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When was the Torrington Canal in operation and where was it?

The Torrington Canal, also known as the Rolle Canal, was in use between 1827 and 1871 when it was replaced by the railway which was built over sections of the same route.  It was seven miles long from Sea Lock, a tidal lock on a bend of the Torridge in the small parish of Landcross, to Torrington.

John Lord Rolle, lord of the manor, set about having a canal built in 1823 so that heavy goods such as lime, coal, clay, sand and timber could be brought inland from the port of Bideford.  Civil engineer, James Green, designed a canal similar to the one at Bude that he had recently constructed using inclined planes instead of locks and along which square tub boats would be hauled by horses.

From Sea Lock the canal ran in pretty much a straight line to Annery Kilns, across the river from Weare Giffard, where there were three large lime kilns and a shipyard nearby where the tub boats for the canal were most likely built.  

From Annery Kilns the canal curved in a gentle arc to a wide basin at the foot of the inclined plane at Ridd where the boats were hauled up singly some 40ft by means of a continuous chain worked by a massive wooden wheel.  Once they reached the upper basin, the boats continued along the canal which ran along the western bank of the Torridge on a ledge cut into the steep hillside above the river and then turned sharp left over an aqueduct which is now the entrance drive to Beam House.

The next section of the canal curved around the steep slope of Furzebeam Hill high above the River Torridge and then crossed open fields to Staple Vale at the foot of Torrington commons, under the road leading to Rothern Bridge and alongside the river to the bottom of Mill Street by the bridge at Taddiport.  The canal basin here was the main centre for the canal and its various enterprises.

It was originally intended that the canal should only extend as far as Taddiport but lobbying from farmers further inland persuaded Lord Rolle to extend the canal under Castle Hill alongside the Torridge to the New Town Mills (now Orford Mill holiday apartments) at Woodland Ford.  The New Town Mills had their own wharf on a large canal basin which also served as a mill pond for the water-powered corn mill and saw mill.  Beyond the mill basin the leat was extended and widened to take the canal a further 200 yards to the site of five new lime kilns completed in July 1827 at Rowe’s Moor, the largest group of kilns in North Devon.

Eventually, the canal extended beyond Rosemoor through Darkham Wood to the weir on the Torridge rebuilt in 1837 to ensure a reliable flow of water in the canal at all seasons.  A stone quay was constructed at the end of the canal next to the weir which was known as Healand Docks.

At first the canal was profitable but it became ever more expensive to maintain and closed in 1871 when the new lord of the manor, the Hon. Mark Rolle, supported the building of a railway which would link Torrington to larger towns.  The Bideford to Torrington railway line was opened on 18th July 1872.