Trade reached its lowest ebb in the 1880s, with only 645 tons passing
between the Canal and the Wey in 1882, and only 301 tons in 1885.
Investors cames from far afield. Most of the shareholders of the Surrey
and Hampshire Canal Corporation were from Lancashire. The corporation
tried to develop a scheme to supply south London with spring water from
the canal, but it went into liquidation, and the scheme was abandoned.
This was perhaps unfortunate, for there was an increasing demand for water
at the time, and many water companies were being formed.
Pleasure boating was increasing in popularity in the late 19th century,
and in 1883 there were pleasure boat stations at Odiham, Aldershot,
Woking, Basing and Basingstoke. Barges were hired out for excursions,
and steam launches appeared in the 1890s.
There was a successful revival of trade under Sir Frederick Seager
Hunt, who bought the Canal in 1895 and formed the Woking, Aldershot
and Basingstoke Canal and Navigation Company, of which he was the
major shareholder. There was an increased traffic in Baltic timber from
the London Docks at this time. There was also an increased demand for
bricks from London, as the wooden huts at Aldershot Camp were being
replaced by brick barracks.
NATELY BRICK WORKS
Sir Frederick decided to develop the brickworks at Up Nately which
had existed before the Canal was built, in order to bring trade to the
upper reaches. He formed the Hampshire Brick and Tile Company in
1897, and built the brickworks arm above Slade's Bridge to harbour
the barges. Bricks from Up Nateley were supplied to local builders in
towns along the Canal, and accounted for half the traffic in bricks. Unfortunately
they developed faults, and it was found that the clay was unsuitable.
Sir Frederick was one of the first to realise this, and he disposed of
his shares. The brick company went into liquidation in 1901, but the brickworks
continued to operate until about 1908.
Trade on the upper reaches of the Canal quickly declined when the brick
company was wound up. Commercial traffic to Basingstoke ceased in 1901,
and only the occasional barge went as far as Odiham, to carry chalk to
In 1905, a Dorset landowner, William Carter, bought the Canal and
was introduced to Ernest Hooley, a fraudulent financier to the
notorious Horatio Bottomley. The Canal then became the subject
of a swindle. The London and South Western Canal Company was formed,
the name being carefully chosen to suggest a connection with the railway,
and both Bottomley and Hooley sold thousands of duplicated shares. The
brothers, Reginald and Vincent Eyre, bought 55,000 of these,
and finding them worthless, sued Bottomley. He agreed to release them
from liability if they withdrew their allegations. He was prosecuted for
conspiracy to defraud, but on this occasion was acquitted.
THE FIRST WORLD WAR
Trade revived during the First World War. The Basingstoke Canal Syndicate
was formed in 1914, and made repairs to thec Canal and registered new
barges. Government stores and munitions were carried from Woolwich to
Aldershot during the war, and the return traffic was mainly in timber
from Fleet and Frimley, and horse manure from the camp at Eelmore.
The Canal was controlled by the Inland Waterways and Docks Department
of the War Office, and managed by the Royal Engineers. German prisoners-of-war
were employed in unloading and maintenance work.
After the war, the Government narrow boats carried only oats to Aldershot,
and returned with cargoes of army boots, rubber tyres, empty drums and scrap
metal. In 1919 the Syndicate was liquidated. Commercial traffic from Aldershot
ended in 1921 with the passage of 22 barge loads of aeroplane parts, when
army flying exercises were removed from Laffan's Plain.
PRESSURES OF DEVELOPMENT
Trade was threatened in 1900 when the London and South Western Railway
obtained an Act to allow the doubling of the width of the track to Basingstoke.
This involved the lengthening of Frimley Aqueduct. The Canal company,
which was enjoying a relatively successful period at the time, had compensation
clauses included in the Act, and the railway company decided to make the
aqueduct twice the necessary width in order to avoid interrupting traffic
on the Canal.
It was feared that the development of wells and pumping stations to meet
the increasing demand for water would reduce the supply to the Canal.
An Act was passed in 1915 providing for the payment of compensation by
the Frimley and Farnborough District Water Company. An Act of 1928,
which authorised the boring of a well near Greywell by the Mid
Wessex Water Company, contained a clause protecting the interests
of the Canal. In the event, no water shortage in the Canal resulted.
THE CASE OF THE WOKING BRIDGES
When the question of liability for the
repair of bridges was raised in 1913, it was found that the legal position
of the Canal was exceedingly complicated.
In 1911 when the London and South Western Canal Company was in
liquidation, and the Canal was mortgaged to William Carter, many
of the bridges had fallen into a dangerous state, and since there was
no prospect of the owners repairing them, Woking U.D.C. obtained
an Act of Parliament authorising it to undertake the work itself. Having
repaired the bridges, an attempt was made to recover the costs from Carter,
but he refused to pay, and together with the London and South Western,
took the matter to court to establish whether they were in fact liable.
They claimed that the winding up of the original Company had been invalid,
since it was a Statutory Company, and could be wound up only by a further
Act of Parliament. The obligations to maintain and repair the Canal, and
the right to demand tolls, were therefore still vested in the original Company.
The Court accepted this argument, and Woking U.D.C. had to bear the cost
of the repairs. One of the judges also gave the opinion that the rights
of the public to navigate the Canal remained and the owners could not build
over the Canal or destroy it.
When the appeal was pending, Carter feared that if the verdict went against
the owners, the Canal might be closed under the Railway and Canal Act
of 1888, which provided that any canal which had not been fully navigable
for three consecutive years could be abandoned. A.J.Harmsworth
therefore made an attempt, starting in November 1913, to navigate the Canal. He had done so successfully
on two previous occasions, but this time, his barge, the Basingstoke,
loaded with 10 tons of sand, had to give up at Basing. The company won
the case however, so the attempt lost its significance.
[more on the 1913 trip]
RIGHTS OF WAY
The Canal and towpath are private freehold property. It was ruled at the
Hampshire Quarter Sessions in 1955 that a public right of way had
grown up at Greywell during the period of decline at the turn of
the century when no-one had bothered to challenge it. For the rest, there
is no public right of way along the towpath, but since 1880, the public
has been allowed to use it as a privilege. This position continues under
the present ownership by the two County Councils (Surrey