Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal
PUBLISHED: 15:03 26 November 2010 | UPDATED: 16:09 20 February 2013
The Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal was once the backbone of the county. Now, volunteer members of the H&G Trust are turning it into one of the country's most beautiful waterways.By Cliff Penny
Herefordshire has many hidden assets that the casual observer could well miss. A cherished view, a fine building or structure tucked away from the popular routes, some little known part of our history that deserves wider appreciation, or even a resource that has yet to have its full potential realised. All of these (and quite a few more) are embraced in what once formed the transport backbone of the county — the Herefordshire & Gloucestershire Canal.
The H&G Canal ran from the heart of Hereford City for more than 34 miles, utilising 22 locks and three tunnels via Ledbury, Dymock and Newent to connect to the River Severn close to the City of Gloucester. When opened in 1845 bulky and heavy goods could at last be transported economically. Ultimately the introduction of the railways led to its closure — with parts between Ledbury and Gloucester being utilised for a railway (subsequently axed by Dr Beeching in 1964).
Volunteers from The Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal Trust have been working to restore the canal as a navigable waterway which will rank as one of the most attractive in the country, an ambitious but achievable goal.
Equally importantly, we are raising public awareness of this hidden asset and of the great part the restored canal can play in tourism and the related economic fortunes of both counties.
A British Waterways study showed that the H&G Canal will provide more than £7.5million per annum additional spend in the area and around 170 jobs. The canal is not just being restored for boaters; walkers, anglers, bird watchers, nature lovers and those interested in heritage and countryside will all appreciate a walk along the towpath while landowners will benefit from the clearly defined public access that the waterway and towpath provides.
The H&G Canal Trust has ensured that the historic line of the canal, right back into the heart of Hereford City (and essential diversion routes where the canal has already been built upon) are 'protected' in the various Local Authority Strategic Plans and a large new Canal Basin forms a key part of the Hereford Edgar Street Grid proposals.
The H&G Canal Trust has successfully defended the route at a number of public inquiries but, as members stress, they much prefer to act together with the relevant local authorities, landowners and developers in the spirit of their motto 'Working together in the present to revive the past and secure a better future'.
Perhaps the best example (by no means the only one) of the Canal Trust working together, in partnership, is what has been achieved at Over Canal Basin within sight of the spire of Gloucester Cathedral. Proposals to redevelop a Victorian hospital site evolved, over many years of negotiations, into a complex 'planning agreement' resulting in major benefits for the landowner, developer, the community and the H&G Canal Trust. In 2000 Canal Trust volunteers were joined by others from all over the country to completely reconstruct Over Canal Basin — of which there had been no sign on the heavily overgrown and infilled site. With a limited budget of 65,000 more than 500,000 of civil engineering work was completed by volunteers against a tight deadline of 10 months. This triggered a requirement for the developer to construct the shell of a new building and transfer the freehold of that, and half the site, to the H&G Canal Trust. Volunteers have fitted out the attractive Visitor Centre, tea rooms/restaurant and (shortly to be completed) seven high quality B&B rooms. The profits from this nationally acclaimed building will be utilised to promote the H&G Canal and to 'catalyst fund' future major restoration.
The Wharf House, as it is known, is already gaining an excellent reputation and no-one who visits can fail to become aware (if they were not already) of the canal and the achievements of the H&G Canal Trust.
Apart from Over, work continues on a number of other restoration sites in both counties. In Herefordshire work in the early years concentrated in the vicinity of Skew Bridge at Monkhide and work now continues a short distance away at Yarkhill and, more recently, within the partnership that is successfully delivering the new Aylestone Park, Hereford. In Hereford three new bridges have been constructed for the canal, one under Roman Road and two as part of the redevelopment of the former School of Farriery site. Back in Gloucestershire volunteers have restored a crumbling listed lock at Oxenhall and major structural repairs/partial reconstruction of a vital aqueduct is nearing completion.
The H&G Canal Trust has recently started the restoration of a small 'heritage fleet' of former British Waterways working boats for ultimate use on the H&G Canal.
Thanks to a legacy from Hereford-born member Miss Beth Gadesden (who lived for more than 40 years in the Stretton Grandison area) the H&G CT has recently purchased Llanthony Lock, Lock Cottages and even part of the River Severn from British Waterways to give an assured route for the H&G Canal to connect with 2,500 miles of inland waterways.
Regular open days are held. This year in Herefordshire at Yarkhill on Sunday, August 16th (exhibition and guided walks from Yarkhill Village Hall) and in Gloucestershire there will be a Triple Open Day on Sunday, September 6 at Over Canal Basin, Llanthony Lock and Oxenhall.
With some 1,300 members (all over the country and abroad) 'armchair members' are equally welcomed in the H&G Canal Trust as are those who get involved with both pen and spade.
Monthly social meetings are held in the county, members receive a quarterly full-colour magazine The Wharfinger and, for those with internet access, the website www.h-g-canal.org.uk contains a huge amount of information on the H&G Canal and the Trust. Alternatively, more information is available by post from H&G Canal Trust at 6 Castle Street, Hereford, HR1 2NL, or visit The Wharf House at Over Canal Basin, Gloucester, GL2 8DB. Open every day.