In 1833 the last big woollen cloth customer, the East India Company, lost its trading monopoly and Exeter cloth production was finished. Meanwhile, roads were improving, the railway reached Exeter in 1844 and Topsham in 1861, and as ships got bigger navigating the Exe Estuary became increasingly problematic.

By 1900, canal business was reduced to ferrying coal and oil, building materials and wines into Exeter and taking out barytes, a mineral used in paints and wallpaper. After WWI it was all downhill and the 1940s saw the last canal horse pensioned off. Coal imports ceased in 1955 and cement in 1958. Then the oil tanker trade slumped. The last commercial vessel, petrol tanker MV Esso Jersey, made its final trading passage in 1972.

MV SW2 (renamed MV Countess Wear in 1974)

After 1963 the only large vessel regularly using the
canal was the sludge boat, which pumped 350 tons
of sewage into the sea every couple of weeks, until
finally stopping in 1998.

Scroll to Top