The Westport Canal
was built around 1840 between Westport
. It remained in use until the 1870s, and now serves as a drainage channel. Langport is the point at which the River Yeo
joins the River Parret
and the intention was to enable trade via the port at Bridgwater
By the 1830's, the village of Westport was well-connected to the surrounding area, as a result of turnpike road construction in 1753, 1759 and 1823. The roads linked Westport to Ilminster and Chard, which were also on the planned route of the Chard Canal
. Although that canal would link the towns to Taunton, those planning the Westport Canal made approaches to the Chard Canal proprietors about the possibility of a link from Westport to the new canal, but this was rejected.
Against this background, the construction of the Westport Canal was authorised by an Act of Parliament
obtained in 1836. The canal was part of a bigger scheme; the act authorised improvements to the River Parrett between Burrow Bridge
and Langport, rebuilding of the river bridge at Langport, which had obstructed navigation up-river from there for many years, and construction of the canal to Westport. The scheme was supported by two local landowners, the Trevillian family and the Combe family, and so obtaining land for the route was not difficult.
The route from Langport followed the River Parrett to its junction with the River Isle. Here a lock was built, to maintain the water levels on the River Isle, and about one mile (1.6km) further upstream, the 2.3 mile (3.7km) canal turned off towards Westport, where five wharfs and a basin were built. A half lock at the junction protected the canal from high river levels. The canal was officially opened on 20 May 1839, but there were complains about water levels from some of the merchants, and further work was required to remove shoals in the river section. The project was completed in 1840, and was initially profitable. The Westport terminus gained two warehouses, a coal yard owned by Stukey and Bagehot, and a manager's office. Despite the opening of the Chard canal in 1842, Stukey and Bagehot's boats alone paid tolls on 10,402 tons of goods in 1843. The main cargoes were coal, which was brought to the villages served by the canal, and grain, which was exported via the canal. Other cargoes included incoming timber, which was stored in one of the warehouses for seasoning, together with outgoing stone and reeds.
However, competition arrived in the form of the Durston to Yeovil Railway, started in 1847 and completed in 1853. Major clearance work to remove reeds and mud was required in 1858, which caused the canal to trade at a loss. A railway through Ilminster and Chard opened in 1866, and trade continue to move from the canal to the railway until 1875, when the canal was abandoned as a navigation. In 1878, the Somerset Drainage Commissioners took over the navigation for use as a drain for the Somerset levels.
The canal is still in situ and in water, though not navigable, except by canoes on the River Isle section. The Midelney lock is derelict, and the Westmoor Lane bridge at Hambridge has been lowered. The bridge nearest to Westport wharfs has been refurbished, as have the terminal warehouse buildings. There is local interest in improving the canal as an amenity, and possibly the restoration of navigation for small boats.