Context 170 - December 2021

14 C O N T E X T 1 7 0 : D E C E M B E R 2 0 2 1 Boats travelled downstream on the current. Haulage upstream was by gangs of six or more men, often walking in the shallows, although sails could be used when the wind was favour- able. Efforts to create a towpath for horses started in the 1760s, but it was not until 1799 that one was completed between Bewdley and Coalbrookdale, followed by Bewdley down to Diglis in 1804. Acts for towpaths from Coalbrookdale to Shrewsbury and from Diglis to near Gloucester were passed in 1809 and 1811 respectively. Towing by steam-boat started between Gloucester andWorcester in 1830. Following proposals, protracted arguments and negotiations, in 1842 an act was passed to create a body of commissioners representing towns and business interests in order to improve the river for navigation. William Cubitt, who had been appointed engineer, recommended a weir and lock at Upton, and four more between Worcester and Stourport, but that at Upton was omitted from the act. With dredging below Worcester, he thought that a depth of six feet should be achieved. The locks were completed in 1845, but dredging proved difficult because of low water and hard marl shoals. A further lock just belowTewkesbury was added in 1858. Trade on the river below Stourport never reached expectations, largely because the rail link between Bristol and Birmingham via Gloucester had opened in 1844.The main traffics were coal, other minerals, grain and foreign timber. In the 20th century the transport of oil became signifi- cant, although this was eventually superseded by a pipeline. Today this section of the river is only used by pleasure craft. Above Stourport trade declined after the east Shropshire industrial area was connected to the rest of the country by canal (1835) and railway (1849). The final blow was the opening in 1862 of the Severn Valley Railway from Hartlebury (near Worcester) via Bewdley, Bridgnorth and the Severn Gorge to Shrewsbury.The last known commercial voyage on the Shropshire portion was in 1895 when the barge Harry , loaded with firebricks, sank after hitting Bridgnorth bridge. Apart from trip boats which have plied at Ironbridge and Shrewsbury, the river north of Stourport has not been used by motorised pleasure boats. The Iron Bridge: a 1780 painting by WilliamWilliams. Thomas Telford identified flooding problems in 1797. (Image: Welsh Portrait Collection at the National Library of Wales) Peter Brown was the member of the council of the Canal and River Trust nominated by the Railway and Canal Historical Society (2012–19). He is the author of The Shropshire Union Canal: from the Mersey to the Midlands and Mid- Wales, which won the Association for Industrial Archaeology’s Book of the Year award in 2019.

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