In the case of the Basingstoke Canal, it was necessary to obtain the
permission of the proprietors of the Wey Navigation which it was
proposed to join at Woodham. They stood to lose more trade if the
Basingstoke Canal were driven direct to the Thames, so they agreed to
its joining the Wey.
The petition met little opposition. There was concern that the water
supply of the Itchen Navigation would be reduced, but the Surveyor,
Joseph Parker, said that the Canal would use only water which would
otherwise flow to the Thames. Asked whether Reading would suffer, Thomas
May answered evasively that he did not think the Canal would be of
any advantage to the town! In favour of the Canal, it was claimed that
the cost of carriage from Hampshire to London would be reduced by two-thirds.
An objection lodged during the committee stage of the Bill led to the
building of Greywell Tunnel, which incidentally tapped springs
in the chalk, and provided a good supply of water. The original plan was
to take the route around Tylney Hall, home of the Rt. Hon. Earl
Tylney, with a short collateral cut to Turgis Green.
Lord Tylney objected, fearing like many landowners that the Canal
would draw water off his land, divide his estates, and occupy the
most fertile stretches of land. When the alternative plan was made
to build Greywell Tunnel, he withdrew his opposition, provided that
the Canal was not built round the west side of Tylney Hall without
Other objections came from investors in the Thames and Isis Navigation,
and from owners of locks and winches on the Thames, who feared loss of
trade. There was a petition in favour of the Canal from the principal
inhabitants of Farnham, 4 miles from the proposed wharf at Aldershot.
The Bill proceeded rapidly through Parliament. The petition had been
presented to the House of Commons in February 1778, the Bill was
given its first reading on March 17th, and on May 15th 1778,
it received royal assent.
The Basingstoke Canal Act covered 85 pages. It authorised
the formation of the Basingstoke Canal Navigation Company, with
a capital of £86,000 in 860 shares of £100, and provided for the raising
of a further £40,000 for contingencies. It listed 33 original subscribers,
most of whom were landed gentry who owned land through which the Canal
was to pass. They included the Earls of Dartmouth, Northington
and Plymouth and the Mayor of Basingstoke.
The Act provided for the purchase of land, its valuation, and the payment
of damages. Several clauses protected landowners, for example, the Canal
could not be built through a garden, and the estates of certain individuals
were protected. The Act laid down the route of the Canal, 37 miles long
by the Greywell Tunnel route, and the sources of water. Any spring within
1200 yards of the Canal could be used, but no water flowing into the River
Loddon and its tributaries, or entering the Wey Navigation
above Newhaw Lock. Water from the Canal was not to be used by mills.
If minerals were found during construction, they could be claimed
by the landowner, but mines could not be worked within 20 yards of
a tunnel (culvert) without the consent of the proprietors.
The Act gave powers to construct aqueducts, tunnels, towing paths and
reservoirs. It stated the maximum width of the Canal, of 30 yards in general,
and 100 yards where necessary for embankments, cuttings, turning places
and cranes. Cuts could be made within 5 miles of the Canal to quarries and
limekilns, with the consent of the landowner.
The maximum dimensions of craft were given as 72 feet by 13 feet. Restrictions
were also imposed on the Wey Navigation regarding the dimension of locks,
and the maximum tolls to be charged. Maximum tolls on the Basingstoke were
given as 2d a mile in general, with half rates for building materials and
manure. There were penalites for damage to the Canal, provisions for the
inspection of boats, and penalites for misuse by barge-men.
If the Canal was discontinued or disused for 5 years, the lands were
to be reconveyed to the previous owners or their successors.
CONSTRUCTION OF THE CANAL, 1788-1794
Ten years passed before work could
begin, because the financial crisis during the American War of Independence
delayed the raising of capital.
In the summer of 1787 an estimate of traffic was made, and subscriptions
were invited on the basis that 5% interest would be paid during construction,
and that the eventual return on the capital was estimated at 7 1/2%. By
March 1788 the capital of £86,000 had been raised. Subscriptions came
not only from local people, but from merchants and bankers in London and
William Jessop was appointed Surveyor and Consultant Engineer,
and in October 1788, the contract was awarded to John Pinkerton,
who let out the work to subcontractors. Work was started at Woodham
where the Canal was to join the Wey Navigation, and because of the magnitude
of the task, work was started on the 1,200-yard Greywell Tunnel
at the same time. In 1791 the Canal was opened to Horsell, and
the first tolls were collected on 18 tons of merchandise.
By 1792 the Canal was opened to Pirbright, and in August that
year it was reported that 34 of the 37 miles of canal had been dug, 24
of the 29 locks constructed, 52 bridges and 4 lock houses built, aqueducts
constructed accross the Whitewater and Blackwater rivers,
and 2/3rds of Greywell Tunnel built. The Canal was not opened to Basingstoke,
however until 1794, because the Company ran out of funds, and had to ovtain
a second Act of Parliament to authorise the raising of more capital.
The Industrial revolution was a time of great social upheaval. There
were large numbers of 'navvies' who travelled around the country to work
on the great engineering projects. Some of these worked on the Basingstoke,
although the proprietors had requested that preference be given to local
labour. After harvest, work was set out to provide employment for seasonal
hands during the winter months. There is a record of French prisoners-of-war
being kept in the great chalk pit at Odiham, and it is likely that they
were used on the construction of the Tunnel and the upper reaches of the
Canal. There is also a record of women working as navvies at Greywell.
THE BASINGSTOKE CANAL TOKEN
The workmen were paid with trade tokens issued
by the contractor, a common practice at the time, since official coinage
was in short supply.
For centuries, governments had been indifferent to the need for small
change. Tradesmen had issued lead farthing tokens during the reign of
James I, and when the royal prerogative for striking copper and
bronze coins ended with the death of Charles I, many towns, villages and
individual tradesmen began to issue their own. Over 10,000 different tokens
had been issued by 1672 when Charles II suppressed them, and issued a
new copper coinage.
The coinage lapsed again in the 18th century. Matthew Bolton of
the Boulton Watt steam engine, wrote in 1789 that "I receive on an average
two-thirds counterfeit halfpence for change at toll gates, etc, and I
believe that the evil is daily increasing". People came to prefer tokens,
and these almost superseded the national currency.
Boulton was active in campaigning for a reform of the coinage, and in
1797 gained an order to produce copper coins at his Soho works in Birmingham,
using the steam press. The increase in the price of copper led to another
lapse of the coinage in the early 19th century, and tokens appeared again.
The Basingstoke Canal shilling is believed to have been designed
by Wyon, engraver to the Mint. It shows a spade and mattock in
a wheelbarrow on one side, and a man and a tree-trunk in a sailing barge
on the reverse. It was chargeable at a number of public houses in the
area, including the 'George' at Odiham. An unusual feature of this token
is that it was worth one shilling. Most comparable tokens of the period
were worth one halfpenny.