Canals - The Tamar Manure Navigation

Begun in 1796 and intended to link the tidal Tamar with Launceston, the Tamar Manure Navigation was only completed as far as Gunnislake; a mere two river miles from its starting point at Morwellham. The perennial problem of funding, all too common with rural canals, was a major reason for this. Another snag lay with the canal's projected route, which passed through the grounds of the Duke of Bedford's proposed country estate at Endsleigh near Milton Abbot. Proposals for a tunnel under the grounds only partly mollified the Duke and this part of the route was never built. The front page of the Act of Parliament is reproduced here.

As this was a river navigation, much of the line would probably have followed the existing bed of the Tamar, only deviating to pass weirs. The Weir Head bypass with its two wide locks, enabled Tamar sailing barges to reach a wharf on the Cornish bank, just below New Bridge. Several buildings lie in ruins here alongside a granite-edged quay, including a warehouse, cottages and a fine limekiln.

The warehouse straddled the towpath end-on to the river, and can be seen in this engraving from JMW Turner's iconic painting 'Crossing the Brook' of 1812. Nearby, this fine boundary stone survives, marking the Canal Company's boundary.

Three other quays lay on the line of the navigation, at Morwellham, Impham and Netstakes. All three predate the navigation and thus do not display typical features of canal quays, although it seems probable that the Manganese Dock at Morwellham may originally have been built for the Navigation, as it has finely dressed granite edging stones: a feature shared with Gunnislake Wharf at the upstream terminus of the Navigation but with no other quay frontages at Morwellham, which use a motley variety of recycled granite blocks from several sources, and pitched killas slabs. Nearby buildings and a timber yard may also have been built to serve the Navigation, although they were subsequently leased with other parts of Morwellham Quay to the Gill family. The route was lined with towpaths, although again these were also found downstream of Morwellham.

All in all, apart from the bypass canal at Weir Head, the navigation does not display evidence of having had much impact on the upper reaches of the tidal river. It remains a little-understood waterway with potential for new discoveries. One such find has been this carved gravestone in Calstock Churchyard, to William George, who died in 1860. The bypass canal with its lock keeper's cottage can be seen in the foreground with the weir behind.