term decline of the Nailsea
coalfield and glassworks.

Bridgewater and Taunton Canal

51 George III Cap 60, Royal assent 14th May 1811
5 George IV Cap 120, Royal assent 17th June 1824

The line of this proposed canal, commencing at Morgan's Pill,
on the River Avon, about six miles below the port of Bristol,
proceeds in a straight line, and in a south-easterly direction, to near
Clevedon Court; from which place, taking a southerly course, it
crosses the River Yeo; thence, west of the village of Puxton,
crossing the eastern termination of the Mendip Hills, on the south
side of which, an aqueduct is to be thrown over the navigable
River Axe; hence, its course is continued in a straight line to near
Huntspill Court, passing over the River Brue or Glastonbury
Canal; thence to the Tone and Parrett Navigation, near the
village of Puriton, where it crosses the River Carey, at its junction
with the Tone River, along the eastern bank of which, it continues
its way two miles above the town of Bridgewater, where there is
another aqueduct over the river. From the last-mentioned place
it takes the course of the English and Bristol Channels' Ship Canal
for two miles, when, diverging to the west it passes the village of
St. Michael's, running parallel with the last-mentioned canal, until
it approaches the Tone, on the north bank of which it continues to
its termination at Fire Pool Mills; there forming a junction with
the intended Grand Western Canal, near the town of Taunton.
The length is forty-two miles and a half.

From the main line, there is branch of two miles and a
quarter to the coal and other works at Nailsea; and another, of
four miles and three quarters, on the north bank of the river Axe, by the
town of Axbridge, to Cheddar. At Clevedon Hill there is a pro-
posed tunnel of six hundred yards in length; and another at
Banwell, the eastern edge of the Mendip Hills, the length of which
is one thousand and fifty yards.

The subscribers to this canal were, at the time the act was
obtained, three hundred and twenty-six in number, amongst whom
were Sir James Dubberley, Sir Richard Graves, Sir John Ken-
naway, Sir William Rawlins, and the Right Honourable Sir
George Yonge, Baronets. They, were incorporated, in the first
act, by the name of "The Company of Proprietors of the Bristol
and Taunton Navigation," with the power to raise among
themselves the sum of 420,000, in four thousand two hundred
shares of 100 each, with further power to raise among them-
selves, in proportion to the first subscription, if necessary, an
additional sum of 150,000; or they may raise the same on
mortgage of the tolls and duties hereby granted, the interest of
which to be paid in preference to dividends or any other claim.
In addition to the line of canal, the company obtained power to
make railways or stone roads from the Nailsea Branch to the
collieries and other works in that neighbourhood.

In the aqueducts over the navigable River Brue, or Glastonbury
Canal, and the Axe River Navigation, the company are bound to
specified areas; that for the first-mentioned river to be 360 square
feet, and for the Axe 240; they are also required to make, on
each of those rivers, near their respective aqueducts, two locks
sufficient for passing vessels of ten tons burthen; and in order that
these, and other things therein mentioned, should be properly
executed, the company are directed to invest, in the public funds,
the sum of 10,000, to be under the control of the commissioners
of sewers acting for the county of Somerset.

The company are prohibited from taking the water from Lox
Yeo, and from Banwell Hill Spring, and if injury be done to the
latter, which is in the estate of the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the
fund of 10,000 above-mentioned is to be answerable for damages.
They are also restricted from cutting any portion of the canal
between the parish of Clevedon and the Parrett, until it is finished
between the first-mentioned place and the Avon; and if the former
portion be not done in four years after the passing of this act, the
power to cease. The affairs of the company are under the
direction of a committee of fifteen persons, to be called "The
Committee of Management".

Hay, straw, dung, peat and peat ashes, and all other ashes
intended to be used for manure; chalk, marl, clay and
sand, and for all lime and other articles intended for
manure, and material for repairing roads
per Ton, per Mile
Coal, culm, coke, cinders, charcoal, iron-stone, pig-iron
iron-ore, lead-ore, copper-ore, lime (except what shall
be used for manure,) lime-stone, and other stone, bricks,
tiles, paving-stones and pipe-clay
2ditto, ditto
Corn and other grain, flour, malt, meal, cyder, timber,
ochre, calamine, bar iron, lead, kelp, sand (except
what shall be used for manure,) pitch, tar, turpentine
and resin
ditto, ditto
Passengersper Mile, each
Cattle, sheep, swine and other beastsper Head, per Mile
All other goods, wares, merchandise and commodities3per Ton, per Mile

Tolls to be paid for a full half-mile, and for a quarter of a ton.


For every horse, mare, gelding, mule or ass passing along the rail-
ways, (except such as are employed in drawing any goods, for
which any of the rates will be paid)
Cows, horned or neat cattle1each
Sheep, swine and calves3per score

To pay but once a day

Boats under twenty tons not to pass locks without leave, or without paying for that amount of tonnage

There are many clauses in this act for protecting the property
of individuals on the line of navigation; but which, having a local
interest only, it is unnecessary further to notice than by a reference
to the act of parliament. In this act are recited three others, 10th
and 11th William III, 6th Anne, and 44th George III relating to
the navigation of the Tone from Bridgewater to Taunton, in which
it appears that certain persons are appointed conservators of that
river, and certain tolls are thereby directed to be collected, and that
the surplus of such rates, after doing that which is necessary for
the maintenance of the navigation, shall be employed for the
benefit of the poor of Taunton, and the parishes of Taunton St.
Mary Magdalene and Taunton St. James; and as the making of
this canal will materially injure the above interests, the company
are directed to purchase them, and afterwards to maintain the
River Tone out of the tolls received from that navigation under
the acts above-mentioned. The estimates for this canal and
branches were made by Mr. Rennie, and are as follows:-
For the main line404,314
Nailsea branch6,582
Cheddar branch19,094

So confident were the subscribers of the ultimate success of
this measure, and so eager were they to possess shares in the un-
dertaking, that the sum of 571,800 was actually subscribed
before the application to parliament; and yet, thirteen years after-
wards, the following act was obtained by the same company, to
enable them to abandon a great part of the line and its branches.

The act of 5th George IV is entitled, 'An Act to abridge,
vary, extend and improve the Bristol and Taunton Canal Navi-
gation, and to alter the Powers of an Act of the Fifty-first Year
of his late Majesty, for making the said Canal.'
This act, therefore,
repeals so much of the former as relates to the line of the proposed
canal, between Morgan's Pill, on the Avon, and the parish of
Clevedon, with the branch to Nailsea; and the company had already
forfeited all right to make that part between Clevedon and the
Parrett, with the Cheddar Branch, by having neglected to execute
them within the prescribed period of four years from the passing
of the former act.

Instead, therefore, of a navigation from the River Avon, the
company determined to make it only from the River Parrett,
a little above Bridgewater, to the town of Taunton, with some
alterations in the original line between those places; they, con-
sequently, have abandoned their original title, and are incorporated
in this act by the name of "The Company of Proprietors of the
Bridgewater and Taunton Canal Navigation." The deviation
in the original line was from Mansell, through the parish of North
Petherton and chapelry of North Newton, to the Parrett, a dis-
tance of five miles and a quarter, with a fall of 35 feet, by five
locks. There is also a branch, with a lock or basin, and locks to
comunicate with the Parrett Navigation, in the parishes of
Bridgewater and North Petherton, and chapelry of North Newton.
The estimate of the work (which was made by Mr.
James Hillinsworth, civil engineer, in 1824,) from
Firepool Weir to the commencement of the vari-
ation at Mansell was
And the variation line to the River Parrett18,854
Total 34,145

This act enables the company to take any water within four
hundred yards of the line of the canal, and three years are allowed
for the execution of these works, if not then done, the powers to
cease, excepting as to such parts as may have been completed.
The tonnage rates remain as in the former act.

The object of this canal was to facilitate the communication
between the ports of London, Bristol, Bridgewater and Exeter,
and to afford a better mode of conveyance for the produce of the
agricultural and mineral districts through which it passes; the
utility whereof can only be appreciated by that portion of the
public which partakes of such important benefits.