Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: October 15, 2021
Webpage updated: October 15, 2021




In 1778 Mr John Smeaton was asked by Mr John Parker, of Saltram, to survey a course for a canal from his slate quarry in Cann Woods to the bridge over the River Plym at Marsh Mills.  His plan was to ship the slate down to Plymouth in barges, direct from the quarry.  Smeaton thought it was practical to build a canal 12 feet wide with locks to take it down the thirty feet to the river but as he considered that the amount of slate produced by the quarry was unlikely to make the project economical, he proposed building a tramway instead, at something like half the cost.  Nothing was done about this idea, although the quarry continued to be worked.

When the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway Company appeared on the scene some years later, it became necessary to get the approval of John Parker's son, also John, who was by now the Earl of Morley, to allow them to construct a deviation that had been authorised by Act of Parliament in 1821.   To achieve that, three of the directors agreed that the Company would build his Lordship 'an inclined Plane or branch Railway, communicating with Cann Quarry'.   Unfortunately the Company ran into financial problems and did not carry out this task so in 1825 the Earl began legal proceedings against the three men.  The Company tried to get around that problem by offering the Earl a reduced rate to carry his slate on their line if the Earl himself constructed his own branch line.

However, the Earl built a small navigable mill leat, instead, only 6 feet wide, and promptly suggested to the Company that he might complete the canal to link up with the River Plym or he might link it to their Railway.  This piece of gentle blackmail had the desired result and the Company agreed to a junction between the two at Crabtree.

There is a little confusion over the date the Canal actually began operating.  In the Reverend Thomas Moore's "History of Devonshire", published in three volumes between 1829 and 1836, he records that 'A new canal and rail-way, communicating from the Cann slate works to the Catwater, were opened on the 20th November, 1829, by the passage of boats and waggons containing large quantities of paving stones and slate from the quarries.'   Another book of the time, "The British Cyclopaedia", published in 1835, quotes January 20th 1830 as the date the Canal opened. 

However, the benefits of the new Canal were being advertised in February 1829 when a new seven-year lease was being offered on the Marsh Mills and the minute book of the Plymouth & Dartmoor Railway Company states that on January 5th 1830 there was a proposal to introduce a new toll for slate rubble 'in order to create a trade from Cann Quarry'.

The Cann Quarry Canal was 2 miles long and the traffic was carried in small tub-boats as it was not wide enough for barges.  There were no locks.

Sometime around 1833 or 1834, the Canal was replaced by an extension of the Plymouth and Dartmoor Railway, when rails were laid along the bank.  After that it was used solely as a mill leat for the Marsh Mills.