Stourport began to grow around the canal basins at the Severn terminus of the Stafford and Worcester Canal, which was completed in 1768. In the following years and with the connection to the Birmingham Canal, Stourport became the principal distribution centre for goods to and from the West Midlands. The canal terminus was built on meadowland, first called Stourmouth, then Newport, the final name of Stourport was settled on by 1771.
The population of Stourport rose from about 12 in the 1760s to 1300 in 1795. Over twenty years the town grew from one house to several streets and as the trade increased towards the end of the century it is said to have double in size over a two year period.
Many fine Georgian buildings surround the basins, the finest is the Tontine. The Directors of the Staffs and Worcs Canal Company decided to have their headquarters and Commercial Hotel at Stourport, overlooking the River Severn. It opened in 1788 and was the Canal Company at its elegant best. 100 beds and a ballroom, business was conducted here followed by lavish meals containing only the very best meats and wines. However the large dividends that paid for everything came to an end with the coming of the railway in 1862 and by 1880 only a small inn was all that was left, the remainder of the building having been let out as houses.
Today £220,000 will buy you a slice of the Tontine, now a three bedroom house looking out over the basin.
There are five canal basins in Stourport. The two larger basins – the Clock Basin next to the Warehouse with its clock tower; the Upper Basin from where the canal heads towards Kidderminster; the smaller Lichfield Basin surrounded by a modern development with none accessible moorings; the Lower Basin forms part of the broad beam canal structure enabling the larger and wider trows to gain access to and from the port from the River Severn, and finally the Engine Basin adjacent to the Engine House which once housed a steam pump that was used to pump water into the Basins helping to maintain an adequate water level. In 1781 a second link to the river was built with two pairs of staircase narrow locks. Today the street lights echo the shape of the cranes that once used to surround the basins.
The Warehouse building is the oldest in the Basin, built around 1770 when the canal and basins were being constructed. The clock in the tower is over 200 years old and was funded by 71 subscribers who raised £247: 16s: 0d around £6000 today. The clock was built with one large bell, another two were added to mark the quarter. Luckily for us it currently only chimes the hour, quite quickly, but every hour! The dials are now fiberglass replicas the original cast iron faces have been beavered away for safe keeping.
The hustle and bustle that was once all to do with transhipment of goods has been replaced with a day trippers, Stourport is now a destination for those from the Black Country. Cars speed round and through the town, crossing a road can take some time! Treasure Island, a funfair at the side of the Severn looks to have seen better days and no matter how much it tries to attract your attention with it’s flashing lights and flags we’ve only noticed one pair of legs spinning around at height since we’ve been here. Ice cream, arcades, take aways, music and barbers seem to fill the streets. It’s really Blackpool-on-Severn.
There are several websites with interesting information about Stourport. The most interesting I found to be Unlocking Stourports Past. Here unlisted buildings have been recorded, maps of the town through the ages and tales of the people who lived here. All very interesting. Just click on the door to enter.
0 locks, 0 miles, 2.563 river level and still rising!