The Kennet and Avon Canal is a fantastic piece of engineering work that is rightly enjoyed and celebrated by many. Like a lot of history there are a number of misconceptions connected to the canal. This post is a brief history, there is far more history than I will cover, in this post at least.
John Hore, Two Navigations
John Hore was likely born in Thatcham around 1680, by 1750 he was living at Ham Mill, which at the time was within the Thatcham Parish boundary. He died in 1763 and is buried in St Mary’s Church, Thatcham.
In 1715 a Bill was passed, The Kennet Navigation Bill, to allow the river from Reading to Newbury to be improved to allow for boats to use it. This is called a navigation, this is where the river is used and in some cases altered to allow boats to travel where possible. In places where this is not possible, or to avoid mills and various turns, “cuts” were made. These “cuts” being man-made are all but in name a canal. The 23-mile stretch has a total of 11 miles of “cuts”. Between 1718 and 1723 the Kennet Navigation, stretching from Reading to Newbury, was constructed, under the eye of John Hore. Large barges carried a variety of goods between Reading and Newbury including meal, flour, iron and coal. Francis Page later became the owner of the navigation and set to enhancing the navigation to allow 128 ton “Newbury” barges to navigate the waterway.
Apparently the River Avon, between Bristol and Bath, had been made navigable back in the 13th century but it had been hard to use due to the mills that lined much of the river. John Hore was once again employed to oversee the construction of the Avon Navigation, linking Bristol and Bath. This navigation opened for use in 1727.
So we have John Hore of Thatcham largely responsible for the construction of the Kennet Navigation and the Avon Navigation. These are two seperate navigations.
John Rennie, The Canal
The Kennet and Avon Canal Act received Royal Assent in 1794, a scheme to create a canal section that would connect the Kennet Navigation to the Avon Navigation, thus allowing traffic from the Thames in London to Bristol cutting off a long sail around the coast. A John Rennie was chosen to oversee the construction. The two navigations, connected by a canal, became known as the Kennet and Avon Canal and was completed in 1810.
John Gould, A revival
The canal saw success, but this was short-lived. The coming of the railways saw the use of the canals decline. The railway came to Thatcham in 1847 and not only affected the canals but also the coaching trade. Over time parts of the Kennet and Avon Canal became unusable. In the 1950s there was an attempt to close the canal, but John Gould of Newbury had already started to promote and campaign for the canals to be saved. Later he went to court against the owners of the canal. Gould made his living by working on the canal. Gould managed to create a petition signed by thousands a Committee of Inquiry was set up. This led, in 1961, the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust being formed and the restoration of the canal started.
This post has been a brief piece to explain the three Johns and the difference in the navigations/canals. I will write more about the Johns and the waterway(s) at a later date.
In brief, we have two navigations, the Kennet and the Avon, created by John Hore of Thatcham in the 1720s, John Rennie connecting the two in 1810 and John Gould saving them for us and future generations to enjoy.