The Canal Walk
Edward J Law (2015)
It is surmised that the Canal Walk came into being about 1763. The canal was in existence five years before that, being shown on Rocque’s map of 1758. At that time there was a lane alongside the canal and river, from the Castle Mills to the Castle, but there was not an exit into Rose Inn Street. That exit to the city was probably made when the new John’s Bridge was erected, following the flood of 1763. In 1786, when Samuel Byron did his survey of the city, the walk is shown continuing to Rose Inn Street and is named The Mall. The earliest use of the name Canal Walk which has been noted is 1834.
In 1814, described as the promenade between the Canal and the River, it was said to offer a delightful and salubrious recreation to the citizens. Whilst part of the walk was surfaced with broken limestone, the approach to it from Rose Inn Street was said to have a clay surface. That combined with the slope down to the river, which was unfenced, made it a treacherous walk after the slightest shower.
With the advent of the reformed city Corporation in 1844 the facilities for the citizens became a matter of increasing concern. Complaints about the poor state of the Canal Walk were addressed as funds allowed, and the first two Mayors under the new regime showed a particular and personal interest in the Walk.
A vegetable market had been established, by common usage, on a plot of ground at the present Canal Square off Rose Inn Street, and this was quickly removed to more appropriate accommodation. Edmond Smithwick marked his year as Mayor (1844) by providing at his own cost, a decorative iron gateway and palisading at the city entrance to the walk. The gates no longer exist, but substantial cast-iron plaques recording the gift, which adorned the gate piers, are now preserved in Rothe House.
Continuing the improvements the next Mayor, Doctor Robert Cane, paid for the erection of the Lodge House, which, unlike the gates, still exists. It was both decorative and functional, being intended for the residence of a council employee who would look after the Walk and patrol it as necessary. The castellated cottage is an attractive feature though no longer residential. On the front of the lodge facing Canal Square is a most misleading stone plaque recording:
This slab is inscribed by Alderman O’Donnell, Mayor 1885, to the memory of Alderman Robert Cane who during his second year of Mayoralty in 1849 devoted his salary to the erection of this lodge. In fact it was built to mark his first year as Mayor in 1845.
Along the Walk proper is another inscribed stone, built into the Castle wall. This commemorates improvements effected in 1861 during the Mayoralty of Thomas Power, whose extensive establishment in High Street was the City’s leading ironmonger’s.
As well as providing a pleasant promenade close to the city, the Walk was a venue for entertainment provided by local bands, and particularly those of Regiments stationed in the city at different times. The substantial base of a bandstand, which has recently been landscaped, can be seen beyond the new car park at the foot of the lane between Dukes Meadows and the Castle grounds. Also evident beside the present walk is the depression which locates the line of the eighteenth century canal, which had been intended, along with the deeper reaches of the Nore, to enable navigation down to Inistioge.
The river beside the Walk was used for bathing and the new corporation were perhaps a little extreme in the Bye Laws which they quickly introduced. One of them, addressing complaints of affront to public decency, made provision for the arrest of anyone indulging in public bathing, except above Greens Bridge. Presumably the residents there were not so easily shocked!