Bulletin 417

The Lugg Navigation. by Alan Stoyel

This is a brief summary of a talk I gave, beset by technical difficulties with the projector, to the Society on Friday November 17th. A.S. 

There had long been a dream of bringing commercial traffic up the rivers Wye and Lugg as far as Hereford and Leominster respectively. In 1695 an Act was passed which made both these projects possible at last. This was followed, two years later, by a survey by Daniel Denell, who specified nineteen problem locations on the River Lugg. These sites were taken in hand, and, within a few years, the whole length of the river was navigable from just below Leominster down to the River Wye at Mordiford. To achieve this a number of mills and weirs were demolished, and the bridges modified in order to provide arches, sufficiently high and wide to take the river traffic. In many cases the central arch of a bridge was broken out, and a temporary drawbridge installed, until a permanent, higher arch was built, usually many years later.

Two of the mills survived, at Hampton Court and Tidnor (below Lugwardine), together with their weirs. Therefore two locks had to be provided to enable boats to pass up- or down-stream. Other locks were constructed just upstream of where the Lugg joined both the Arrow and the Wye, in order to deal with changing differences in the water levels. However, after all this work had been carried out, there appears to have been very little traffic. One new mill was even constructed after the navigation work had been completed – Lugg Bridge Mill, just downstream of the main Hereford to Worcester road. Alongside this a fifth lock had to be built.

At Tidnor, the mill was converted to an iron foundry, and this must have relied on river transport for conveying heavy loads in and out. Lugg Bridge Mill expanded in the early 19th century to become the largest in the county, and is thought to have shipped much grain in and flour out by boat.

Goods on the Lugg Navigation would have been conveyed primarily by trows. These were specialised sailing craft, broad in the beam and with almost flat bottoms. Propelled by sail or hauled by men, the trow had a mast which could be lowered for passing under bridges. The trow was purpose-made for the job. “The Hereford Bull”, built for the Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant in 2012, is a modern example.

Use of the Navigation upstream of Lugg Bridge Mill appears to have ceased by the 1830s. The last phase of the Gloucester to Hereford Canal was completed in 1845 and an aqueduct to carry it across the Lugg was built with low arches, thus finally sealing the fate of navigation upstream. Some river transport downstream of Lugg Bridge Mills continued for a while, but the river gradually reverted to its former state. To a casual observer there is little to be seen now of the River Lugg’s former adaptation and use as a commercial waterway.

There is still much field evidence remaining, however. The old road bridges, viewed from the riverside, show arches which had to be raised, and maybe widened. The locks, too, have all left their traces. These are testament to an extraordinary amount of hard work and ingenuity which never really resulted in a satisfactory link between Leominster and the navigable River Severn.