Cirencester Wharf

There would have been bargaining and haggling, tobacco smoked and ale downed

Modern residents of Cirencester may not know that the town once had a wharf where canal boats tied up to load and unload goods of all kinds, including coal, manufactured goods, and timber. There were small hand-operated cranes on the quayside to help with handling heavy items.

The canal was a branch from the main Thames & Severn Canal that ran through Siddington and is currently being restored by the Cotswold Canals Trust.

So where was the wharf?

The wharf lay at the bottom of what is now Querns Hill, less than half a mile south of where Cricklade Street meets the Market Place. It was an easy trip by horse and cart for any of the businesses in the town in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and would have been a bustling hub of activity. The area was large enough to turn arriving barges for the trip back to Siddington; imagine the sounds and smells as horses were harnessed and roped for departure or released to rest and graze after arrival. Money would have changed hands as goods were loaded or unloaded from carts and dreys. There would have been bargaining and haggling, tobacco smoked and ale downed, jokes and banter and laughter, bread, cheese and meat passed around. People would have greeted one another and said their goodbyes because barges were used to carry passengers as well as goods.

Does anything remain?

Surprisingly, yes! Parts of the towpath remain as footpaths and can still be walked, though the canal has been filled in and there’s no sign of it in the area near the wharf. There are dry stone walls that were once the boundary walls of the canal; you can see these when you know what to look for. And it’s not hard to trace the route of the canal on foot.

Begin near the bottom of Querns Hill, where it meets Querns Lane and Sheep Street, find the view in the location photo below.

Location of the wharf

You are now looking at the site of the old wharf. It stretched from close to the building on the left (beyond the parked cars and the wall) across to the right hand edge of the photo. The canal leading from the wharf headed directly through the building in the centre of the photo and passed to the right of the trees in the centre.

The trees follow the line of the old towpath

The photo above shows the same trees but looks back towards the wharf; the buildings on the left are close to those in the first photo. The canal would have more or less followed the road from the buildings on the left right up to the green bin. Turning 180° from this view there is a house built over the route of the canal, but walking around it, the footpath between the houses is again the old towpath. What’s more, a dry stone wall on the left hand side of this path is almost certainly the old boundary wall that ran along both sides of the canal. The wall is high here, about 2 m, but in farmland the wall was only 1 m or so.

The old towpath and boundary wall, the canal was where the grass is

I was quite surprised to find so much remaining and still identifiable. Local history can be quite fascinating and sometimes the detective work is easier than expected. It would be nice to have some of these remains marked and explained on noticeboards.

If anyone reading this is interested in helping to research the Cirencester Branch of the canal, please leave a comment below and I’ll make contact.

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Author: Chris Jefferies

http://chris.scilla.org.uk/

4 thoughts on “Cirencester Wharf”

    1. Good question, Nick. I’m not sure about locks, I don’t even know of information on that exists anywhere, though the old OS maps might provide a clue. I’ll reply again later after I’ve had time to check. Modest changes in level could be accommodated by cuttings and embankments, and even tunnels and aqueducts when essential. I don’t know if locks would have been needed between Cirencester Wharf and the Siddington junction.

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    2. I’ve just checked on another old map, a 25 inch OS map, still quite a lot of detail and all the locks on the canal are marked. There were no lock gates anywhere on the Cirencester branch. At Siddington there was a ladder of four locks descending on the route east, but nothing along the route west right to the tunnel entrance at Coates.

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      1. So no lock gates within Cirencester. Thanks for looking that up. I have seen one of the lock locations at Siddington.

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