There were several reasons for the lack of traffic to and from London via the Thames & Severn. The Kennet & Avon Canal which joined the Thames at Reading, opened in 1810, providing a route from Bristol which avoided the difficult upper reaches of the River Thames, west of Oxford. Many cargoes were carried in larger boats sailing around the coast, particularly after war with France ended in 1815.
Customers were also put off by the disruptions and delays. Between 1827 and 1830, the Thames & Severn was closed for an average of nearly seven weeks each year because of ice in winter, water-shortages in summer and frequent repairs.
The main problem was the Sapperton Tunnel, the highest point on the canal and over two miles long. In spite of pumping water up into the canal from the infant River Thames, there were regular problems with water leaking away. A diagram drawn in 1879, shows the distortion to the tunnel caused by pressure of the earth around it.
By that time, competition from the railway which opened in 1845, had further reduced demand for canal traffic. The income from tolls dwindled from £7,000 per year in 1843, to £2,000 in 1863. By 1888, the short section from Wallbridge to Chalford accounted for two-thirds of the traffic and more than half the income. The high cost of maintenance led to the canal from Chalford to Lechlade being closed in 1893.
By the time of the closure in 1893, the Thames & Severn Canal was actually owned by the Great Western Railway who had bought it to prevent their rivals, the Midland Railway, turning the canal into a railway line. In 1901, the canal was bought by Gloucestershire County Council who undertook substantial repairs which allowed it to re-open in 1904.
This picture shows a trow (sailing barge) tied up in 1910. As the Stroudwater was wider than the Thames & Severn, cargo had to be transferred to smaller barges for carriage beyond Brimscombe.
Getting commercial users back on to the canal was not easy. Between 1904 and 1908, tolls only amounted to £300 per year, whilst maintenance cost four times that much. The last loaded barge passed over the summit of the canal in 1911. The canal was formally abandoned in 1927. Although the Stroudwater Navigation kept the section to Chalford open for another 6 years.
The upper reaches of the Thames & Severn Canal decayed rapidly. These photographs taken in 1938, show Frampton Mansell Lock and the dry bed of the canal near the village of Coates.