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Severn & Canal Carrying Co

The Severn & Canal Carrying Company developed from an amalgamation of smaller firms operating barges on the River Severn during the third quarter of the nineteenth century when there was growing competition from the railways. This page summarises the history of the Company which continued trading up to the middle of the twentieth century.

     What was intially known as the Severn & Canal Carrying Shipping & Steam Towing Company was formed in 1873 by the merger of the two main firms then carrying general cargoes on the River Severn – Danks & Sanders and Fellows & Co. Based in Gloucester, the Company had a small steamer and a dozen sailing barges that could trade to Bristol, half a dozen lighters which did not go out into the estuary and about fifty canal boats which could work up river and through the narrow canals in the Midlands. They also had four tugs which worked to a regular timetable towing boats and barges on the river above Gloucester. The Company's main wharf at Gloucester was initially on Baker's Quay, but by 1885 they had moved their headquarters to the north side of the Barge Arm just off the Main Basin (photo right). Here goods brought by barge from Bristol were trans-shipped into canal boats to continue inland to Birmingham and the Black Country.

Early Traffic
     The inward traffic was mainly wheat, timber and general cargoes with some glass sand, rock phosphate and sulphur taken off ships at Gloucester. The outward traffic included iron, pitch, salt, blue bricks and general cargoes. At the request of the Coalbrookdale Iron Company, the Carrying Company took over the up-river barges of Yates Brothers and carried castings all the way to Bristol. These included three-legged iron cannibal cooking pots which were loaded into vessels at Bristol for the Guinea trade. A most important traffic started in the 1880s when John Lysaght of Bristol established rolling works at Wolverhampton, and the Company carried the sheet iron down to Bristol. Over the years 1886 to 1890, the average annual trade handled by the Carrying Company was 30,395 tons up (including 15,595 tons wood and grain) and 30,868 tons down, but it was difficult to make a profit in the face of competition from the railways.

New Company
     With a view to raising more capital to buy larger vessels, a new company was formed in 1891 with the shorter title of Severn & Canal Carrying Company. Unfortuately, the hoped for additional capital did not materialise and futher financial reorganisations were needed in subsequent years. However, the Company did purchase two new river tugs and two barges suitable for use between the Bristol Channel ports and Worcester. As the Sharpness Dock Company now provided towing services in the estuary, the old barges had their sails removed, but each retained its mast and gaff for handling cargoes.

New Cargoes
     At this time, the bulk of the inward traffic was grain, timber, copper from Briton Ferry, sugar, glass sand, pyrites, patent manures and china clay. In 1907, alterations and additions to the Carrying Company’s warehouse at Worcester Wharf, Birmingham, helped them to win back from the railways part of the sugar trade coming into Gloucester on the Bristol Steam Navigation Company ships, and they also recaptured the glucose trade from Manchester. The outward traffic included iron bars and plates for Gloucester and Bristol, red moulding sand from Stourport for foundries in Gloucester, Newport and Cardiff, pitch to Swansea and Port Talbot, flour from Gloucester to Swansea and tin plate to Llanelli. Also stone, coal, salt and patent manure were brought down the river to Gloucester.

     By 1910 the Company were being offered more traffic than they could handle, and they bought two motorised barges, Osric (photo right) and Serlo, built by Simpson Strickland and Co at Dartmouth in 1913. These had two cylinder Bolinder engines, and they were capable of towing the existing dumb barges. However, the first World War had a devastating effect on the trade passing through Gloucester as so much of it had come from the continent of Europe, and the Carrying Company suffered as well. Then in 1923, Cadbury Brothers agreed to take up new shares, as they had built a factory beside the Sharpness Canal at Frampton-on-Severn, and they were keen to support water transport to avoid the railways obtaining a monopoly.

Boom and Takeover
     This injection of Cadbury money was accompanied by the election of George Cadbury to the board, and his drive helped to transform the Carrying Company which was able to clear the accumulated deficit and move into profit again. New vessels were purchased and new sources of traffic developed, particularly the carrying of petroleum, and many Gloucester men were employed on the barges and canal boats. For details of a typical canal boat trip to the Midlands, see Going Up Country. During the Second World War, the Company made a substantial contribution to the national effort, carrying vital supplies from the Bristol Channel ports to factories in the Midlands. However, lacking the backing of further investment in the post-war period, the Carrying Company was taken over in 1948 by Lyon and Lyon, who retained the tankers and sold the dry-cargo vessels to the nationalised British Transport Commission.

     This account is based on an article in the Waterways Journal Vol 3 published by the Boat Museum Society 2001, where sources are given.

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