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Balance Lock excavations complete. More Pics and details to follow

Book: "Men of Iron"     Details
. The 'official' website is here

The Dorset & Somerset Canal.

Updated: Jan 2019. New GoogleMaps (see below)

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BRIEF HISTORY ( A more detailed history can be found here)

The Dorset & Somerset Canal was planned to connect the Bristol and English Channels by building a canal from Bath to Poole, via Wincanton & Frome.
map to show
James Fussell IV promoted this scheme heavily as he saw it would help his extensive IronWorks at Mells .
(Link to new
Fussels iron Industry Society, showing an interesting picture of the old works).
fussells (Mells would have served by a branch from Frome).

Routes via Blandford and Wimborne or via the Piddle valley and Wareham were discussed. The route authorised in 1796 went from the Kennet & Avon Canal
somewhere near Bradford-on-Avon southwards to near Sturminster Newton, with an 11 mile branch from Frome to Nettlebridge Colleries.
Both the main and branch cuts were to be heavily locked, with the latter having a fall of 264ft from the colleries. For this reason a Boat lift was promoted, by Fussell and others(see later) Some 8 miles of this branch (seen as likely to be the most profitable part, serving collieries) were built, but the cost was more than had been estimated. After unsuccessfully trying to raise more funds in 1803, work was abandoned. Various reasons have been put forward for this loss in money including the costs of the Napoleonic wars and rogue shareholders.
It had been intended that the canal would carry mainly coal, but it is believed that only one contractor's boat ever used it

The canal suffered from being built from the middle with no complete "ends". Attempts were made in 1825 to revive the project, but this too failed.

Chief engineer was a Mr Bennett, living nearby in Frome. He was also one of the Committee's parliamentary deputation in 1797. However in 1803 when construction of the canal had ceased, he became the Chief Engineer to the SCC (Somersetshire Coal Canal), where he was senior to William Smith.

FUSSELL'S BALANCE LOCK. The iron master, James Fussell, of Mells, patented in 1798 a "balance lock" or Boat Lift (new pics (May 2003)), and a trial 20ft lift for the Dorset & Somerset Canal was built at Barrow Hill (1900 OS Map), near Frome. It had a large masonry chamber, divided into two parts. Each part contained a caisson (or tank) of water, to accommodate 10-ton boats. The caissons were counterbalanced and supported by chains. The lift was successfully demonstrated in 1800 and the pits for four other "balance locks" were also dug. However, their remains are not accessible by any public footpath. For more detail please see this site.

Courtesy of GoogleMaps

Double click on the above map


Walking the Canal
(please refer to the above maps) You may be interested in this internet link:

1. Edford Bridge (ST 668489).
About 75 yards north of the Duke of Cumberland, a footpath heads west (over a wooden stile) along the bed of the canal. It leads to the old packhorse bridge over the canal, which retains its parapet on the east side. The underside of the arch has been infilled to prevent its collapse. Crossing over the drove road and descending the far side, the other face of the bridge can be seen, but all trace of the canal westwards has disappeared. Returning to the main road, there is a masonry-lined chamber, still with water, a few yards to the left (north).

2. Eastwards towards Ham
Taking the footpath waymarked to Ham, follow the field edge then go through the gap in the hedge. Beyond this, the footpath follows the towpath on the south side of the canal bed, clearly defined for some 100 yards and raised on a slight embankment on the side of the valley. In the woodland beyond this, there is little trace of the canal and the footpath is difficult to follow.

3. Westwards from Ham.
Opposite a pole-mounted electricity transformer (labelled Ham Corn Mill), a waymarked footpath heads west over a stile and curves round to the south, then over another stile into woodland. It runs along the towpath for 200 yards, with the damp canal bed on the north side. Return to the road and cross to the east side.

4. Ham to Coleford.
Over a wooden stile by a metal gate, the waymarked path continues along mown grass between hedges. After 100 yards or so, the canal becomes clearly visible, the path following the towpath on its south bank. After crossing a stile, the canal can be followed through woodland until it enters a cutting. The path rises around the edge of the cutting and then, after another stile, descends to rejoin the towpath. Alongside a wooden footbridge and stile, a short stretch of the cut retains water. Emerging from a stile into an open field, the canal disappears. Follow the path along the northern boundary of the field and beyond to join the road in Coleford (alongside Positus Cot).

5. Coleford Aqueduct (ST 685488). (See this link for a picture)
Almost opposite, a signposted footpath heads northwards from the side of Old Stilings Cottage. From the path, there is a good view of the stone-faced two- arch aqueduct which spans the valley. Although now lacking any parapet, it was described in an 1825 pamphlet as a "noble and stupendous aqueduct". Return to the road and continue downhill; the aqueduct's south face can be seen behind the modern houses. At the T- junction, turn left up the hill to the Methodist Church.

6. Coleford Embankment (ST 687489).
Passing through a stile in the stone wall just north of the Methodist Church, the course of the canal is discernible by the broken line of trees; a short length is in water. Take the path across the canal and a metal stile; it continues via the towpath, over an embankment and along the hillside. The canal bed disappears as it crosses a field but a short stretch can be seen on the far side, before it disappears into a cutting which was intended to be a tunnel.
(There is a good, lengthy description of a walk from Coleford to Edford in Weigh-House (no29. Winter 1999/2000))

7. Vobster Bridge (ST 707494).

Just south of Vobster Cross, the road crosses the canal by a bridge; it retains its parapet on the east side, beyond which the canal bed lies in thick under- growth. On the west side, the bridge arch (filled in) and mown course of the canal bed can be seen. East of Vobster Cross, the line of the canal can be seen as a line of trees curving round the south side of the field.

8. Conduit Bridge (ST 730506).
Although there is no footpath here, the bed of the canal is visible to the east of the bridge, north of the railway.

9. Murtry Aqueduct (ST 762498).

Take the footpath from the stile on the west side of the main road, alongside the railway. The canal bed appears on the left and, by turning left over a stile, it can be followed to its crossing of the Mells River. A stone arch marks the beginning of an embankment; bear right, to the river, to see the stone, east face of the three-arch aqueduct. By returning to the start of the embankment, you may cross to its west side and see its well-preserved stone face.

10. Whatcombe Wall (ST 771494).
Leave the road by a gate to cross the railway diagonally via a footpath and through a gate. The path gradually descends alongside an increasingly tall stone wall, the face of the canal embankment. At the south end of the wall, it can be seen that the west side of the canal is marked by a hewn rock face. A short length of canal bed continues southwards


The Dorset & Somerset Canal (Kenneth Clew)
Old Mendip (Robin Atthill)
Canal Inclines and Lifts (David Tew)

The Canals of South West England (Charles Hadfield)
(All sadly out-of-print at the moment except for the "Tew" book on lifts. This can be difficult to obtain. However it may be possible to order it using the "Books?" link below.
Books? on canals and related topics, please see: Browse here

TOURIST INFORMATION The Round Tower, The Black Swan, 2 Bridge Street, Frome, BAl1 1BB(tel. 01373 467271)

BUS SERVICES There is little or no car parking close to the canal. Bus 184 runs between Bath and Frome via Holcombe, Coleford and Mells. Details from Badgerline (tel. 01225 464446).


Edford: Duke of Cumberland PH
Coleford: King's Head PH
Highbury: Eagle Inn PH ; Fish & chips
Vobster: Vobster inn PH
Mells: Talbot Inn PH
Spring Gardens: Farmers Arms PH


Copyright: 1996 The Inland Waterways Association The leaflet from which this document has been scanned, has been published by the West Country branch of t the IWA, a national charity which cares for our waterways heritage.

Local contact: Derrick Hunt Tel.: 01225 863066
new address
43 Greenland Mills
Bradford on Avon
BA15 1BL


Although great care has been taken in preparing this leaflet/web page, no responsibility can be accepted for any errors or their consequences.

Old News Stories
(Feb. 2000)
Murtry Old Bridge - £7 000 grant from English Heritage.
Already the structure has beeen cleared and some of the stonework replaced.
All vegetation has now been cleared too-for the first time ever!

  • Aqueduct parapet stones now recovered and reassembled (on dry land).

  • Regular work-parties are held here. Please contact Derrick Hunt (above).

Web Links

The first link must be: The Somersetshire Coal Canal and the official site

A new site for the The Kennet and Avon Canal Trust (our near neighbours).

Fussels iron Industry Society (New).Also : Frome Museum which is now

(changed last year) and Frome Society for Local Study .


The Inland Waterway Association.

The National Waterways Museum

Wilderness Boat Owners Club - a colourful site with a Virtual Clubhouse

Try: Blacksheep Gateway This is an excellent 'gateway' site on canals generally.

The Wilts and Berks Canal An excellent site on a near neighbour. The plan is to open 67 miles of canals, including the branches! They have a specific Bath-Bristol Officer. (The canal at its southern end joins the Kennet & Avon).The interactive mapis quite good - and shows the Swindon area.

The Shropshire canal

The Black and White, the story of the Lancaster Canal 1772-1997" The Black & White

Radstock Museum.

New, is a site dealing with - Somerset Somerset Villages.

Please e'mail me with news/comments at:



The Murty Aqueduct (opposite).

This fine structure dates from 1796 and was planned to to carry coal and the products of Fussell's Iron and edged Tools over the Mells River near Hapsford.

Conservation work on this important structure has been undertaken with help from the Environment Agency.

Regular Work Parties are held.
For a more informative picture please visit
this link. For an interactive enlarged version of the map below either press here or on the map itself.