The Village of Beer: East Devon

The Ship Canal and Harbour

In 1792 an Act of Parliament was passed for the construction of a harbour at Beer. This Act was renewed in 1820, appointing new Commissioners and authorising the Lord of the Manor, then Lord Rolle, to charge fees to users of the harbour.

In the first quarter of the 19th century, plans were drawn up for a Ship Canal. This was to join the English Channel at Beer with the Bristol Channel at Stolford, thus avoiding the dangerous navigation of Land’s End. The engineer was to be Thomas Telford. A harbour was to be built at Beer which has deep water close to shore and high cliffs to the west. A pier was to be built to the western side from Hall’s Point projecting eastwards approximately 900ft and another from White Cliff projecting southwards 2500ft on the eastern side. The entrance to the canal was to be by a series of locks each with an 8ft rise. This would have been cut out of White Cliff.

The Canal would have crossed the rivers Coly and Yarty and then run west of the river Axe from Cloakham. It would then have past Chard, slightly to the west of Taunton, on to Bridgewater, finishing at Stolford where another harbour was to be built.

An Act of Parliament was passed in 1825 giving permission for the project after taking evidence from interested parties including the smuggler, Jack Rattenbury! Two of the local landowners, Sir William Pole of Shute and Lord Rolle of Bicton had a considerable interest in the project as the canal would cross their lands, thus providing them with additional revenue. A marine expert was required to give evidence about the sea conditions in the Lyme Bay area and so they paid for Jack Rattenbury to travel to London to give evidence to the House of Commons.

Neither the harbour nor the Canal were ever built, apart from a small section of the proposed canal from Chard to Creech St Michael.

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