Ralph Dodd

Ralph Dodd, 1756 – 1822.
From the Scottish National Gallery

Ralph Dodd had made a name for himself in the northeast of England as a civil engineer in the coal mining industry.  He had two ambitions, one to construct a tunnel under the River Thames to link Tilbury to Gravesend and the second to dig a canal across the marshes to the River Medway. The first of these ambitions was considered the more important and work started on the tunnel.  But a lack of capital and severe flooding caused the ambitions undertaking to be abandoned.  Undaunted Dodd turned to his second scheme and after Parliamentary sanction in 1800, the construction of the canal was started.

By cutting the journey between Strood and Gravesend from 47 miles to 7, Dodd hoped to attract funding from the ship and local barge owners. But at first they were less than enthusiastic. They had learned that the lock gates at both the Gravesend and Strood would be open for a few hours around high water.  If this proved to be the case they calculated that the saving in journey time would be cancelled out by the waiting time to use the lock.

Despite this drawback, Dodd managed to convince a number of local interests to invest in The Company of Proprietors of the Thames and Medway Canal.  The cost of the project was estimated at £40,000, a ridiculously low estimate when taking into account that a two-mile tunnel had to be cut between Higham and Strood.