LAST month’s Heritage page showed the build of the Basingstoke Canal. This month we continue in the story but start to see the inevitable decline.

The canal was eventually completed on September 4, 1794 but in August 1789 it was discovered that 161,000 bricks were faulty and had to be removed.

During the same year, due to the shortage of coinage countrywide, Pinkerton’s produced their own copper and silver tokens to pay their workers.

These were accepted locally as currency in the shops and pubs, one being The George at Odiham.

Some of these tokens can be seen today in the Willis Museum.

Various people paid rent for use of the canal.

These included the Hampshire Brick & Tile Company paying £40 a year to be able to wharf at Basingstoke, The Surrey County Asylum paid £10 per annum for water and The Gospel Mission paid twenty shillings a year to be allowed to preach from Ash Wharf. 

As well as being used for commercial purposes, the canal also served as a water supply when fires broke out in the town.

On Monday, 17 April, 1905 the Burberry department store in Winchester Street (where Basing Cycles is now situated) was well ablaze.

The fire raged for three days and the demand for water was so great that the fire brigade ran hoses from the canal to Winchester Street, a distance of about half a mile.

Like most innovations, they have their time for a while and then fade as new inventions take their place, and this was the case of the Basingstoke Canal.

The coming of the railway meant easier and faster transportation of goods and this reflected on the use, and the financial viability, of the canal.

It was never as profitable as predicted and shareholders began to desert their investments as trade began to dry up.

There was also damage caused by the soldiers at Aldershot Army Camp, and the company’s barge, Horsham, sunk with it’s full cargo of coal.

A court case ensued in which the contractor was sued for £200 for the loss of his cargo.

Eventually the coal supply to Aldershot Army Camp was transferred to rail, followed by the transport of horse manure, and in December 1865, at a meeting held in Holborn, the decision was made to close the canal as a business venture, and the following June an order was raised to wind up the Basingstoke Navigation Company. 

As the decline continued speculators tried to revive the life of the canal but ultimately failed.

The Hampshire Brick & Tile Company went into liquidation in 1901 after efforts to keep it as a viable business and the Greywell tunnel collapsed in 1932, becoming a home for Natterer’s bats, and traces of the canal to Basingstoke slowly disappeared.

 In the early 1960s the Basingstoke Canal Society was formed to preserve and restore parts of the canal which continues today.

Although most of the canal still exists, any trace of it’s existence approaching Basingstoke have been lost, the wharf area is now covered by Festival Place and much of the small market town that was Basingstoke is now gone.

Whether it’s for better or worse is a matter of opinion.