Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Aylesbury Arm, Grand Union Canal

The Aylesbury Arm of the Grand Junction Canal (later part of the Grand Union Canal) was a 10km long arm of the canal branching off the main line near Marsworth and ending near to the centre of Aylesbury. The arm was a fairly late addition to the canal network. Work started on it in 1811 and finished in 1814.
The canal was never intended to be a dead end arm, the original plan had been to continue the canal past Aylesbury to link up to the Thames at Abingdon - a scheme known as the Western Junction Canal. However landowners West of Aylesbury refused to let the canal continue past the town and through their land.

The canal arm has sixteen locks as it drops nearly 30m from Marsworth to Aylesbury. Unlike the Grand Junction Canal the Aylesbury Arm has narrow locks, this was due to difficulties with water supplies.

The Aylesbury Arm was used to transport agricultural produce, building supplies and coal. The arrival of the railways ruined the arm's profitabiity though commercial traffic continued into the 1950s. Now the arm a popular stop for leisure boaters and visitors.
One of the many boats using the arm

Circus Field Basin

Development at the end of the arm in Aylesbury

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Enslow Wharf

The canals faced increasing competition and in many cases being eclipsed by railway companies in the 19th century and beyond. One new lease of life for the canals in latter years though were the transhipment whaves where goods were taken to/from railheads to businesses situated along the canals. The Birmingham Canal Navigations had many of these but the Oxford Canal had only one, at Enslow Wharf in Oxfordshire [1].

The Great Western Railway had a goods yard at Bletchingdon next to Enslow Wharf, a major trade being with the Oxford Cement Company at Kirtlington. The company had no rail or road access so everything had to be taken by boat, much of it taken to Enslow Wharf for transfer to rail. A steady trade in the early 20th century. The goods yard (closing in 1965), cement company, even the station have gone though the canal and railway line remain.

[1] Hugh Compton, The Oxford Canal (David and Charles, 1976) p. 135

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

King's Norton Stop Lock

When different canal companies were operating in competition, water was a precious resource and sometimes measures were taken to stop water flowing from one canal to another. Where the Stratford Canal joins the Worcester and Birmingham Canal at King's North was such a measure: a guillotine gate or stop lock [1].

The lock consists of two guillotine gates suspended from a metal frame over the waterway and lifted or dropped via a chain. This allowed for the two canals to have a different water level (the Stratford was usually a little higher). Now all canals are owned by the same trust water loss is not considered such a problem anymore, the gate has been kept open since 1959.

[1] Charles Hadfield and John Norris, Waterways to Stratford (David and Charles, 1968) p. 89

Monday, 18 December 2017

Stone and the Trent and Mersey

This signpost in Stone alongside the Trent and Mersey Canal proudly proclaims that the town is the birthplace of the canal. The canal scheme was known as the Grand Trunk Canal and was an ambitious scheme to link the two great rivers the Trent and Mersey. The first meeting of the Grand Trunk Canal Company was held in Stone. Josiah Wedgewood saw the potential in transporting raw materials and finished goods from his factories in the Potteries and backed the scheme becoming its treasurer, James Brindley was appointed as the canal's surveyor and engineer.

Work began on the canal in 1766 and by 1772 the stretch from Wilden Ferry to Stone was navigable which is where the canal company had its first headquarters. The canal transformed Stone from a quiet town to a busy inland port.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Looking after the horses

For most of the existance of Britain's canals boats have been hauled by muscle power, usually horse muscle. Horses were highly valuable assets for canal haulage companies and care had to be taken to look after them. This photo, from the London Canal Museum, shows a box of medicines and treatments for horses.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Hertford Union Canal

The Hertford Union Canal is one of London's canals, it connects the Regent's Canal to the Lee Navigation.
Opened: 1830
Route: Tower Hamlets
Distance: 1.5km
Status: Complete

The canal is a short one being only about 1.5km long with 3 intermediate locks. The canal opened in 1830, having being promoted by Sir George Duckett - the canal was sometimes known as the Duckett's Canal because of this, and was intended as a short cut for traffic between the Thames and the Lee Navigation, especially enabling boats to miss the awkward Bow Bank Rivers.
Unfortunately, although the idea of the canal seemed sound it was not a financial success and within 20 years the canal was unnavigable and for sale. It was eventually bought by the Regent's Canal in 1857 to become of the Regent's branches and later became part of the Grand Union company.

The canal is entirely in Tower Hamlets. At its Eastern End it is within sight of the Olympic stadium connecting to the Lee Navigation near Old Ford Lock. Most of the Northern side of the canal borders on Victoria Park, the canal connecting to the Regent's Canal between Mile End and Old Ford Locks (not the same lock as on the Lee).
Hertford Union Canal

Hertford Union Junction (with the Regent's)

Old Ford Lower Lock, the Lee can be seen in the distance

Parnell Road Footbridge

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Cambrian Wharf

Cambrian Wharf in Birmingham city centre used to be a junction of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal (Farmer's Bridge Junction) and the Newhall Branch of the Birmingham Canal Navigations.

When most of the branch was closed post-war (and later city development built on top of it) the junction was turned into a basin and residential moorings. The canal stretch from Cambrian Wharf to Old Turn Junction is all that remains of the Newhall Branch (though is just included as part of the Birmingham and Fazeley these days).

Friday, 8 December 2017

Electric canal boats

The traditional way to haul canal boats until the 19th century was using muscle, usually horse muscle but sometimes human too. Steam and later internal combustion engines later powered barges but there was an experiment in the 20th century to power barges via an electric overhead line. This Pathé newsreel shows an experiment held in Kidderminster (the photo below is of the canal at Kidderminster so near to where the experiment was).

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Grand Junction Canal, Berkhamstead

The Grand Junction Canal connects Braunston in Northamptonshire with the river Thames (at Brentford) and was an important addition to the canal network in the late 18th century improving trade between the Midlands and London. The canal was bought out and became part of the Grand Union Canal in the 20th century and remains part of that canal now though these days for leisure. This Grand Junction Canal sign is still proudly displayed on a bridge at Berkhamstead.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Tooley's Boatyard, Banbury

Tooley's Boatyard on the Oxford Canal in Banbury claims to be the oldest working dry dock on Britain's inland waterways. As it has been in use since 1790 they probably have a point there. The boatyard has managed to survive the downfall of the canals for commerce and also modern redevelopment to reinvent itself as part of the heritage industry and an important part of Banbury's museum and heritage centre... and continue working on boats of course.