John Fennyhouse Green

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John Fennyhouse Green (1727–1774), Under Clerk of Works to the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal Company, was responsible for identifying John Acton’s stubble field and the neighbouring meadow owned by Wilson Roberts at Lower Mitton as the site for the River Severn terminal at what is now Stourport Canal Basins.

Appointment[edit]

John Fennyhouse Green’s appointment was confirmed on 17 March 1767 – at an annual salary of £50 paid monthly, and subsequently increased to £80 on 15 September 1767. An earlier record shows him working with the surveyor Samuel Simcock on the levelling work at Tettenhall Bridge on 22 July 1766.

As assistant to the Clerk of Works John Baker, Green’s tasks would have been some or all of the following: "...to attend the works and see that everything is executed pursuant to the surveyor’s direction to measure the works to enter all contracts for work to give in Bills and Accounts to be settled by the Committee and when approved by them to pay the Bills and Money or rent for the lands to be purchased and keep the account to be passed by the Committee and then deposited with the Clerk to the Proprieters."

Surviving documentation (primarily Staffordshire Record Office) indicates that Green carried out a wide range of specialist tasks, all of which he recorded in great detail. He made site visits and undertook surveys and levelling work, he attended key meetings and managed James Brindley’s Order Books, he kept his own ‘Day Books’ (these diarise the setting out and construction of the canal and basins and provide the only detailed day to day account of the work), he managed the ‘Cutting Accounts’ and dealt with land purchase and compensation to land owners. He also identified the site for the navigation's inland port at the River Severn, and, as such, could be considered the founding father of what is now Stourport upon Severn.

John Fennyhouse Green was the second child of Fennihouse Green (1694 - 1769) and Rachel Smythe. He was baptised at All Saints in Lapley, Staffordshire on 12 November 1727 and was buried at the same place on 9 February 1774. The gravestones of his mother, Rachel, and sister, Sarah, can still be seen at All Saints. Set between these two markers is a third gravestone, now destroyed. This is probably the marker for John Fennyhouse Green.

Locating the Basins at Lower Mitton[edit]

Construction of the canal began at Compton near Wolverhampton and worked south towards the River Severn, before returning to Compton later to go north to the River Trent. By October 1768, and with the canal builders hard on his heels, Brindley was under pressure to fix on the site for the connection to the River Severn. His earlier conviction about locating this at the confluence of the Severn with the River Stour had been shaken when the Stour went into flood in April 1768. Even so, Brindley had ordered that the land at the Stour be surveyed, and as late as mid-October 1768 this was still the intended location for the inland port.

On 27 October 1768, John Fennyhouse Green was assisting John Dadford in setting out a culvert at Broadwaters when John Baker, the Clerk of Works, directed Green to "go down to the Stour's Mouth and observe where the Canal might be brought to the Severn." In his Day Book for 1 November 1768, Green records his visit to "Mr Price’s at Stour’s Mouth" (now the Angel Inn) and assesses the potential of the immediate landscape as the location for the inland port, "If canal is bro’t above... If Bason is made there...". He was looking for a piece of land that was both broad enough to accommodate what is now the Clock Basin and which sat "high enough out of flood's way". John Acton, the local Church Warden at Lower Mitton, owned just such a field – a stubble field, measuring something over 5 acres (20,000 m2) and lying high enough above Mr Roberts' meadow that ran along the River Severn.

On Wednesday 2 November, Green met with Brindley and Sir Edward Littleton, Chairman of the Canal Company, at Acton's stubble field to discuss his observations. The outcome of this meeting was that "Mr Brindley...fixed on going thro' Mr Acton's Stubble field above Mr Price's House for making of a Bason and building warehouses et on it" and ordered that "the Setting out of the Canal and new Water course of 17th October be altered".

Thus the canal basins and river locks came to their present location, and, as history shows, the town of Stourport upon Severn grew rapidly there about to service and benefit from the new navigation.

Note On Surviving Records[edit]

This article draws on original 18th century documentation, mainly John Fennyhouse Green’s Day Books, to summarise the sequence of events leading to the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal’s terminal being located at Lower Mitton.

A few of John Fennyhouse Green's original papers are held at Staffordshire Record Office and at the British Waterways Archive in Gloucester. Unfortunately the majority (including the all important Day Books) appear to have been destroyed in the early 1970s, and now exist only on microfilm held at Staffordshire and Worcestershire Record Offices.

The front piece to this microfilm states: "These documents were, apparently, ordered to be destroyed, but the officer requested to do this balked at the prospect as he felt they were valuable historically. His son, in due course, approached the Staffordshire County Archivist and it was agreed that copies would be made either by the Staffordshire or Worcestershire Record Offices or both and that eventually the originals would be returned to their proper ownership, British Transport Commission, with no names mentioned. See Worcs RO File 223:100.9:3, 7 August 1971."

The 34 original Day Books survived their planned destruction in the 1970s, and were sold at auction on 13 February 2009 at Halls Welsh Bridge Salerooms to Staffordshire Record Office. The auction description says: "James Brindley (1716-1772) / John Fennyhouse Green - A collection of 34 'Day Books' each hand written manuscript containing detailed notes on the construction, surveys, levelling and land owners associated with the construction of the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal, each volume 8vo, mixed bindings of vellum and marbled boards. John Fennyhouse Green was employed as the under clerk of works to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Company. His duties included a wide range of tasks all of which he recorded meticulously. These day books offer a detailed account of Brindley's working practices." retrieved 21.02.2011