A time line for the comparatively short history of the Tennant Canal, which was originally the Neath & Swansea Junction Canal
The Tennant Canal has a history of three canals, the first being the Glan-yr-wern Canal built between 1788-90, the second, built in 1817-18, the canal built by George Tennant to link the Neath and Tawe rivers utilising part of the Glan-yr-wern Canal and the third is an extension of the latter to link George Tennant’s Canal with the Neath Canal at Aberdulais.
George Tennant, who came to the Neath area from London, had bought the ‘Redding’ Estate in 1814 and worked the coal mine on the estate (Redding Colliery). What had been a drainage stream from the colliery was converted into a short navigation canal and with the combined use of an incline tram road, delivered his coal down to a wharf on the River Neath near the town bridge. This short canal became known as the Rhyddings Canal.
Having succeeded in his first venture, George Tennant looked further afield for projects in which he could invest his considerable wealth, he bought Cadaxton Estate in 1816 and established a home there. Seeing the success of the Neath Canal in transporting the mineral wealth of the valley down to their shipping place at Giants Grave and the limitations of the river shipping facilities there, the concept of transhipping trade from the Neath Canal to the better shipping facilities at Swansea using a canal between Giants Grave and Swansea was born.
In 1817 George Tennant acquired the lease of the Glan-yr-wern Canal and engaged William Kirkhouse as his engineer to extend the canal into the River Tawe at Swansea thus linking the Neath and Tawe rivers. This new canal, completed in 1818, ran from the Glan-yr-wern wharfs at Red Jacket Pill on the River Neath, to inside the recently constructed East Pier on the River Tawe, and part of the original canal to Glan-yr-wern Colliery remained as a branch to the colliery. Trade from boats using the River Neath and transferring to George Tennant’s canal was small and to increase trade George Tennant approached the Neath Canal Company to complete their obligation to build a lock from their canal at Giants Grave into the River Neath, as catered for in the Neath Canal Act of 1798. The building of the lock would then allow the transfer of barges from the Neath Canal to George Tennant’s canal. During his efforts to get the lock sanctioned, George Tennant realised that to extend his new canal from Red Jacket Pill up into the lower Neath Valley to Aberdulais and make a direct connection with the Neath Canal was a better option.
In 1821 work started on the canal extension from Red Jacket Pill to Aberdulais under the direction of the engineer William Kirkhouse. George Tennant had sought to raise the finance to build his canal from local sources, landowners and businessmen, but decided he would have better control of his interests by providing the finance himself.
Because he was providing the capital to build the canal privately he required no Act of Parliament to raise capital by public subscription and therefore George Tennant was either obliged to buy or lease the land to build his canal. Without an Act of Parliament however, he had no powers of compulsory purchase. (The Tennant Canal is considered the most important canal built without an Act of Parliament, other examples were the Torrington Canal in Devon and the Hatherton Branch of the Staffordshire & Worcester Canal).
Some considerable difficulties were experienced when fine sand was encountered during building the canal through the 500 yard cutting at Neath Abbey. To prevent the canal banks slipping into the cut, William Kirkhouse built an inverted arch along the length of the cutting.
Construction of the canal reached the turnpike road in Neath in April 1821 and it was at this point that the greatest obstacle to the progress of the canal was encountered. L.W. Dillwyn refused to give consent to cut the canal through land at Cadaxton held in trust by him for his son John Dillwyn Llewelyn. It took almost two years, after prolonged bitter argument and negotiation, before consent was given to proceed and agreement made, much to the advantage of the Neath Canal Company and disadvantage to George Tenant, to make the junction of the two canals at Aberdulais.
The canal from Swansea to Aberdulais is lock free and to make the junction at Aberdulais required the building of a lock to bring George Tennant’s Canal up to the level of the Neath Canal and a ten arch 340ft long aqueduct across the River Neath was started in May 1823.
The aqueduct was extended to also cross the old 1750’s navigable cut at Aberdulais using a single span cast iron trough.
The canal, opened on 13 May 1824 from Swansea to Aberdulais, was eight and a half miles long and on one level. Along the canal there were a number of branch canals constructed, the Dulais branch to the forge and rolling mill on the River Dulais, the Cadaxton branch to the Vale of Neath Brewery, a branch with a lock into the River Neath opposite the town quay which closed in c1879, the branch to the Neath Abbey Iron Works, a branch and lock into the River Neath at Neath Abbey built in c1876, the original branch to Glan-yr-wern Colliery and the branch to Tir Isaf Colliery near Port Tennant.
Several extension and modifications were made at the Swansea end of the canal to accommodate the siting of the wet dock development at Port Tennant on the east side of Swansea.
Commercial traffic on the canal ceased in the mid 1930s and the canal was then used to supply industrial water to the petro-chemical industry at Llandarcy and Baglan Bay. BP, the company operating the both plants, has now close down its activities and the only taker of canal water at this time is the paper manufacturer at Baglan.