The Torridge Sealock.

Torridge Sealock top gates.

Anyone who has been to the harbour at Bude will know the canal basin and sea lock where the Bude Canal meets the sea. Far fewer people are aware that just three miles up the Torridge from Bideford port is the Torridge sea lock, where the canal from Torrington opens into the tidal waters of the estuary. Strictly speaking such a lock should be called a tide lock, but in this case it was built by navvies and engineers who had just completed work on the Bude Sea Lock and so gave it the name of Sealock, which has stuck for nearly 200 years.

When the lock and the canal basin to which it gave access from the tideway were built, the whole area between Annery Kiln and the river was a hive of industrial activity including the lime kiln, pottery kilns, brick works and a major ship building yard. Despite being upstream of Bideford bridge, several sea-going ships were launched at the Sealock shipyard in the parish of Landcross, the largest being the Sedwell Jane, a brigantine of about 200 tons. Ships of this size were built up to gunwale level and then floated downstream of the Long Bridge for fitting of the superstructure.

By the end of the nineteenth century, with the canal being abandoned in favour of the railway and the old industries dying out, the sea lock fell into disrepair and virtually vanished into the landscape being filled with silt washed in by flood waters and overgrown with trees and bushes. It was rediscovered by new owners of the land in the 1970s, who started restoring the site and were instrumental in forming the Rolle Canal and Northern Devon Waterways Society in 2003, since when restoration has proceeded apace with the masonry repaired and a pair of upper lock gates now fully operational.

Chris Hassall.

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