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.
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.
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 on through the trees in the centre.
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 line of trees from the buildings on the left right up to the yellow vehicle, and the course of the towpath remains along the garden boundaries hidden by the parked cars. Turning 180° from this view there is a house built over the route of the canal, but walking around it and crossing the road, 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 beyond the town and in farmland the wall was only 1 m or so. It’s easy to visualise the canal here, mentally remove the tree, imagine water where the grass is, and you have it!
I was quite surprised to find so much remaining and still identifiable. Local history can be very 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.
- Cirencester town council website
- The Cotswold Canals Trust
- An old town plan showing the canal
- Inland Waterways, The Thames & Severn Canal
- Siddington village
(Article updated 20th July 2020)