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The Exeter & Crediton Canal

by Alan H Mazonowicz
Page updated 14th July 2017

Also see Exeter Quay and Canal

During the construction of the flood relief channel above Exe Bridge in 1973, a large amount of brickwork was discovered by the contractors in the path of the works. It was reported to the Exeter Industrial Archaeology Group who considered it to be the remains of the projected Exeter and Crediton Canal. The Royal Albert Museum and the contractors were happy for the group to investigate the site before work progressed.

The site revealed the remains of a lock chamber some 80 feet long and 14 feet wide and lower than the normal height of the river. The difference in level between Trews Weir and Blackaller Weir being some 12 feet. The remains consisted chiefly of the brick abutments on which would have hung the gates, the sluice which would have filled the chamber from the upper pound, the sill on which the gates would have rested and the timber floor of the lock chamber. It was normal practice, in marshy ground, to base the lock on a wooden floor. The sides of the lock consisted of a continuous brick wall, but only 2feet high, which suggested that it was unfinished. As the site was at the bottom of a trench which had already been cleared for construction of the flood relief channel, there were no remains of lock gates or of the other abutment.

Canal mania began in Britain in the 1750`s (only to be replaced by railway mania in 1830`s) and in January 1793 a meeting of private subscribers took place to plan the construction of a canal from Exeter to Crediton. A large sum was raised and a survey commissioned to ascertain route and cost.

In February 1793 a rival scheme met in Crediton to discuss a canal from Topsham via Crediton, forming a junction with the Grand Western Canal. This became the Public Devonshire Canal Project. Eventually, in 1795, the two factions reached a compromise.

The Exeter and Crediton scheme was surveyed in 1800 and shares issued. The Exeter and Crediton Canal Act was passed, on 20th June 1801.

"... for improving and extending the navigation of the River Exe, from the public quay at Exeter to the public road adjoining Four Mills near Crediton, in the County of Devon, by making a navigable canal or cuts, and deepening and widening such parts of the rivers Exe and Creedy, as shall be necessary for that purpose".

Work was immediately begun. The first section, around the weirs above Exe Bridge, appears to have been completed, but by 1808 Charles Vancouver, reporting on the state of agriculture in the county, says:

"The work is now completed as far as Exweek, but under the present arrangements, no sanguine expectations are generally entertained of its being shortly accomplished with a favourable issue".

In September 1818 the canal was abandoned and the land sold off. By 1830 Priestley`s Navigable Rivers and Canals remarks:

"no further steps appear to have been taken for carrying its powers into execution, nor is there now much prospect of it."

A surveyors report of 1825 has recently been discovered concerning flooding caused by the condition of the canal bank, and which mentions the dilapidated condition of the lock gates.

The whereabouts of the canal can be seen on subsequent maps of the area and photographs taken in the early 20th century. However, after the blitz of World War II, the rubble from the city was spread over the area and obliterated any traces.

© 2010 text and photographs by Alan H Mazonowicz - not to be used without permission.

Route map for the canal

Route map for the canal.

Seal for a share certificate

Seal for a share certificate for the Exeter and Crediton canl company.

Looking down river

Looking down river, showing where the canal would have started.

Looking along the length of the canal cut

Looking along the length of the canal cut.

The side of the cut with a brick tube

The side of the cut with a brick tube to transfer water from the river to the lock.

Elm was used at the base of the lock

Elm was used at the base of the lock for the slot for the lock gate to swing in.

Detail of some brickwork

Detail of some brickwork.

Closer view of brick and stonework

Closer view of brick and stonework on one side of the lock.

Detail of some brickwork

Detail of some brickwork.

Closer view of brick and stonework

Some of the volunteers investigating the remains.


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