MAIN SECTIONS >  Home  Gloucester Docks  Sharpness Docks  G&S Canal  Vessels  People  Studies
 VESSELS PAGES >  Index  For Overhaul  Museum Boats  Ships  Barges  Service Craft  Pleasure Craft

Gloucester Docks &
the Sharpness Canal


Bucket Dredgers

For more about Service Craft, see Suction Dredger, Fire-float Salamander, SL Sabrina, Steam Packets,  
MC Risga

This page highlights the dredgers used over the years to maintain the depth of the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal and the docks at each end.

     The canal and docks have needed dredging periodically to remove silt created by bank erosion or carried in by feeder streams or by pumping. The last of the steam-powered bucket dredgers, now an exhibit at the National Waterways Museum (picture right), was bought by the Sharpness New Docks Company in 1925, and when it arrived it was designated SND No 4. The obvious implication is that the Company had had three earlier dredgers, but this is not the whole story. The following is based on an article published in Llanthony Log, the newsletter of the Friends of the National Waterways Museum.

First Steam-powered Dredger
     The first steam-powered bucket dredger on the canal was built in 1849, when the accumulated silt had reduced the depth of water from 18ft to only 14ft, and large ships had to have some of their cargo discharged at Sharpness before navigating the canal. This dredger had a wooden hull built by local shipbuilder William Hunt, and the dredging machinery was supplied by Rothwell & Co. of Bolton. In the first two years of operation, over 150,000 tons of mud were removed, and the canal was almost back to its full depth again.

Two More Dredgers
     This original dredger was quite adequate for the routine work of maintaining a depth of 18ft in the canal, but the construction of the new dock at Sharpness with a maximum depth of 24ft highlighted the need for a dredger with a greater capability. So in 1874 the Dock Company purchased a suitable dredger from the Witham Drainage Commissioners, and it was immediately put to work to clear the bank that had been left between the new dock and the existing canal. By this time, the Dock Company had also taken over responsibility for the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, and in 1875 they purchased a small dredger for that canal from Fielding & Platt of Gloucester. With three steam dredgers owned by the Company, it made sense to give them numbers: the original dredger became No 1, the Worcester dredger No 2 and the Witham dredger No 3.

Replacement Dredgers
     By the 1890s, the Company's dredgers were in a poor condition. In particular the wooden hull of No 1 was rotten, and so the boiler, engine and buckets were transferred to a new iron hull with gantry and bucket ladder built by Fielding & Platt of Gloucester. The old Witham dredger was also in a bad way, and as there was a need for a lot of dredging at Sharpness in connection with the construction of a new quay wall, another dredger capable of dredging to 28ft was purchased from the Bristol Docks Committee in November 1896. Confusingly, these two "new" dredgers were not given new numbers. The Fielding & Platt dredger became the second No 1, and the Bristol dredger became the second No 3. To add to the confusion, the label No 2 was transferred to a steam-powered scraper dredger, built by Fielding & Platt, that was used to scrape mud to the centre of the Sharpness tidal basin where it could be sluiced away.

No 4 Dredger
     The Company operated these three dredgers, as needed, throughout the early years of the twentieth century, but as they got older they needed more frequent repairs, which interrupted the progress of the dredging operations. After much deliberation, therefore, a new dredger was purchased in 1925 from the Dutch firm de Klopp, and this time logic prevailed as it was given the next number in the series - No 4. The Fielding & Platt dredger was hired to the Severn Commission and later transferred by British Waterways to the River Weaver. The Bristol dredger had all its machinery removed and the hull was converted to a pontoon called Encore, which now supports the office at Sharpness Marina. No 4 dredger continued operating on the canal until it was replaced in 1981 by a diesel-electric dredger named Thomas Fletcher after the resident engineer who supervised the final phase of the construction of the canal in the 1820s.

Main sources: PRO RAIL 864 Dock Co. minute books. 

 Return to Top Menu   Copyright Hugh Conway-Jones 2004-05   Contact