Two branches of my family have been involved with inland waterways. Thomas Castle, who was born in Carew, Pembrokeshire, worked on the construction of the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal, and Thomas Turberville was a Lock Keeper on the Monmouthshire Canal in Llantarnam for many years.

Avenue Bridge, Brewood
Shropshire Union Canal (formerly Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal)

Construction of the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal

Thomas Castle worked on the construction of the Birmingham & Liverpool Junction Canal between Nantwich and Autherley Junction. At the birth of his daughter in Gnosall in 1832, Thomas gave his occupation as Excavator.

The canal construction was approved in 1826 by Act of Parliament. Thomas Telford led what was to turn out to be his last project. By 1832, the majority of the canal construction was complete, with the exception of Shelmore Embankment, Norbury - just north of Gnosall. Because a local landowner would not give the necessary permission for it to cross his property, the canal's route had to take a less-than-ideal route across a low-lying area - which required a mile-long embankment to be built at Shelmore Wood. However, this ran into problems, and kept subsiding. It took a further three years for this to stablise, during which time, Telford died, and responsibility was passed on to William Cubitt. The canal was fully opened to traffic in July 1835. It became part of the Shropshire Union Canal in 1846 - even though much of it runs through Staffordshire.

I don't know how a Welsh labourer from Pembrokeshire came to be working on this canal - but this is one of the areas I am currently looking into.

Further details of this canal can be found through Canals & Waterways: Roots & Routes - which describes the history and route of the canal, Shropshire Union Canal Society - which is concerned with its conservation, and Staffordshire Multimedia Archive which contains many old photos of the canal.

Monmouthshire Canal Company

First reference to Thomas Turberville (1783-1856) as a Lock Keeper was in the 1841 Census, when he was in charge of the Lock at Llantarnam, near Cwmbran. The records of the Monmouthshire Canal Company mentions Thomas, aged 65, living at Dowlais Brook on a list of persons in the service of the company in 1847. He is still living there in 1851 - now called Two Locks. He died in 1856 at he age of 73, still working as a Lock keeper. His son, John, took over from him - and continued until 1870.

The Monmouthshire Canal climbs through a flight of ten locks as it passes through the village of Llantarnam, just north of Newport. It was built to carry coal from the coalfields to Newport Docks and first opened in 1796. It was badly affected by the competition from railways in the 1850s, and by 1880 the Canal had fallen into disuse.

Further information from Canals & Waterways: Roots & Routes - which describes the history and route of the canal, and The Monmouth & Brecon Canals Trust which is concerned with its restoration and conservation.

Last update: 20 Mar 2004
© Stephen Foote 1996-2004