200 years of the Bude Canal

2019 marks the bicentenary of the start of construction of the Bude Canal, a construction which had major effects on the whole area including inland beyond Holsworthy and down to Launceston. Prior to the canal these parts of north Cornwall and west Devon were very remote and lacked even the turnpike roads common elsewhere in the country. Bude scarcely existed, just a few cottages and a strand where boats could be drawn up. Stratton was the market town for the area. But the canal changed all that. Although the main purpose was to carry sea sand inland to improve the heavy clay soils, the construction also included the breakwater, sea lock and wharves at Bude and resulted, at last, in a safer harbour and a port for small trading vessels. Bude began to grow and eventually overtook Stratton.

The improved agricultural land, the availability of imported coal and timber, and export of agricultural produce and bark, all brought increased prosperity to the inland towns of Holsworthy and Launceston and villages such as Bridgerule and North Tamerton. The canal was the catalyst for all this and only began to be eclipsed when the railways came; firstly to Launceston in 1865, then Holsworthy in 1879, and finally Bude in 1898.

It was also cutting edge engineering at the time, with waterwheel operated inclines rather than locks, up which the wheeled tub boats were hauled on rails. The largest incline, at Hobbacott, had waterfilled buckets in wells to operate the incline. A reservoir, now Lower Tamar Lake, was built to provide water for the canal.

All in all, the canal was a major milestone in the area and changed Bude and its hinterland for ever; and the 200th anniversary of the start of construction on 23rd July 1819 deserves to be celebrated. Bude Canal & Harbour Society and Bude Canal Trust (who look after the Aqueduct section in Devon) have put together a programme of events for 2019. Some of these have been part grant funded by Cornwall Council, Bude-Stratton Town Council, and other bodies.