Introduction to Fourteen Locks and the Monmouthshire Canal

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From Lock 8 to Lock 21 the canal is raised 167ft (51m) in just half a mile (804m).  The flight was completed by 1798, making the Crumlin Arm of the Monmouthshire Canal fully navigational.

It was soon very busy with boats carrying largely iron from Crumlin to Newport. The impact on Newport was staggering. Before 1800 the population was less than one thousand people, but by 1850 it had reached about twenty thousand. It was an incredible period of time, indeed, the locks were so busy that gas lighting was installed so that their use could be extended at night. 

The 397th Meeting of the Committee of the Monmouthshire Canal Navigation held at the Canal House in Newport on Wednesday 1st day of November 1820 records:

‘Resolved that the Trade be allowed to pass their empty Boats up through the Locks by night undertaking to repair at their expense any injury which may be done thereby, no horses to be used and the Company to find two men to attend by way of check, the same to be enforced till next Committee Meeting.’

Rules of employment were strict. The lock keeper employed at the Cefn in 1800 was fined a half a guinea for steering a boat!

tramroad webFrom the outset, tram roads or rail roads were an important part of the Company’s affairs and income. In December 1829 a locomotive started work on the Sirhowy tramroad. In 1836 a railway ( as today ) from Newport to Pontypool was proposed though not built until 1845. In 1843 discussions took place re the changing all the Company’s rail roads to railways. 

In 1848 the die was cast when it changed its name to The Monmouthshire Railway and Canal Company, hence MR&CC on some of the boundary markers. By 1854 the lower part of the canal was little used and the canal was closed as far as Llanarth Street. The released land was used for railway sidings – a sign of the times.

In 1865 the Company bought the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal to safeguard the water supply to Newport Docks. It also gained some of its income by the sale of water to industry. However, by this time the canals carried little more than general goods or short journey traffic, the coal and iron to Newport having transferred to the railways. 

In 1875 the day-to-day running of the Company was transferred to GWR. In 1880 the ‘concern’ was bought by GWR and the two canals became known as The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canals.

The last regular boat traffic was in 1920s and tolls were not collected after 1935 though working (cargo carrying) boats continued to use the canal until 1940s. The last recorded toll at Fourteen Locks was in 1935 for three boat loads of furniture.

hdrawn boat web

The era of the canal as an industrial carrier had slowly but surely withered.

It may be partly filled in and derelict in much of its length but it is not dead. It will be revived and like the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal will have the last laugh for most of the railways have gone and will not be reborn. The canal from Pontymoile to Newport and from Malpas to Cwmcarn will once more see boats, not working but giving people a lot of pleasure.

History - Ray Haydon MBACT
Photographs from MBACT Archive
Illustrations - Tom Maloney