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The River Tone

Victorian Memory

    It is sometimes claimed that Stoke's waterways are drains not rivers, and the outsider may well agree. As Walter Raymond noted in his book 'Idler Out of Doors', 1901: "At the first glance it (The River Tone) is not tempting - this tidal river, in one part straight as a line, and again winding between deep banks of slimy mud that leave only a narrow dirty stream just in the river bed. It seems to be low-water all the time; only a spring-tide can reach so far from the sea and cover for an hour the whole of the dark brown mire.
    "Yet there are still relics of the days when the Tone was one of the most important waterways of the district. A great black barge, broken and abandoned, lies high and dry, aslant against the river bank. Another, which still makes a journey, maybe once a month, rides at her mooring in the river course. Here and there,down the steep side from the tow-path, are steps of stone leading to long flat bottomed boats of a design so primitive that there is little difference between the ancient canoe dug up by the lake-village near Glastonbury and the Athelney boat of to-day.
    "You cannot fall in love at first sight with the Tone as you may with the dashing Barle, or any clear maiden stream that sings and dances over yellow stones. You must loiter and idle, until after a while the quaintness of it grows upon you. You get a palate for the place, as it were, and at last it becomes delightful.


    It is the Tone's own history that has forged its character. The earliest known record of improvements to the river is from the 14th century. Wells Cathedral owned the river as far as Athelney fish weir, the river being an important source of fish for the local population. There is  mention of boats using the river at the beginning of the 15th century, but by 1638 it was navigable from its confluence with the Parrett to Ham Mills, bringing coal from Bridgwater to Taunton. Traces of the locks and half-locks have nearly all disappeared, but the disagreements between the boatmen and landowners are recorded alongside the annals of the Tone Conservators, who were allowed to levy tolls along the river. Over the centuries the course of the river has been altered and straightened - one previous course of part of the river remains as Crooked Drove, north of Hook Bridge. Although the last recorded barge traffic was in 1929, the navigation was not formerly abandoned until 1967, three years after Stoke lost its station to the Beeching axe.

The Tone at Turkey, before the river was widened

    The Tone also gave the village many of it's families. Several boatmen built huts on the bank and settled there, combining their carrying work with a little horticulture. The local roads were badly drained and unsurfaced, so the boatmen were important people, even though they tended to live on the fringe of the community. Some were employed by large firms, such as Stuckey & Bagehot, but others had their own boats and often had cottages on the river bank, as in Curload and Athelney. The boats carried about 25 tons of cargo and made use of the tide to travel up and down the river on the stretch through Stoke from Burrowbridge to the half-lock at New Bridge. One of the last known cargoes was the bricks to build the Willey Road houses in the 1920s.

A Local Boat Owner on a Sunday Outing


    During the first half of the 19th century, church records show many baptisms of boatmen's children, some who were not resident in the village: 1813 William & Elizabeth Langford; John & Mary Hoil; Thomas & Sarah Smith; William & Mary Mead; William & Jane Small; Thomas & Mary Sharman; William & Mary Smith; 1814 John & Jane Tuttiett; John & Joan (orJean?) Palmer; 1815 John & Mary Sharman; William & Mary Bell; Roger & Charlotte Beck; William & Mary Caroline Laver; William & Ann(a?) Pocock; William & Mary Hembrow; 1816 James & Hannah Smith; 1817 Richard & Ann Sharman; 1818 John & Mary Daw Hembrow; 1819 Robert & Jane Pocock; Richard & Mary Bell; William & Grace Palmer; 1820 Robert & Elizabeth Farance; John & Mary Hancock; 1821 James & Mary Wyatt; Henry & Honor Sawley; 1835 William & Charlotte Bell; John & Mary Andrews; Robert & Matilda Wooland; John & Margaret Pocock; William and Mary Meade; Thomas and Frances Dibble; 1825 Charles & Jane Hembrow; James and Aquilla Mitchell; 1826 Robert & Maria Smith; Edward & Elizabeth Winslade; 1827 Charles & Maria Goodland; Henry and Unity Tuttiett; 1828 Henry and Honor Salley; 1829 Samuel & Mary Parsons; Robert and Elizabeth Glide; William & Eliza Glyde; 1830 Roger & Hester Beck; Charles & Hannah Sweet; Roger & Elizabeth Smith; Charles & Harriett Sweet; 1831 Winifred & George Watts; Henry & Ann Tuttiett; Henry & Joan Coate - Aller; 1832 Edmund & Mary Anne Clarry; George & Elizabeth Smith; 1837 Matthias & Sarah Palmer; 1840 William & Sarah Mitchel; 1842 William & Mary Woollan. These were all boating families, and some of the names are still with us today.



    Three road bridges cross the Tone in what was the original parish. The present Athelney bridge is of concrete, but the previous one, as recorded in 1791, was a two-arched wooden structure, where the former turnpike crossed the Tone south-east of Athelney island. The Taunton-Wells turnpike passed through West and East Lyng and then ran along the Baltmoor wall south of Athelney Farm to cross the Tone at Athelney Bridge. A new road was built between 1803 and 1806 across Salt moor from the eastern end of East Lyng village direct to Burrowbridge.

    The modern steel girder Hook Bridge at Turkey replaced an earlier wooden footbridge. Turkey Farm and Turkey Cottage could only be reached by vehicles and stock via Athelney bridge and a long route along the river bank.

    It is known that Stanmoor bridge already existed in 1685. It would appear that the bridge was rebuilt in 1754 for a sum of £104. At a vestry meeting In 1780: "It being now reported to this meeting that Stanmoor Bridge a public Bridge lying in this Parish is now out of repair, and the same ought to be repaired by the Inhabitants of ten Parishes following, and by the proportions set against each of them, and that the sum of eight pounds is now necessary to be raised for the repair of the said Bridge. Resolved and ordered that Mr.Bendedict Barrington and Mr. Laurence Tuttiett the younger, Church Wardens of Gregory Stoke, do forthwith prepare a rate on the ten Parishes according to the proportions under named, and collect the same and apply."

Fred Lock with his Dredging Bucket

Pumping Station and Rail Crossing in the Backround

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