Thames Pathway

Journal of a Walk Down the River Thames

by Keith Pauling

The Roundhouse and the Thames and Severn Canal

The Roundhouse, Lechlade
The Roundhouse, Lechlade

The river is now back in full view, and a short walk across the field returns me to the riverbank at the Roundhouse.

The Round House marks the upper end of navigation on the Thames. To the right of the building is the entrance to the Thames and Severn Canal. This canal linked the Thames to the Stroudwater Navigation at Wallbridge, near Stroud, and thence to the Gloucester Canal and River Severn.

Work started in 1783 and the canal was opened in 1789 at a total cost of £250,000. The chief engineer for the project was Josiah Clowes, who earned himself a formidable reputation for his work. He was paid a salary of £300 which was an enormous amount of money for a civil engineer in those days. He was highly sought after for other civil engineering projects during his lifetime, and oversaw many other canal projects including the Dudley Tunnel.

The canal was just a little less than 29 miles long, and used 44 locks to cope with the changes in the geography. The highest point of the canal was the Sapperton Tunnel at 363 feet above sea level. At the time of its construction this tunnel was the longest in England, measuring 2.1 miles.

All of Josiah Clowes ingenuity in the construction of the canal could not defeat a major flaw with the design. Natural springs kept breaking through the clay lining of the canal bed in the higher stretches. In the summer the springs would recede, and the holes remaining would drain the water at a faster rate than could be replenished and the canal would start to run dry. Various remedies were tried, including reducing the sides of the locks and relining one section with concrete.

The final demise was caused by economic competition. The arrival of the railways captured most of the commercial traffic, and the canal started to struggle through the late 1800s. By 1927 the situation had become absolute and the canal was mostly abandoned, although some traffic still used the western stretches until 1933. The canal is currently undergoing an intensive restoration programme managed by the Stroudwater and Severn Canal Trust.

The Roundhouse marks the start of the navigable River Thames. There is an immediate advantage to the walker in that there is now an official maintained towpath alongside the Thames from this point that will be my companion for a good many miles downstream to Putney.

Boats are moored up everywhere, and from this moment onwards barges and cruisers will be a very common sight along the waterway.

The river bank here is extremely popular for riverside walkers and family picnics. The weather has brightened into a sunny afternoon which has brought the crowds out onto the meadows. The riverside pub looks particularly busy, and it looks such a nice place to sit for a while, and I have made good time, and...

The Riverside, Lechlade
The Riverside, Lechlade

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