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Thursday 30 January

£20 investors sought for historic glassmaking site

The Chance Heritage Trust, which aims to preserve and restore the derelict Chance Glassworks site in Smethwick, has launched itself as a Community Benefit Society (CBS), offering the public shares of £20 each. 

Chance Brothers was founded in the 1820s, with its canalside location a key factor in its success by allowing fragile glass to be shipped out safely worldwide.

The site sits between the older Brindley (1769) and newer Telford (1838) lines of the Birmingham Canal, and like so many Birmingham factories once had an arm from the Brindley canal right into the building.

The company gained international fame by making the glass for the Crystal Palace at the Great Exhibition in 1851. It went on to create the lenses for over 2,000 lighthouses around the world, before closing in 1976. 

“The first phase will be a mix of residential, enterprise and leisure space,” the new trust's chairman, Mark Davies, told WW. "We are keen to reinstate the canal arm as a small basin. We want it to become a vibrant and exciting location, linking it with the restored Roundhouse near Sherborne Wharf."

Alongside the canal basin will be a pastiche 'lighthouse', visible from the M5 viaduct above and reminding the world of its heritage.

Shareholders in the new trust will only have one vote each, no matter how much they invest, making small investors as influential as large ones. They will be available from 29th February, from the new website at chanceht.org. 

Andrew Denny  | 9.39am | add a comment

CRT and Sustrans sign agreement

Towpath users can expect to benefit from a formal commitment from the Canal & River Trust to work alongside the walking and cycling charity Sustrans to make canalsides more accessible. 

The organisations signed a Memorandum of Understanding in January, which, though not legally binding, outlines key areas where they promise to collaborate in future, including identifying third party funding streams, promoting the pedestrian-priority Towpath Code and working to manage interaction between different towpath users. The latter, both parties agree, will ensure the needs of people using the waterspace, for example boaters and anglers, are given precedence. 

They will also work together on the enhancement of Sustrans’ National Cycle Network where it runs over the trust’s towpaths, addressing accessibility, and increasing community involvement.

CRT chief executive Richard Parry, said: “We have worked closely and effectively with Sustrans in various ways over many years, and I’m pleased to have renewed our relationship.

"Towpaths are fantastic places for walking and – where we have been able to improve their standard – for cycling, provided it is done responsibly, connecting places for free and accessible sustainable travel in the heart of cities and countryside. By creating more opportunities for everyone to enjoy these green and attractive traffic-free paths, more people will come to the waterways and discover the physical and mental benefits of being by the water."

There are currently around 500 miles of National Cycle Network routes on towpaths.

Andrew Denny  | 9.38am | add a comment

China announces museum for Grand Canal

The Chinese government has unveiled the design for a museum celebrating the heritage of the country's Grand Canal, the world's oldest and longest artificial waterway.

The result of an international competition, the museum will be built at the south end of the canal, which runs for over 1,000 miles between Beijing and Hangzhou.

The design shows a vast, long, linear form and a rippling glass facade designed (from a distance) to resemble water. Internally, there will be a large exhibition area on two identical floors that can operate independently.

China staged the 2019 World Canals Conference, although with little emphasis on the canal's massive freight capacity, or any willingness to develop it for leisure boating. Instead the government is keen to highlight the historical aspect, for which the new museum should be a showpiece. 

Nevertheless the amount of freight on the Grand Canal is staggering. In particular, one set of locks, at Shaobao near Huai’an, holds the record for passing through a million tonnes of cargo in a single day.

Andrew Denny  | 9.37am | add a comment

'Hand-me-down' bridge for Hereford & Gloucester

A swing-bridge that previously spanned the Bridgwater & Taunton Canal has been gifted to the Herefordshire & Gloucestershire Canal Trust to re-use on its restoration. 

The unusual donation from Somerset County Council followed the formal opening on 16th December of a replacement road bridge spanning both the Bridgwater & Taunton and the adjacent River Parrett in the Bridgwater suburbs, as well as a new quarter-mile length of towpath.

Rather than being broken up, the old Crossways Swing Bridge will now be repurposed as a farm accommodation bridge at H&GCT's Malswick site, to provide a crossing point across the canal for farm vehicles and pedestrians. Engineering drawings are currently being finalised, and these will provide details of the groundworks and the foundations required to secure the pinion on which the bridge rotates. 

Meanwhile the structure itself will be stripped down and renovated.

Andrew Denny  | 9.35am | add a comment

Yellow badges for vulnerable boaters

Boaters with disabilities or vulnerabilities are to be issued with 'Trust Aware' window badges to make it easier to highlight their extra needs. 

The Canal & River Trust will give the yellow badges to boaters who have been granted an adjustment to their cruising requirements under the Equality Act 2010. This follows feedback at a series of meetings held with disabled boaters over the past year. 

The badges will indicate to other boaters and towpath users there are ‘reasonable adjustments’ to cruising requirements. This could involve allowing overstays on visitor or towpath moorings or adjusting their cruising range, although due to privacy legislation the reason is not explained on the permit itself. Boaters who have them can choose whether or not they want to display them – it is not a requirement. 

There are currently around 240 such boaters on CRT waters, and around a further 140 applications now being discussed. 


Andrew Denny  | 9.35am | add a comment

Obituary: Beryl Windsor

Canal enthusiast and longstanding co-organiser of the Angel Canal Festival 

The Angel Canal Festival, the annual one-day event on the Regent's Canal in September, last year attracted an estimated 8,000 people and continues to grow in popularity. That it has stayed the course as one of the most popular waterways events in London is largely due to the organisational ability and energy of Beryl Windsor, the canal enthusiast and campaigner who died on 31st October 2019 aged 80.

The festival was started in 1987 by the late Crystal Hale as a way to prevent London’s City Road Basin from being infilled by developers. After Crystal's death in the late 1990s it was threatened with cancellation. That it survived, and continued to grow, was entirely down to the determination of Beryl and her organising partner Sasha Mears.  

Beryl’s interest in the waterways was piqued passing over the Regent's Canal on her daily rail commute from Northampton to London. She was especially fascinated by the leisure boating community in St Pancras Basin, eventually buying a small narrowboat with its own mooring at St Pancras Cruising Club, which she named Anne-Louise after her two daughters.

It was here that Beryl not only met fellow-boater Sasha, but also Steve Burt, whom she was later to marry. 

Beryl was awarded the BEM in 2012 for her role, and by the time both she and Sasha stepped down in 2017 cancellation had become unthinkable. The Canal & River Trust now organises the festival. 

After their marriage Beryl and Steve moved to a house with an end-of-garden mooring on the Stratford Canal in Solihull. Steve recently carried out a major refit on Anne-Louise here, and in one last trip in the summer of 2019 they cruised the boat back to its home mooring at St Pancras.

Andrew Denny  | 9.34am | add a comment

False Network Rail press release dashes carrying hopes

A wrong press release issued by Network Rail in December raised – then dashed – hopes that commercial carrying might briefly return to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. 

The canal has been stopped for over two months near Blackburn while railway bridge 109A is completely rebuilt. The railway and local media both reported that materials for its reconstruction would be brought in by boat, dutifully relaying the press release. 

This news came as a surprise to the Commercial Boat Operators Association and the Canal & River Trust, who were unaware of any carrying contract. It turned out that a couple of floating platforms were being hired to help in reconstruction, a difference that eluded Network Rail's press office. 

CBOA said they were extremely disappointed they weren't even offered the chance to make a proposal for the project. 

“This is yet another case of project engineers not thinking whether there are alternatives to using lorries," David Lowe, CBOA chairman, told WW. “It is not just rail authorities who are to blame. Project managers and planners need to examine all modes of transport when they are dealing with waterside sites.

“Navigation authorities are beginning to think of using boats to convey new lock gates and other materials to lock repair sites but regrettably this remains the exception, not the rule. With the ever increasing need to use environmentally friendly transport, the possible use of barges should be top of the list.”

Correcting their press release Network Rail added: “Our compound is located approximately half a mile up the line towards Church & Oswaldtwistle Station due to there being no appropriate location at the worksite. For this reason our materials will be brought in by road to the lay-down areas and taken to the worksite via rail.”

Andrew Denny  | 9.32am | add a comment

Cressy clone among plans for Tooley's Boatyard

The craft made famous by LTC Rolt's 1944 travelogue Narrow Boat could be reconstructed as part of plans to enhance the visitor experience at Tooley's Boatyard in Banbury. 

It was at Tooley's, one of the oldest working dry docks on the network, that Rolt converted his wooden narrowboat Cressy for liveaboard use prior to the four-month voyage he undertook with his new bride Angela to chronicle the precarious state of the English canal system.

The book it spawned ultimately inspired the formation of the Inland Waterways Association, and a concerted campaign for greater use of the canals. Cressy itself, however, suffered an ignominious fate. A rotten hull saw the boat condemned as dangerous in 1951, and unworthy of restoration. The craft was eventually broken up at Wyatt's boatyard in Stone, and much of it burned.

However, Cressy's story might not end there. The charitable trust established to take on a 150-year lease of Tooley's, ensuring it remains open to visitors while also securing the future of the boat-repair business, has mooted a reconstruction of the craft as a potential tourist attraction. 

Dubbed 'The Cressy Experience', the project would see Rolt's boat re-built from scratch on site and according to original plans, but with a "modern twist". The latter would include an electric power source and "virtual portholes", giving passengers canal views from the past, present and future using transparent monitor screens, and offering advertising space on the boat's exterior with the same technology. 

There is potential for the build itself, which would take place on site, to become an attraction in its own right, as well as offering an opportunity to share traditional boat-building skills. 

Once launched, Cressy could be used both as static exhibition space and for short Oxford Canal trips from the boatyard, tracing the story of Rolt and the waterways through a character guide, video, and even a “whispering bath” feature, explaining how Rolt’s one concession to luxury – a bath aboard – earned him merciless ribbing from working boatmen. Also mooted in the proposal is the option to hire out Cressy as B&B accommodation. 

A focus group to discuss the feasibility of the project was held in Banbury on 23rd January. Tooley’s Boatyard Trust is also appealing for any original artefacts from Cressy (to loan, purchase or reproduce) to include on the working reproduction of the historic narrowboat.

Andrew Denny  | 9.31am | add a comment

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