Historic Bude Canal

The idea of the Bude Canal was conceived in 1774 by Cornishman John Edyvean, who originally envisaged a 95 mile waterway from Bude Harbour to the River Tamar, connecting the Bristol Channel with the English Channel.  However, it was not until 1817 that James Green, a pioneering civil engineer and Thomas Shearm, were asked to produce a survey.  On the basis of t heir report, an Act of Parliament was passed in 1819.

The estimated cost was a little over £90,000. The scheme comprised a waterway with a 2 mile stretch of barge canal from Bude top Helebridge and over 33 miles of tub-boat canal.  Water for the canal would be drawn for the specially built Tamar Lake.

Work began on 23rd July 1819 and four years later, much of the line was open through to Holsworthy. The Druxton Branch near Launceston was finished in 1825, completing Bude’s 35 and half miles of canal.

It was a unique, pioneering feat of C19th engineering, which included a breakwater, one major aqueduct over the river Tamar, a sea lock, two locks on the barge section and 6 inclined planes.

It became the first canal in the UK and second in the world to use water-powered tub-boat inclines, and it had the most inclined planes of any waterway.

A well-and-bucket system was used on the Hobbacott Inclined Plane (the only incline in the world where this system was used) and it worked until the closure of the canal until 1901.  Two enormous buckets each holding 15 tons of water operated on a chain over a drum, with each bucket in a well 69 meters deep.  (The Hobbacott Inclined Plane with a lift of 69 metres is the highest rise of any canal inclined plane ever constructed in the UK. Internationally, it was only surpassed by Ronquieres in Southern Belgium in 1968 – and then only just).

It was the first canal in the world to use permanent wheels on tub boats, this in effect made them amphibious craft.  It was also the longest canal in the world to be worked by tub boats.

Despite these spectacular innovations and ground-breaking work, the canal only reached a fraction of its predicted trade, (the anticipated tonnage of 50,000 tons a year was met on only four occasions in its 76 year lifespan.  Its chief purpose of carrying Bude’s lime-rich sand to poor inland soils certainly did benefit famers, landowners and the rural communities- but at a price.  The whole undertaking had cost around £120,000 and it was 51 years before the first dividend (10 shillings) was paid.

With the approach of the railways in 1876 trade steadily declined, eventually leaving one sole trader to carry goods on the canal.

In 1891, the company obtained an Act to close all of the canal except the barge section and the feeder branch to Tamar Lake.  Land was sold off, most of the staff dismissed and the inclined plane’s machinery dismantled.

In 1901, the newly formed Stratton and Bude Urban Council bought the surviving canal and the harbour for £8,000.

Read about the Bude Canal as it is today

Print Friendly, PDF & Email