Report - Oxenhall Canal Tunnel, Gloucestershire - March 2015

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Bertie Bollockbrains

28DL Regular User
Regular User
Sep 1, 2014
Oxenhall is a small village in Gloucestershire near to the town of Newent and is home to the 13th longest canal tunnel in England. The tunnel is 2192 yards (1.24 miles) long and was opened in 1798 as a side branch of the Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal leading to the coalfields of Newent. The tunnel was only in use for a short time and quickly fell into disrepair.

This report is of a paddle about a mile into the tunnel from the south portal. A complete roof-fall blockage near to the north portal of the tunnel made further progress impossible. Equipment used were inflatable Seykkor Kayaks.

Visited with Huey and a non-member.


The Herefordshire and GloucestershireCanal is a canal in the west of England which ran for 34 miles from Hereford to Gloucester, where it linked to the River Severn. It was opened in two phases in 1798 and 1845, and closed in 1881 when the southern section was used for the course of the Ledbury and Gloucester Railway. It is the subject of an active restoration scheme.

The first plans to construct the canal were made in 1777, but nothing much happened until 1790 when the route was resurveyed. It was decided that a branch would be built to Newent where there were minor coalfields. Some of the promoters began to think that improving the River Wye might be a better option, but the announcement of new seams of coal at Newent resulted in a decision to obtain an Act of Parliament, which was granted in April 1791.

In 1792 the route was re-surveyed again, and recommended a diversion to Newent. This route required a 2192 yard tunnel at Oxenhall, and another act of parliament was obtained in 1793 to sanction the new route. By late 1795, the initial section was open to Newent, but the tunnel was causing major financial problems.

In order to build the tunnel, twenty shafts were sunk along its route, so that there could be multiple working faces. However there were considerable difficulties caused by the volume of water entering the shafts. Horse-powered pumps proved inadequate, and eventually steam-powered pumps were employed, but this added to the cost, and the tunnel was a large factor in the failure to complete the canal.

The canal was opened to within one mile of Ledbury in 1798, but stopped there as the cost had far exceeded the estimates. The Coal Branch to the mines at Newent was never a success as the coal was of very poor quality and the branch fell into disuse very quickly.

The second stage of the contstruction of the canal was completed in 1845 but the canal had cost far more to build than was originally planned. The whole canal had been estimated at £69,997 in 1790, but the section to Ledbury had cost in excess of £104,000 and the second phase had cost £141,436.

Traffic on the canal increased to the extent that a timetable for the transit of the Oxenhall tunnel had to be introduced in 1849. This was not always successful, as the Hereford Times carried articles in May 1851 about an incident in which boats travelling in opposite directions had met in the middle, and neither would give way. There was deadlock for a period of 58 hours.

On 17 January 1862, less than 17 years after the opening to Hereford the canal was leased to the Great Western and West Midland Railway, with a view to converting it to a railway. This did not take place immediately, but on 30 June 1881, half of the canal was closed, and sections of it were used for the course of the Ledbury and Gloucester Railway. The Hereford to Ledbury section remained open, but gradually became disused. The Canal Company continued to receive rent from the Great Western Railway, which it distributed to its shareholders as dividends, and was not formally wound up until the railways were nationalised in 1948.


First things first, I apologise for the quality of the photos, my camera was definitely having an off day.

Ready to go. HMS Saveloy (rear) and HMS Sinking Ship (front):

Entry to portal is not easy and involved hauling the inflatable kayaks down a steep muddy bank. This is after hauling the kayaks across farmer fields. I could also say that this is after giving myself a hernia inflating the damn things.

It took just 15 minutes to paddle to the roof-fall a mile in. Here there is evidence of a recent party with litter, tea candles and err a geocache box with trinkets in. Rather worryingly, a single scaffolding pole appears to be holding the roof up.

I’m wearing nothing underneath my wetsuit, and I have to confess it was a rather arousing sensation. I need to tell wifey this.

Time to return. The obvious tidemark on the walls shows the orginal water level.






Mission accomplished:

Thanks for reading


The Spice Must Flow.
Regular User
Aug 26, 2014
Nice one guys! :thumb I think the photos look fine, looks like I missed out on a cracking little trip. Sorry I couldn't make it.

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