Stone has a long and colourful history as a canal town situated, as it is, midway along the Trent & Mersey Canal.
The canal opened in Stone in 1771 and was largely the creation of Josiah Wedgwood.
The famous potter saw that it offered an efficient way to bring vast amounts of materials to the potteries and to transport finished wares to his customers.
Stone became the Headquarters of the canal company with its office at Westbridge House sited then below Star Lock on what is now Westbridge Park. The Canal Cruising Company today operates from the historic site of the canal maintenance and boat building operations of the Trent & Mersey Canal Company. This fascinating restored docks complex with its workshops, by Yard Lock, continues to be used for the maintenance of pleasure craft and historic boats.
John Joules Brewery brewed beer from 1758 and its closure remains one of Stone’s great sadness. There ales became fashionable in Europe, Australia and the Americas with the canal playing a great part in their export. They once owned a pair of boats that delivered coal to the brewery and as late as the 1950’s had the telephone number ‘Stone1’ Joules bottle store remains an imposing building on the canal to this day.
On the subject of beer The Star Public House was fully licensed in 1819 although the building predates the canal by some 200 years. The building has in its time been a butcher’s shop and slaughterhouse. Stabling for boat horses was available up to the 1950’s and the business relied heavily on the canal for trade. The Pub remains a very popular venue for local folk and visitors especially in the summer where customers enjoy watching the boats working through the adjoining lock.
Many canal side sites have in recent times been taken over for modern day use including ‘The Moorings’ a development of apartments based on the old Stubbs warehouse and also apartments and housing surround the old Trent Hospital once a Workhouse.
Many large housing developments also border the canal with many properties becoming highly priced due to the popularity of canal side living.
The latest new housing development north of the town, bordering the canal, has been given road names with canal connections. These will remain as a reminder of the part that the canal has played in the development of the cheerful and bustling town of Stone.
Examples include: ‘Brindley Close’ after James Brindley the Surveyor-General of the Trent & Mersey Canal. He was appointed in 1766 at the first meeting of the Canal Company at the Crown Inn, now the Crown Hotel, in Stone High Street. ‘Rangeley View’ and ‘Dixon Close’ after Rangeley & Dixon whose foundry in Stone manufactured the cast mileposts, dated 1819, found on the Canal. ‘Rendel Grove’ after Rendel Wyatt the founder, in 1948, of the Canal Cruising Company in Stone. Rendel was a pioneer of Narrowboat holidays. ‘Rolt Way’ after L T C Rolt author of ’Narrowboat’ where without his promotion the canal network would not be as it is today. ‘Cressey Close’ after Rolt’s narrowboat that gave inspiration for the founding of the Inland Waterways Association. Cressey met her end at Canal Cruising’s yard in Stone where she was burnt after being found beyond repair in 1951.
Long gone are the days of working boats and commercial traffic that are today replaced by leisure boaters in their 1000’s that pass through Stone each year. Boats today are much more ‘home from home’ with some having every modern conveniences from flush toilets to satellite receivers. An unbelievable far cry from the tiny cabin of a working boat.
What would Wedgwood and Brindley feel about our modern day use?
Well they would surely be proud of their durable engineering achievement that has left this country with such a wonderful heritage. Just as they saw the opportunities offered by the canal, they would now see that the folk of Stone looking to the future with the Trent & Mersey Canal continuing to bring prosperity through the new ‘trade’ of tourism.