Canterbury: The intended navigation of the Stour

Pages 139-142

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 11. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1800.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


The intended navigation of the Stour

The improvement of the river for the general be nefit and advantage of the city, by enlarging and scouring it has been several times attempted, but without success. In the beginning of king Henry VIII.'s reign, a design was formed to make that part of the river between Fordwich and Canterbury answerable to that below the former; that is to cleanse, deepen, and enlarge it, and to remove all mills and other annoyances on it, insomuch that lighters and boats might be brought to both alike; this proceeded so far, and with such probability of success, that it was allowed and authorised by an act of parliament passed in the 6th year of that reign; (fn. 1) but the event proved, that execution, which is the life of all laws, was wanting here; for notwithstanding this progress made towards it, nothing was done to any purpose at that time; most likely the differences between the city and the archbishop, as it diverted him from building here, and induced him instead of it to lay out great sums in erecting a stately palace at Otford, in this county, so it had the mischievous effect to nip this project in the bud, and it came to nothing; and although it was afterwards revived and in part put in practice, with some hopes of success, through the endeavours of Mr. alderman Rose, sometime mayor of the city, in queen Elizabeth's time, who was a good benefactor to the work while he lived, yet dying before it was compleated, and wishing well to it, gave by his will 300l. towards it, but not being looked into as it ought, the design succeeded no better than before. (fn. 2) And there were other attempts made afterwards, one of which was at the latter end of king James I.'s reign, by Mr. John Gason, who covenanted with the mayor and commonalty, within two years to make the river navigable for boats and other vessels of the burthen of twelve tons, from Sandwich to Canterbury; another in 1638, by Arnold Spencer, with the corporation, for the like purpose; and a third by Thomas Rogers, in 1695, who engaged with the mayor and commonalty to make the river navi gable from Sandwich to Browning's mill; (fn. 3) all which seem to have failed in their attempts for this purpose, though Mr. Battely, who published a new edition of Somner's Canterbury, with additions in 1703, says, that of late this river had been so cleansed and deepened, that lighters and boats came up then to the city, laden with coals, stones or any other wares from Sandwich. (fn. 4)

How this might be, I know not, as I can gain no kind of knowledge of the fact; but for a number of years past this river, between Canterbury and Fordwich, has been in no such state; and by the appearance of the several mills on it, there does not seem any probability of such a circumstance having ever taken place. (fn. 5)

In the rage for the improvements of this city which took rise in the year 1787, a grand scheme was projected to make this river navigable from Ashford to the sea, and 60,000l. was proposed to be raised by subscription for the expence of it; different methods were proposed for this purpose; one of which was to continue it by the present stream, and another by an entire new canal to go out by the Nethergong, at Northmouth, one of the antient mouths of the river Wantsume, whilst the sea flowed round the Isle of Thanet; and for this purpose alderman Simmons undertook, at his own expence, to employ that very able and skilful engineer Mr. Robert Whitworth, of Halifax, in Yorkshire, to take the levels and survey of the country, from the city of Canterbury to St. Nicholas bay, and to make an estimate of a canal, on which vessels of one hundred tons burthen should be navigated from the sea to the said city; which survey, levels and estimate this ingenious surveyor completed in a most masterly manner; (fn. 6) and the drawings, plans, estimates, names of the land owners, and quantity of acres to be cut through, are now in the possession of Mr. Simmons. An opposition from Sandwich retarded the operation of this intended canal, which had scarcely been given up, when that most calamitous war, occasioned by the revolution in France, unfortunately broke out, and put a total stop to this and many other great works of public utility.


  • 1. Anno 6 Henry VIII. ch. 17. This act is not printed in the statute books, being esteemed a private act; it is printed in Battely's Somner, p. 21, and a copy of it is in the city chest.
  • 2. Battely's Somner, p. 21 & seq.
  • 3. These indentures are all in the city's chests.
  • 4. Mr. John Rose, by his will, in Prerog. office, Canterbury, proved in 1591, gave to the mayor and commonalty 300l. to be paid to them within four years after his decease, upon condition that they within half a year after his decease, should enter into a bond of 500l. that if the river from Fordwich to Canterbury was not made navigable for carriage by water in it by boats of ten tons at the least, within six years after his decease, that then they should repay it to his executors.
  • 5. Mr. Gostling, p. 31, says, that about the beginning of this century, an attempt was made to render this river navigable from Fordwich; and he continues, but upon what authority does not appear, that it succeeding so far that lighters brought coals up to that part of Canterbury, being the suburbs of it, near Ducklane; but that when the undertaker had run out his fortune in making the experiment, he found that the coals could be brought as cheap or cheaper from Fordwich to the city, by land carriage, so that the design came to nothing.
  • 6. The following is an extract from Mr. Whitworth's report, "I have taken the levels and survey of the country from the city of Canterbury to the sea, by which I find there will be no great difficulty to make a canal from Canterbury to St. Nicholas bay, which is about ten miles and a half.— I have drawn the profile and made the estimate accordingly, so as to navigate vessels drawing eight feet water, having nineteen or twenty feet beam; the harbour at the mouth of the canal will have the advantage of most that I have seen, for though there is apparently no back water, yet it may be made to have a powerful one, for it fortunately falls out, that the level of the ground is such, that two feet water may be let into the canal on a high spring tide for three miles and a half, which is about 60,000 tons of water; one half of that quantity let down at low water, would be sufficient to scower out the harbour. The quantity of water necessary for this canal, might be supplied, as far as I can see, without injury to any one, and would take twenty-one vessels up, and twenty-one vessels down in the space of a week, and much more might be had, either on Sundays or at night, when the mills do not work."