by Mike Davies
The Neath and Tennant Canals are two independent but linked canals in South Wales that are usually regarded as a single canal. The Neath Canal was opened from Glynneath to Melincryddan, to the south of Neath, in 1795 and extended to Giant's Grave in 1799, in order to provide better shipping facilities. With several small later extensions it reached its final destination at Briton Ferry. No traffic figures are available, but it was successful, as dividends of 16 per cent were paid on the shares. The canal was 13.5 miles (21.7 km) long and included 19 locks.
The Tennant Canal was a development of the Glan-y-wern Canal, which was built across Crymlyn Bog to transport coal from a colliery on its northern edge to a creek on the River Neath called Red Jacket Pill. It closed after 20 years, but was enlarged and extended by George Tennant in 1818, to provide a navigable link from the River Neath to the River Tawe at Swansea docks. In order to increase trade, he built an extension to Aberdulais basin, where it linked to the Neath Canal. The extension was built without an act of Parliament and there was a long delay while Tennant attempted to resolve a dispute with a landowner over the routing of the canal. Once opened, much of the Neath traffic used the Tennant Canal, as Swansea provided better facilities for transferring cargo to ships.
Use of the canals for navigation ceased in the 1930s, but they were retained as water channels to supply water to local industries and to Swansea docks. The first attempts at restoration began in 1974 with the formation of the Neath and Tennant Canals Society. The section north of Resolven was restored in the late 1980s, and the canal from Neath to Abergarwed has been restored more recently. This project involved the replacement of Ynysbwllog aqueduct, which carries the canal over the river Neath, with a new 35-yard (32 m) plate girder structure, believed to be the longest single-span aqueduct in Britain. Some obstacles remain to its complete restoration. In 2003 a feasibility study was published, suggesting that the canal could become part of a small network, if it was linked through Swansea docks to a restored Swansea Canal.
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