All About Sapperton


When you visit Sapperton, close to Cirencester, you see a conventionally pretty Cotswold village, with its houses that could have been designed by Tolkien; its pub; its church; and general sense of timeless, rural England. What may not be obvious is its connection not just with the Arts & Crafts Movement (though there are many, for many of the craftsmen worked from here) but with one of the great engineering feats of the 18th century and with early American politics. Sapperton TunnelA short walk past the church and then down a meadow brings you to the edge of some woodland. Entering, you find yourself on an ornate parapet of what turns out to be the entrance to a tunnel, now redundant, that is still the third longest canal tunnel in the country. This portal, romantically overgrown and seemingly forgotten, formed part of the Thames & Severn Canal, completed in 1789. Conceived as part of a canal route from Bristol to London, at its eastern end it connects to the River Thames at Inglesham Lock near Lechlade, while at its western end it connects to the Stroudwater Navigation (which links Stroud with the Severn) at Wallbridge. The canal was not a great success: as no reservoirs were built, water supply was erratic, while the summit section near the tunnel ran through porous limestone, which brought constant leakage. Competition from the railways took much of the canal's traffic by the end of the 19th century, and most of the canal was abandoned in 1927, the remainder in 1941. In its way, it is a fabulous thing this tunnel and, even better, from here you can follow the old towpath to Daneway and its perfect little pub. When I say perfect, I do not mean a modern confection tailored to what someone thinks the public want – I mean a workaday building (formerly used by canal workers), with good beer, simple furniture and a pleasant garden, relaxing and unfussy.

Back in Sapperton, the American connection is to do with Charles Mason, one of the geographers who charted the Mason-Dixon line. He was born at Sapperton where his wife, Rebekah, is buried. The line, established between 1763 and 1767, was an attempt by the British Crown to resolve a border dispute between the then colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland. Surveyed by Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, the line came to be thought of as the division between northern and southern USA ('dixie').

NewsVictoria Fielden