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Gloucester Docks &
the Sharpness Canal


Battle of Whitminster Weir

The original Act authorising what became the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal prevented the Company from taking water from the River Frome without the consent of the owners and occupiers of the mills at Whitminster and Framilode. Initially the mill owners were willing to allow surplus water to feed the Gloucester Canal via a weir at Whitminster, but a dispute arose in 1833 and the weir was the scene of a series of confrontations that became increasingly heated. The issue was finally settled by the Gloucester Company obtaining a new Act authorising the purchase of the mills, but not before there had been much strong feeling and some violence.

Origins of the Conflict

In the 1830s, Whitminster Weir comprised wooden sluice gates in the bank between the River Frome and the Stroudwater Canal a short distance above Whitminster Lock. The mill owners (Mr C O Cambridge of Whitminster Mill and Mr P B Purnell of Framilode Mill) initially agreed that surplus water from the Frome could pass through the sluices to supply the Gloucester Canal. But when the river water caused silt to accumulate in the Stroudwater Canal in 1833, Purnell arbitrarily rescinded his agreement and ordered his men to shut off the supply. Cambridge believed that the matter could be resolved by negotiation and objected to Purnell's men trespassing on his land, and so he ordered his blacksmith to open the sluices again.

 Map of Whitminster area

Progress of the Conflict

Wednesday 24th April - Soon after Cambridge's blacksmith opened the sluices, Purnell's men shut them down again.

Thursday 25th April - The sluices were opened and shut again twice during the day.

Friday 26th April - Cambridge had a high fence erected and a notice board hung up not to trespass, but Purnell's men arrived by boat and closed the sluices. Further openings and shuttings continued until:

Saturday 11th May - Cambridge's men removed the stop boards from the sluices and took them away by cart, but Purnell's men nailed new boards in place. Cambridge told his carpenter to remove the boards, but while this was being done, Purnell himself arrived in an agitated state and knocked the carpenter down with such violence that his legs were injured. Purnell was so abusive that Cambridge called his carpenter away and reported what had happened to Capt Clegram, the Gloucester Company's engineer.

Monday 13th May - Cambridge and Clegram went to the scene only to find a mob of about 30 people assembled through the directions of Purnell. After some time, Purnell arrived and was served with a legal notice for him and his men to avoid trespassing, but he immediately led his men forward in defiance of the order.

Tuesday 14th May - Cambridge took his carpenter and sawyers to cut away the stop boards, but they were physically restrained by Purnell's men, and after one man was cut in the face by an axe, Cambridge again withdrew.


These repeated confrontations were eventually brought to an end by Clegram bringing 60 men from Gloucester at five o'clock one morning to break the sluice structure entirely to pieces and so let river water rush freely into the canal. This action provided a breathing space allowing all parties to calm down and move towards a negotiated settlement. In 1834, the Gloucester Company obtained a new Act authorising them to purchase both mills and requiring them to alleviate any silting problems in the Stroudwater Canal which had caused the original difficulty.


Glos RO D2115/2; PRO RAIL 829/6. 

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