This month’s Illustrated talk was given by Roger Harding the Chairman of The Stover Canal Society and The Stover Canal Trust.
Roger Harding and his colleagues have been trying for years to get The Stover Canal restored for the benefit of the whole community. It has tremendous possibilities and potential for the social and environmental wellbeing of the area. In 1995 Roger and some friends examined the Teigngrace Lock and The Canal and his enthusiasm for the project began after being asked about the canal by some young anglers.
The Stover Canal runs from Ventiford to the Whitelake Channel, at Jetty Marshes on the outskirts of Newton Abbot, some two miles in length, and thence joins the River Teign and on to Teignmouth. It was built by James Templar junior, who saw a business opportunity to transport ball clay from the Bovey Basin to Teignmouth Docks. He had inherited the Stover Estate from his father. James Templar senior was born in Exeter in the 1700s and when he died in 1782 his wife and family moved to Totnes in service. His history is a little confused but one story says that he ran away to Plymouth and eventually got to India where he began a successful building business. Another story relates how he was selling silver to the Indians, another that he did much of the building of the docks at Madras. He returned to England having made his fortune and is reported to have been involved in the building of docks at Portsmouth and London. In 1760 it is believed that he was constructing docks at Plymouth.
In 1999 Roger convened an open meeting at Newton Abbot Rugby Club to discuss the canal, when to his amazement 150 people attended, showing that the interest was widespread. Between 25 and 30 people expressed the wish to be involved in setting up a Committee. Eventually an action group was formed of 15 people, then began the process of contacting the interested parties. By 2003 a tentative agreement was obtained in support of the project, but it has been increasingly difficult to finalise an agreement for a long lease. Various lengths of leases have been discussed of between 25 and 999 years. But to date they are still waiting for a final agreement. However with the full permission of Network Rail (formally Railtrack) and Sibelco (Formally WBB Minerals), a lot of debris caused by 70 years of neglect is being removed from the canal, and they are already creating and conserving natural habitats in the area.
The first James Templar bought Stofford Lodge from the Courtenay family, from whom he also bought the Bovey Basin and its clay deposits. He built Stover House, which is now used as a School. It was after his death that his son James Templar junior built Stover Canal, between 1790 and 1792, and in that year the first barge of clay is recorded to have been shipped from the Bovey Basin to Teignmouth. A jetty was built at Ventiford where the barges could be turned around, loaded, and also raised out of the water for repairwork. These barges were on average 50ft. long and 14ft. 2ins. wide with a flat bottom and they could carry 25 tons. To begin with they were bow hauled by men, some were later fixed with Viking-style sails, later again steam operated boats were used to tow the barges to Teignmouth and back. Two boats in particular were mentioned, The Kestrel and The Heron, and they would each tow five or six barges at a time. There were five locks along the length of the canal, the remains of them can be found today. The bottom lock was designed to function in conjunction with the tidal movements of the river, one lock had three sets of doors so that the water could be released in stages. James junior died in 1813 and it was his son George Templar, who in 1816 began the construction of the Granite Railway from Haytor which opened in 1820. The canal was used for transporting clay, granite and pottery to Teignmouth and thence by boat to various parts of the country. On the return journey, limestone and timber were brought up the canal to Teigngrace. By the mid 1800s it was recorded that between 2000 and 3000 tons of clay were being transported annually. By 1829 George’s finances were in decline and he sold the Stover Estate, including the canal and the railtrack, to the Duke of Somerset, by the late 1850s the trade in Haytor Granite had ceased.
By 1862 the railway line to Moretonhampstead was being constructed nearby and the canal and the granite railtrack was sold to the railway company. The canal continued to operate until 1939.
Stover Canal is ripe for renovation and restoration, and if this was successfully achieved, it would be a great source of environmental and recreational value to the community at large. The aims of the Stover Canal Society and the Trust need encouragement from all interested parties.
At the end of Roger's talk, he gave us an insight into the Canal by means of photographs, prints, paintings, diagrams and plans associated with it. Images of several old postcards showing the canal when it was in use, the men who worked on it, family parties making use of it recreationally, and the ships at Teignmouth Docks being loaded from the barges. He also showed us photographs of the work currently being done, in an effort to open this wonderful piece of local history for the public to enjoy.
He also mentioned a book entitled 'The Haytor Granite Railway and Stover Canal’ written by Helen Harris, published by Peninsular Press, an imprint of Forest Publishing. ISBN 1-872640-28-1 and priced at £5. A wealth of information can be obtained from this publication, it is well worth reading by anyone interested in this project and likely to support it.
Roger Harding was thanked for a most interesting and thought provoking talk, the meeting wished him well in what he and his enthusiasts are trying to achieve.
The guided walk scheduled for Saturday 5th September has been postponed until the Spring, due to the very muddy conditions along the site.
Details for membership of The Stover Canal Society can be obtained from: 26 Northumberland Place, Teignmouth, Devon, TQ14 8BU or view www.stovercanal.co.uk