Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The Somerset Coal Canal

One doesn't normally associate the predominantly rural county of Somerset with coal mining, but the area of  the county south west of Bath, around Radstock and Camerton, had an extensive coalfield. The last mine closed in 1973.

The Somerset Coal Canal was built to carry the coal to Bath, Bristol and further afield, and had two branches.  One formed a junction with the Kennet and Avon Canal at Limpley Stoke and ran west to Paulton.  A second branch (connected by a tramway to the main branch) ran from Midford to Radstock.  The surveyor was William Smith, 'the father of English geology'.  While he was surveying the route, at the end of the 18th century, he realised that the various rock strata in different areas of north Somerset followed a consistent pattern.  The canal was in operation between 1805 and 1898 and was one of the most profitable in the country, carrying 100,000 tons of coal a year at its peak.
Bridge over canal bed near Midford

During a recent weekend staying with friends at Midford, we took the opportunity of walking along the route of the canal between Midford and Southstoke.  This short section incorporated a flight of 22 locks, which raised the canal 135 feet.  There is now an active preservation society, see  www.coalcanal.org, and while we were walking, we saw a group of enthusiasts restoring the flight of locks.

Lock no. 15 being restored
Combe Hay flight
Apart from the first 500 yards, at its junction with the Kennet and Avon Canal, the Somerset Coal Canal is now derelict. It will be many years before narrow boats are seen again in this corner of Somerset.

Some of its route will probably never re-open, as it was built over by the Limpley Stoke and Camerton Railway, constructed at the beginning of the 20th century by the GWR for the same purpose of carrying coal from the mines.  This branch line was immortalised by providing the location for filming 'The Titfield Thunderbolt' in 1952.

No comments:

Post a Comment