Robert Stevenson , Glasgow born engineer and grand father of RL Stevenson(left )
Sir John Rennie , Scottish born canal engineer who advised Perth Burgh on Stevenson’s scheme(right )
The Proposed Strathearn Canal
OK ! I conned you somewhat with that picture of Uncle Jimmy on the Forth and Clyde heading for the Falkirk Wheel !! In reality however we might just have had a similar canal here in the Strath if things and indeed history had been just that wee bit different ! It is a fascinating tale . so read on !
The early part of the 19th century saw a movement towards the construction of canals . In Scotland the Forth and Clyde Canal had started construction in 1768 and took until 1790 to reach completion and open to traffic . This canal had reputedly been financed by monies from forfeited Jacobite Estates Whether this was the case or not is not clear but certainly the idea of canal transportation for both passengers and goods rapidly caught on and the good citizens of Strathearn were not slow in progressing ideas for a canal . In 1798 a proposal had been made by James Drummond Esq of Comrie for the formation of a navigable canal between Perth and Loch Earn . It was to be four feet deep and eight feet broad . In the Old Statistical Account of Scotland ( Volume 21 ) there are some remarks “ concerning this proposition with a view to exhibiting some of the advantages which would naturally result from the completion of it “ . The following” remarks ” are of interest when looked at in a modern and a historical context .
“ It may be further observed , that as the Highland grass farms are greatly overburdened with tenants on the proportion of about one to fifteen ; so on of the greatest improvements in that part of the country would be to ease the farms of a number of the present possessor and settle them in the straths or valleys , by erecting villages “
“ The inland parts of Perthshire should the proposed undertaking be accomplished , seem particularly adapted for the settlement of villagers ; being at the southern extremity of the North Highlands ; having great command of water falls and an immense supply of wool ; so that the woollen manufacturers in particular , might be conducted there with singular advantage “
In addition to the canal there was an intention “ that the canal should be joined at Comrie by a turnpike road leading from Stirling , by Dunblane Glenlichorn and through Glenlednick to Loch Tayside ; so that , in this manner , a complete communication would be opened through a country of some hundred miles of extent , containing upwards of 100 000 people “
Failing the formation of a canal all the way to Loch Earn , it was believed one to Crieff
“ almost upon a dead level ” would be of the greatest advantage . Fortunately for the amenity of our Strath , these proposals came to naught .
In 1807 a Bill was laid before Parliament proposing the construction of a canal from Perth to Loch Earn based on the design of Robert Stevenson , grand father of the author Robert Louis Stevenson . Stevenson, presented a “ memorial “ , or in modern parlance , a feasibility study to a number of eminent personages including His Grace the Duke of Atholl, the Right Honourable the Earl of Strathmore, the Honourable W.R.Maule, M.P., James Wemyss, Esq. Younger of Wemyss, M.P. and the other noblemen, gentlemen and magistrates. This memorial was “ regarding the propriety of opening the great valleys of Strathmore and Strathearn, by means of a railway or canal “ . The presentation included a hand coloured folding, engraved map, hand coloured with blue printed wrappers. It outlined plans to connect Perth , at the head of the Tay navigation system , with towns both east and west . Canals were to be constructed through both Strathmore and Strathearn . It had been discussed since the middle of the 18th century and indeed Stevenson himself reported on a Strathmore canal in 1817. Here he shows why the country would be suitable either for canal or railway, before coming down in favour of horse-drawn edge railways, describing the advantage of such a system over both canals and roads.
Their seems to have been some concern as to a number of points in the proposal especially with regard to the City of Perth at one end .Perth had appointed another renowned canal engineer John Rennie who had been responsible for the architecturally impressive Kennet and Avon Canal to advise them as to the construction of basins and docks which would enhance the city’s trading position in relation to the to the River Tay. The good Burgesses of Perth were concerned that the plans before Parliament showed the incorporation of land previously designated by Rennie for docks into the canal project . They seemed adamant that the canal proposition must not detract from their intentions to develop this area and claim revenue from shore dues. They would only consent to the Bill provided this was duly acknowledged and instructed the local MP at the time, Sir David Wedderburn to ensure Perth’s interests were duly acknowledged .
The actual Bill makes interesting reading and the synopsis states :
A Bill for making and maintaining a navigable canal from the River Tay near to and on the south side of the Town of Perth to Loch Earn in the County of Perth
Preamble: Whereas the making and maintaining of a canal (with basins and reservoirs) navigable for boats, barges and vessels from the river Tay, near to and on the south side of the Town of Perth, to loch earn in the Parish of Comrie in the County of Perth, through the several parishes of Balquhidder, Comrie, Strowan and Monievaird (sic), Maderty (sic), Gask, Methven, Tippermuir and Perth. In the said County would not only facilitate and render less expensive the conveyance of goods, wares and merchandise between the towns of Dundee, Perth and Crieff and other places and particularly the Highlands but would also promote the improvement and cultivation of the adjacent country by conveyance of manure and would be otherwise of much public advantage and utility; but the same cannot be effected without the aid and authority of Parliament
May it therefore please your Majesty , that it may be enacted by the King’s most excellent Majesty , by and with the advice and consent of the lords Spiritual and Temporal .
The Bill itself ran to some fifty four pages . The project was not to cost more than £150 000 and the Company was to be called “ The Tay and Loch Earn Canal Company “ . Shares of £50 were to be issued amounting to £150 000 in total. It went to say that if the money raised was insufficient more shares could be issued to raise a further sum of £75 000 by subscription to purchase more £50 shares . The king was George the Third who was in his forty seventh year of his reign .
It stipulated that a “ Committee of Management ” of nine persons be appointed who should each hold no less than five shares and would hold office until the next meeting be held the following July . The bill takes a number of pages to outline the responsibilities of their position . The Bill ( page twenty ) would empower the Company to take water “ from the rivers Tay and Earn and from all other rivers , brooks , springs , streams , rivulets and water courses within a distance of ( blank ) miles . The actual distance had been left blank in the draft examined . “ The land and grounds to be taken for the canal , towing paths , feeders and ditches , drains and fences to separate such towing paths from the adjoining lands shall not exceed 30 yards in breadth except in such places where any docks , basins or pens of water shall be made “ The proposed transportation charges given inn the Bill ( page 33 and hand written ) were 3d per ton per mile for coals , coke , culm and lime and 4d per ton per mile for bricks , tiles , slates , ores , iron and metals , 5d per ton per mile for timber , bark , corn and grain , 6d per ton per mile for wares , merchandise and things whatsoever carried or conveyed the whole length of the canal . It was clear that the canal was intended for passenger transportation as the Bill ( page 37 ) declared that the Committee of Management had an obligation to display passenger tariffs . No boat less than twenty tons could use the canal without the written consent of the Company . Any boats excluding pleasure boats passing through the canal “ shall cause his or her name and place of abode and the number of his or her boat or vessel to be entered with the Clerks of the company and shall cause such name and number and the place to which every such boat or vessel belongs , and the true number of tons or burthen thereof , to be painted in large white capital letters and figures on a black background , four inches high at least and proportionately broad , on the side of the head or stern of every such boat or vessel higher than the place to which same shall sink into the water full laden . “ It was a further requirement to fix to the boat on each side a correct scale to indicate to the Company the true weight of lading . The Bill described in detail procedures at locks and the closing of lock gates . There must have been some hesitancy in the upper echelons of society over the canal project as more and more of the decision makers began to consider the alternative of the railway . Interestingly it is clear that certainly within the town of Perth the earlier problems over land had been resolved and that as late as May 1835 it was still considered a possible
“ goer “ The front page of the Perthshire Courier carried this advert :
Notice to Contractors
Wanted by the Commissioners under the Perth Navigation and Harbour Acts
CONTRACTORS for excavating and completing a
TIDE BASIN, CANAL and DOCK at Perth
These works cover an area of about 14 ½ acres
And are to the plans and
specifications by Messrs Robert Stevenson & Son ,
Civil Engineers in Edinburgh
John Turnbull , Superintendent of Works in Perth
will show the plans and specifications and communicate
any further information that may be required
Sealed tenders must be lodged with W Wedderspoon , Writer in Perth
Clerk to the Commissioners betwixt and now and the 13th day of June next
It was not to be with things changing rapidly after the economic depression which followed the Napoleonic Wars . Canals now had strong opposition from the new railways that were developing all over the country . Instead of having a Strath bisected by a tranquil water way it was the iron horse which was to find success albeit for a comparatively short passage of time .Bumper crops in 1842 and 1843 heralded an improving affluence in the country .
Route of the proposed canal between Perth and St Fillans
The route of the proposed canal by Robert Stevenson is shown on Thomson’s map of Perthshire dated 1832 . It can be viewed on line on the National Library of Scotland web site under Digital Maps ( copy and paste to your browser )
Start in Perth at Harbour Basin
The canal was to commence in the basin at Perth Harbour and progress to Craigie and then head due north approximately parallel to the line of the River Tay to its east , through Goodlyburn and Tulloch and now running parallel to the River Almond .
Huntingtower to Crieff
North of Huntingtower – across Huntingtower Haugh and then westwards towards Methven passing south of Culdeesland – then south west – Tippermalloch- south of Redhill –passing Inchaffray Abbey just to the north –and then parallel to the Pow Burn in a south west direction through Woodend – Dollerie – Peathills –north of Pittentian – and in a north west line and just north of the Campus - through what is now the Health Centre – passing across King Street and westwards before swinging north to the Crieff Mill
( Park Manor Flats ) across the Turret ( I wonder how ? ) and towards Dalvreck Cross Roads
Crieff to Comrie
From Dalvreck it then turned south west to Laggan – west to Trowan and swinging due north to the Quoigs ( Lower Quoigs ) .What is interesting now that Stevenson took the route south of the road between Crieff and Comrie ( just the same now as then ) just east of the “ big hoose/house “ at Clathick .It then headed due west to Comrie . There are three sizable estates on this stretch and in all probability the three lairds were contributors to the canal project ( Lawers , Clathick and Tomperran ) thus the canal was to be taken south of the road and thus minimising any disruption to the amenity of these properties. The proposed route by passed Comrie by crossing the road at Tomperran.
Comrie to St Fillans
From Tomperran it headed due east for about a mile until Tullybannocher was reached . Keeping just to the north of the Comrie to St Fillans road it ran due east to St Fillans passing south of Crappich Wood , north of Dalchonzie and on into what was St Fillans but was referred to on the old map as Little Port entering Loch Earn opposite Neish Island where the current map shows
“ jetty “ on the western edge of what is the present village .