River Tone Navigation

The River Tone passing through this parish is an important feature, both with regard to its value in draining a large area and to its utility, more in the past however than the present, as a water-way for commerce. That it was so for this parish many entries show, and Ham in particular was an important inland port, supplying, even up to very recent times, a large district. In the churchwardens’ accounts ” Knapp Bridges ” is named as the place to which “lead” was taken from the church for transit to Taunton and Bridgwater, and the charge for ” Lockage ” is mentioned. The river was also an important fishery belonging to the lords, and is so referred to in the Domesday records. In the report of Wells MSS., p. 145, is a long account of a litigation between the lords and the bishop of Winchester who owned the manor of Taunton, for putting up certain weirs at Ham, by which the land above was much flooded. There is a full account of the Tone in J. Savage’s History of Taunton, published in 1822, of which much of the following is a summary.

The first who formed the scheme of making the Tone navigable was John Mallet of Enmore. It was commenced in the thirteenth year of Charles I (1638). Mr. Mallet undertook it at his own expense. He having died, letters patent were granted to his successors in 36 Charles II (1683), granting to them the sole navigation of the river as far as Ham mills. In 1698, thirty gentlemen of Taunton formed a scheme for completing the navigation, not only as far as Ham mills, but also from thence to Taunton. A transfer was made from the successors of Mallet in 10 king William (1699), and £330 was paid. An act was passed 10 and 11 William III for the improvement of the navigation of the river, and the thirty gentlemen and their successors were appointed Conservators of the River Tone. They had powers to dig and improve the passage, and remove obstructions, and to build bridges, locks, etc., and to make a path along the sides, and to charge tolls. Distinctive tolls were charged as between Bridgwater and Ham mills and Ham mills and Taunton. Knapp bridges was made a chief spot to collect the dues ; and boats passing beyond Ham mills were to pay a further toll at the first or lowermost lock near Ham Mills, called Coal Harbour. Boats passing from Taunton towards Bridgwater were subject to similar tolls. The conservators were to reimburse themselves, principal and interest, at six per cent., and any surplus arising after paying for repairs of bridges, etc., was to be disposed of for the use of the poor of Taunton, in building one or more hospitals for the poor children, to be governed by the conservators.

So prosperous a state of things was never realized. To the 24th June, 1707, £3,556 had been expended, and instead of its being productive, it was not completed. The river was not navigable in winter, much less in summer, for want of a lock at Round Island by Ham mills, and removing a shoal called Broad Shoal by Knapp bridge. A second act was therefore obtained in the sixth year of queen Anne, and work was done to allow barges of fifteen tons to pass as far as North Town bridge. This act also gave power to charge additional tolls. 2s. 8d. was fixed by the act for every ton of coals, and is. 6d. for every ton of goods.

The undertaking did not prove productive until the year 1717, when the debt on the river, including interest, amounted to ;6 5,697, and on this sum dividends have since been made. The following tolls have been received :
1718 – £379 4s. 5d. increasing to
1789 – £668 3s. 4d.
1820 -£2161 2S. 4d.
1821 -£2368 19s 8d
Showing the increasing navigation and benefits to Taunton and district. The town of Bridgwater must have also derived material advantage, more particularly in the coal trade.

After the Taunton and Bridgwater canal was completed, the river fell into disuse, and now the Great Western Railway Company have rights over both canal and river. A body of ” Conservators of the Tone ” still exist, who periodically pass up and down the canal to see that it continues to be navigable, and are said to have powers to restore the navigation of the river if the canal shall cease to be so. A few boats continue to pass up and down the river, and lockage charges are still made.

The Bridgwater and Taunton canal was established in 1825, and in 1866 it was purchased by the Bristol and Exeter Railway Company.

The Bristol and Exeter Railway Company was opened to Taunton in 1842.

Text taken from NORTH CURRY:ANCIENT MANOR AND HUNDRED by HUGH P. OLIVEY published in 1901