Category Archives: Exeter Canal

The Exeter Canal

The Exeter Canal

Exeter has a perfectly good river on its doorstep so why was there a need for a canal you may ask. For the answer to that we need to go back to the late 13th century when the Countess of Devon, a member of the Courtenay family, built a weir across the river just upstream from Topsham in order to power her mills on either side of the river.

Up until this point the river was navigable up to the city walls, but the weir made it difficult for boats to reach the city even though the Countess left a gap in the middle of the weir. Worse still, in 1311 her cousin, Hugh de Courtenay, blocked the central section, effectively forcing the ships bound for Exeter to unload at his quay in Topsham.

The Courtenay family were very influential and Henry Courtenay, the 1st Marquis of Exeter, was a close friend of King Henry VIII, which was just asking for trouble if you ask me, and the Marquis unsurprisingly ended up losing his head on Tower Hill in 1539. Falling out of favour with the King meant that all his lands were confiscated and the city of Exeter was eventually granted the right to tear down the weir. Unfortunately, it was all a bit too late as the river had silted up, and to overcome the problem it was decided to build a canal linking Countess Wear (!), as it became known (and still is), to the city.

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