Thursday, 2 March 2017

More Tales from along the Towpath

'Spring was in the air' along the towpath - 'pussy willows' were laden with pollen and nectar 
Of the 150 mills that once crowded these valleys only two are still working woollen mills. Many are now utilised as business premises, places where artisan craftspeople work, specialised shops, and art galleries. In this valley some of the foremost sculptors of our time have their work caste in bronze within one of the mills.

  A mill race runs beneath this building where originally a large water wheel would have turned

Five of these little round houses were built along the edge of the Severn/Thames Canal following its completion in 1789. They housed what were known as Lengthsmen who were responsible for maintaining the towpaths, managing the water levels and controlling the weirs. They also kept the banks in order on their 'lengths', cut back the reeds and vegetation, and if there were lock gates on their 'length' it was their duty to keep them in good order.






































Life along the waterways was not the
idyllic place of leisure and recreation that we know and enjoy today. 

For the canal watermen and their large families living was tough and physically demanding - a life lived in a cramped, confined area, often coated in black dust from their cargo of coal. They led itinerant lives crisscrossing the country along the waterways with no fixed abode. Their children, born as they travelled, were expected to help on the boat and were unable to attend school. Such a tough life resulted in the whole family having an extremely low life expectancy.
In stark comparison, life for the successful Clothiers was good - they built themselves fine houses on the upper slopes of the valley 
whilst down in the valley bottom 
dwelt rows of modest cottages to house the 'weavers' and their families 
However, as mentioned in the previous post, many of the Mill Owners were extremely benevolent to the area, building fine schools, and churches, and families tended to remain totally loyal to the mill where they worked for their entire working lives. Today one of those locally endowed schools is nationally recognised as being a top state school which achieves a very high level of successful entrants to Oxbridge every year.
old images via

50 comments:

  1. I think I would like to be a lengthsman and live in one of those round Cottages. A wonderful post full of new interesting info. Thanks. B x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That little round cottage is now a private home, and is much bigger than it actually appears as it is has three levels.

      Delete
  2. Hello Rosemary, The Canal Era in America is filled with history and romance, but England's canals seem to outdo it in some respects. The canals formed the main commercial routes before the railroads came, and Cleveland and the surrounding Western Reserve would have remained a backwater (at least for much longer) without the Erie Canal and its adjuncts. But you have those fantastic stone mills and houses, and apparently much of the canals themselves are still navigable. In America, large parts of the canal system are gone now, except for small runs dedicated as parks.
    --Jim

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Jim - sadly I feel that it was a mistake for us here to neglect our canals allowing them to deteriorate. Today it would be very useful to still be able to use them for purposes other than leisure - it would free up some of our busy roads. They are undergoing a programme of restoration across the country but only to be used as a leisure resource.

      Delete
  3. I'm glad to hear there was some degree of benevolent philanthropy among wealthy mill owners. Still no substitute for social and economic justice but better than nothing, I guess.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We have to learn lessons from history it is true Debra

      Delete
  4. Beautiful mill and round houses. It's nice that they are used for other purposes, and do not wear out. Greetings.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They are fine old buildings that have been adapted for use in todays world.

      Delete
  5. Hi Rosemary, I enjoyed strolling with you along this canal and reading all the information about it. Everything looks so beautiful and romantic now, but back in the days the hardship of people working in the industry related to the canals is hard to bear.
    Happy spring!
    Christina

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Christina - I was very happy to have you strolling with me, and glad that you enjoyed it.

      Delete
  6. I love hearing about how these beautiful old mills have been renovated. How I would LOVE to have a studio space in that fantastic stone building.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As I am sure you can imagine Catherine, inside these mills it is very light and airey with very high lofty ceilings.

      Delete
  7. We do picture living upon the water as picturesque, but of course to the ones working there it was anything but.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In the c18th and c19th that was certainly true for those who worked on the water.

      Delete
  8. Dear Rosemary, I think your round house is everyone's favorite and I can see why. It needs a few more windows and then it would make a cozy little abode.
    I see that Spring is just about to come upon the scene. Thank you for taking us along on this beautiful walk and thank you also for including the history of this charming area.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are several more windows around the side and at the back Gina, and it is lived in - I think that it is a holiday home. Yes, Spring is really happening at a quick rate now, I am surprised just how colourful my garden is already.

      Delete
  9. I enjoy the stories and love the photos ! Don't stop ! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That is very kind and encouraging of you to say - thank you I appreciate your comment.

      Delete
  10. oh I love, love, love this post such beautiful buildings and lovely photography ( and informative too!) xxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You have made my day Lyn - thank you very much for your generous comment.

      Delete
  11. How wonderful to see those photos, if not for you I certainly wouldn't know what that area looks like. I learn much from your posts Rosemary.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad that you enjoyed seeing them Margaret

      Delete
  12. Looks a nice canal walk that and I love finding out about the history of places as it can really surprise you sometimes and add a lot to any trip. Spring seems to be getting earlier every year. Snowdrops, crocus and daffodils out in gardens all at the same time and frogs already 'getting jiggy' in the local ponds.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Spring is very strange here - one day is lovely, the next pouring with rain and grey.

      Delete
  13. I always enjoy learning something new from your posts Rosemary. The old stone buildings are beautiful and have outlasted both the industry and the people who were there originally. How attractive are those little round houses, and I can only wonder how it feels to live there along the waterway. The old pictures of the families are so fascinating, and what a tough life it must have been. Without schooling, the future of those children must have been very limited.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The watermen and their families had a very tough life, but so did many others at that period in history.

      Delete
  14. We've always referred to those round towers as 'teasel towers' ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, you are right some are known as 'teasel towers' because they were used for drying teasel seed heads for use in the cloth industry - you probably know that there is one in South Woodchester.

      Delete
  15. It all looks very idyllic and I really like those cottages.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The round cottages seem to have a universal appeal Jane.

      Delete
  16. My friend's mother and her aunts were mill workers, they would be in their nineties now. Even as a teenager I appreciated they carried experiences which would soon be part of history.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I often regret that I did not ask people more about their life experiences when I was younger in particular my grandparents.

      Delete
  17. Round house, the boat, the mill .. all this place is wonderful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is an interesting area to walk

      Delete
  18. Lovely photos as usual but I get really uncomfortable when I am near or on a canal. Maybe I was born into a waterman's family in a past life.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Yes, I hadn't realised the Chalford one was different,

    ReplyDelete
  20. Your photos are simply eye candy for the soul. Thank you for sharing the history too - so interesting

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Delighted that you found it interesting - thank you

      Delete
  21. It sounds like it all worked. I just wouldn't want to have been a Waterman.

    ReplyDelete
  22. The catkins bring back many lovely childhood memories for me. I spent so much time in country lanes and fields and really miss the Devon landscape. Of course much has changed there too, and when at home I'm often saddened that things have disappeared or been overly modernized. Loved walking with you in this post Rosemary. Can see how hard life was for those canal families from the old photos.

    Hope springtime is imminent in the Cotswolds - we are having kind weather with sunshine but still chilly nights.
    Hugs - Mary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We have lots of spring colour in the garden now Mary which fills me with happiness. I love catkins and particularly those pussy willows when they start to pollinate - take care and enjoy the warmth.

      Delete
  23. Dearest Rosemary,
    Went back to see the previous post and how interesting about the carmine red dye from cochineal! Who would invent such thing back then... But for sure it left a history for the woolen mills in that region.
    When I grew up in my region of the South of The Netherlands there are lots of canals with towpaths where they pulled the barges of peat. Life at that time was rough and like the canal watermen in the Cotswold area, extreme poverty without any medical help or whatsoever.
    Love the first photo of the beautiful catkins!
    Sending you hugs,
    Mariette

    PS Pieter and I always keep our eyes open in Florida for any Canadian or Northern US license tags, as we know many snowbirds spend their winter down in Florida. But you mention that your brother drives south in the spring, so he is not a snowbird than!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Mariette - yes, my brother is there now and has been for the past three weeks. Yes, when I said Spring I was talking metaphorically and from my own perspective here where it is Spring.
      I love the catkins too, they always make me think of childhood days and my excitement at seeing them when I was young.

      Delete
  24. Beautiful photos of the canals, Rosemary. There was great inequity in the world then, as now, and yet we tend to romanticize various aspects of the past. It's good to remember the hardships as well as the luxuries.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are right Lorrie - the world may be a better place for many of us, but for far too many in our world life is no better.

      Delete
  25. Wonderful images that take me instantly back to the children's book Thursdays's Child written by Noel Streatfield. I'm glad the Mill owners cared about their employees and gave so much back to their communities. It is good to see those signs of Spring. Sarah x

    ReplyDelete
  26. We do tend to romanticize the past, as a way of escape I suppose. Especially the English past - how we Americans love it. But of course, the reality was not always so enticing. (Dickens and others taught us that.) Thanks for this post, Rosemary. Good to know that at least there were a few mill owners who thought of their workers and made efforts to make their lives a bit better.

    ReplyDelete

❖PLEASE NOTE❖ Comments made by those who hide their identity will be deleted

“You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you - you have to go to them sometimes”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh