Lane Fox and St John’s Pill

This page provides some information about St John’s Pill, which flows into the Suir in Waterford. More information about the restoration and improvement of the waterway is available on the St John’s River Fightback blog and on this Facebook page, which shows continuing work on improving the river and walkway.

Under the heading “Tramore Road Kayak Trip”, the blog page gives some information from Thomas Deegan of the Waterford History Facebook Group about the history of the waterway. He says that George Lane Fox had the straight stretch of river, running along the Tramore Road, canalised as part of a famine relief scheme in 1847. I have come across a piece of information that adds some background: it seems that Mr Lane Fox had been planning the development as early as 1830.

On 7 July of that year Thomas Wyse junior gave evidence to the Select Committee on the State of the Poor in Ireland. His evidence is in the Third Report, available on EPPI here. The point under discussion was that a “reluctant proprietor”, who was unwilling to join neighbouring landowners in bringing about some proposed improvement [such as a road, canal or bridge, or drainage or embankment works], could halt the entire project. Wyse was asked for examples; he said:

There is in the immediate neighbourhood of Waterford, bounding my father’s estate, a property of Mr Lane Fox’s of very considerable extent, I suppose to the extent of more than 300 acres; this estate lies between Waterford and the small town of Tramore, a bathing place of great resort in the summer months. A great portion of this estate is a marsh, in winter almost constantly overflowed by hill-streams and the tide of the river, and when affected by the heat of the sun productive of noxious effluvia, of considerable injury to the health of the inhabitants.

It was extremely desirable to have this land drained; it would be productive of the greatest utility to Mr Lane Fox individually, but of scarcely less to the city at large, and it has long been in contemplation to have a canal and a road from Tramore to Waterford; the ground is almost a continued level, and the expense consequently would be small, I believe not exceeding moer than £6000; but owing partly to the apathy of the proprietors on the line, and partly to the difficulty of raising money, from the want of concurrence on the part of grand juries, the work has not been undertaken, and the estate lies in precisely the same condition that it has lain for many years back.

Wyse said that Lane Fox’s engineer had told him that the work could provide jobs for all the unemployed people around Waterford for over three years. Lane Fox proposed to allocate the reclaimed land to his existing tenants. The health of the local residents would be improved by draining the marsh; Wyse’s own tenants told him that “situations in the neighbourhood are objected to in consequence of an opinion that the air is not good”.

The canal might have had other benefits: 1200 acres of the back strand at Tramore were “generally overflowed whenever the tide comes in” and could be drained, providing excellent land, as was shown by a small portion that had already been reclaimed. Mr Power of Bellevue, and his agent Mr Rivers, had embanked some of it, but further reclamation would require a way of getting rid of the “back water”, which the canal could have done.

However, “defects of the law, which do not permit the co-operation of individuals interested locally in effecting these drainages and canals and embankments”, prevented progress. To quote Wyse again:

At a late meeting, which was held in the beginning of this summer by several of the proprietors, one of the principal objections to the improvement was the conviction that a particular Act of Parliament would be necessary, in order to compel such proprietors as might be unwilling to allow it to pass through their lands; and this conviction so operated upon the minds of many concerned, that they were inclinded to give up the work in despair; and it was generally regarded, from the experience of the failure of former attempts by the city, as altogether visionary and impracticable.

It appears, therefore, that Lane Fox’s original plan was for a drainage rather than a navigation canal, but in many places in Ireland canals built for the first purpose also served the second.


One response to “Lane Fox and St John’s Pill

  1. Pingback: St John’s Pill: an update | Irish waterways history

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