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Friday 30 August

Locking restrictions lifted

The torrential rain conditions might have caused a one-off near-disaster at Whaley Bridge, but they have been a relief to much of the rest of the country.

The deluge that disrupted the Peak Forest Canal caused restrictions to be lifted in the Midlands within the week, particularly thanks to reservoirs across the Braunston and Leicester summit quickly refilling, although the Canal & River Trust also claimed credit for reducing demands by introducing local water saving restrictions, and doing some short-duration summer stoppage works such as relining lock gates.

CRT used the occasion to issue this plea to Midlands boaters: "It’s helpful to aim for minimal contact when navigating through locks by ensuring gates are fully open when passing through as pushing gates open using a boat can damage the gate lining, increasing its leakage. Thank you for your help."

Restrictions on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal were lifted in late July, while water pumping problems on the Kennet & Avon Canal summit were mastered by early August.

Andrew Denny  | 1.58pm | add a comment

Wednesday 21 August

Historic crane returns to Audlem

A historic crane has been returned to the Shropshire Union Canal after restoration by Canal & River Trust apprentices.

The crane at Audlem Wharf was found last year to have serious timber rot, and was fenced off for safety before being removed in February to CRT's Northwich workshops.

While the crane was said to have been restored by May, the local IWA branch (Shrewsbury & North Wales) said it required "a great deal of lobbying" to get it reinstated in time for the Audlem Festival of Transport at the end of July. It was returned (flatpack Ikea-style) on 19th July and re-erected by a team of CRT engineers and local volunteer canal rangers.

Audlem Wharf originally had another crane, but that disappeared at the end of the working boat era. The present one is variously said to have come from a canal/railway yard on the BCN or from the old Audlem railway station, which closed in 1963. It was put up to restore character to the wharf when the adjacent warehouse was turned into the Shroppie Fly pub in the 1970s.

Andrew Denny  | 1.41pm | add a comment

Tuesday 20 August

Boats free to a good home

The National Waterways Museum plans to give away 12 historic boats following a review of all 68 craft in its collection.

The boats are being offered free of charge, first to accredited museums and then to individuals and private organisations who are able and willing to care for them.

The 12 boats it wants to rehome range from iron-hulled icebreakers to a salmon fishing boat. In some cases, the museum already has examples of that type of vessel, while other boats aren't so significant to the story the museum tells. Some of the boats have changed so much over the decades that little of the original remains.

Graham Boxer, head of collections and archives at the Canal & River Trust, which runs the museum, said: “It is far better to have a representative collection of the most historically significant boats, cared for in the most appropriate way and in the best possible condition, than many in a poor state.

“If we can't find homes for all of them, we may recommend some for documented deconstruction, to preserve the boat’s story for future reference.”

Applications should be made by 2nd November 2019. Details are at canalrivertrust.org.uk/nwm.

The vessels to be re-homed are:
Aries – Star class wooden motor narrowboat (‘small ricky’), c.1935
Chiltern - wooden motor narrowboat (stern only), c.1946
Marlyn – a wooden motor gig boat, c.1940
Marple – iron hull of icebreaker, c.1850
Marsden - iron hull of icebreaker, early 20th century
Minstrel – small boat, c.1940
Shirley – small powered leisure-boat, c.1930
Speedwell – wooden dumb barge, c.1925
Spindrift 3 - Royal Navy ‘Jollyboat’ c.1910
Stratford – small iron riveted boat from Stratford Canal, c.1930
Ulla – clinker-built salmon fishing boat, c.1952
Whaley Bridge – iron hull of icebreaker, date unknown

Andrew Denny  | 1.59pm | add a comment

Wolverhampton to Birmingham towpath completed

A two-year, £4.2m project to upgrade the 11 miles of towpath between Birmingham and Wolverhampton was completed in July.

The entire Main Line between the two city centres is now up to full cycling standard, "level, and pothole- and traffic-free" says the Canal & River Trust. While CRT did the work, funding came from local authority and local enterprise partnerships, though a programme called Managing Short Trips 2.

Another 12 miles has already been upgraded on the Wyrley & Essington and the Tame Valley Canals.

Andrew Denny  | 1.28pm | add a comment

GU Bulbourne Yard developed

The historic Bulbourne Yard on the Grand Union Canal summit is finally being developed as housing, 16 years after lock gate production ceased.

The workshops were built in 1882 and made lock gates for 120 years. After they closed in 2003, the Canal & River Trust failed to find commercial uses that would keep the buildings in their existing format.

The development is by H2O Urban, CRT's joint partnership with housing developer Bloc.

It will build 25 homes, using the four Grade II-listed buildings, two other buildings and eight new homes, along with 48 parking spaces. A new pedestrian footbridge (not shown) will also be built, and CRT says it will retain offices there and some features of the old site, including the wharf and crane.

The 25 new houses at Bulbourne should be completed by 2021.

Andrew Denny  | 1.27pm | add a comment

First Red Wheel unveiled in Scotland

The Transport Trust has unveiled its first Red Wheel in Scotland. The latest plaque commemorates the Glasgow, Paisley & Ardrossan Canal, and has been placed on the Canal Station pub and restaurant in Paisley.

The canal, designed by John Rennie and Thomas Telford, opened in 1810 and only ran for 11 miles between Glasgow and Johnstone, the money running out before it could reach Ardrossan on the coast. Even the shortened length was never profitable but it survived for 70 years, being converted into a railway in 1885.

The name 'Canal Station' recalls both forms of transport. The railway station was built on the site of the Paisley Basin, itself the scene of the UK's biggest canal tragedy. Just days after the waterway opened, 84 people were drowned here when a passenger boat capsized, a disaster commemorated in a separate plaque nearby (WW July 2015).

The canal also featured the longest arch in any aqueduct of the canal age, across the River White Cart at Blackhall Bridge. This was retained for the succeeding railway, and at 209 years old it remains the world's oldest operational railway bridge. The railway was closed in 1983 but reopened in 1990 as a commuter route from Canal Station into Glasgow. A half-mile section of the old canal remains in water near Johnstone.

The Transport Trust is due shortly to unveil the second Scottish Red Wheel, at Glenfinnan Viaduct on the West Highland railway line, known to a new generation as the 'Harry Potter bridge'.

Andrew Denny  | 1.24pm | add a comment

No more hire bikes in canals please, says CRT

The Canal & River Trust has appealed to bike hire companies to find a way of stopping its bikes from ending up in canals. The trust estimates that 100 or more hire bikes – docked, dockless and electric – are being dumped by thieves and vandals in London's canals alone each year.

Charlotte Wood, CRT's London head of operations, says: “Fair play to Transport for London, they reimburse us for the Santander bikes we return to them. Freebikes have also been proactive in trying to help. However, other hire organisations aren't as yet working with us. We think it’s because they get their bikes so cheaply it’s not cost effective to cover their return.”

The trust’s latest haul, gathered at its depot beside the Thames for a photo-opportunity, included 20 Mobikes, nine Ofo bikes, an Urbo bike, a new Lime electric bike and seven Santander bikes from London’s official docking cycle scheme.

Andrew Denny  | 1.21pm | add a comment

Monday 19 August

Network Rail volunteers help SNCT at Berwick Tunnel

Ten staff from Network Rail joined 20 volunteers of the Shrewsbury & Newport Canals Trust in July to work on vegetation clearance on the derelict Shrewsbury Canal.

Network Rail learned of the opportunities for volunteering on the site after two of its staff went on a guided walk of the route hosted by SNCT last year.

The main SNCT work parties are now at both ends of the canal's Berwick Tunnel portals, since it could be an 'easy win' for the restoration. Although abandoned for 70 years, the 970-yard tunnel still appears to be in good condition and the biggest task at the moment is the vegetation in and around the channel, which is still largely in water (News, WW May 2018).

The tunnel was completed in 1797 after Thomas Telford became the engineer for the Shrewsbury Canal, and was the first of any size to have a towpath throughout its length. Originally a tub-boat canal, operating boats 8ft long by 6ft 4in beam, the canal was widened after 1835 when it was linked to the national system via the Newport Canal.

See sncanal.org.uk for more.

Network Rail volunteers help SNCT at Berwick Tunnel

Andrew Denny  | 2.13pm | add a comment

Chelsea Flower Show garden secret at Standedge

A collection of canal art pieces created for the award winning canal exhibit at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show is now on public exhibition at the Standedge Tunnel Visitor Centre.

The 'Welcome to Yorkshire' canal garden, which won a gold medal at the Chelsea show, relied on attention to detail. And one detail, seen only by the judges and VIP guests, was a selection of canal art displayed in the exhibit's 'lock hut' and painted by waterways artist Melanie Clare.

In designing his garden, Mark Gregory had a fanciful conceit that the lock-keeper would have lovingly and privately collected such beautifully painted objects. It must have been frustrating for the artist to have had her work exhibited to such an exclusive audience, and she must be gratified to now have it seen more publicly.

The work includes familiar roses and castles, but also the 'brightwork' peculiar to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. It is on show at Standedge until the end of October.

Andrew Denny  | 2.13pm | add a comment

Another canal mill destroyed

Barely a week after a blaze destroyed the Walkley Clogs building on the Rochdale Canal, another historic canalside mill was destroyed on the Ashton Canal on 6th August.

Oxford Mill, at Ashton-under-Lyne, was the creation of Hugh Mason, a pioneering and enlightened mill owner and later Liberal MP.

Chris Leah of the Wooden Boat Society was a witness to the conflagration, during one of his society's regular recycling trips (as described in WW January 2019). He told us: “Ominous black smoke was billowing from a big fire close to our intended route. I had noted previously that [one section of the mill had been] used for storing stuff in cardboard boxes.

“By the time we were ready to return it was nearly dark. At Brewery Bridge, at the South end of Pottinger Street, we got a good view of the fire. The brigade's efforts had seemingly been in vain. The whole area was now blazing well, particularly in the section of the building where I had seen the boxes, presumably turbocharged by whatever was being stored.”

Chris said he had to tie up for the night in a nearby bridgehole, fearful that the building might collapse on the boat if he tried to pass. Fortunately no one was injured in the blaze.

“The streets had a carnival atmosphere, like a huge free bonfire party for the whole community,” he added. “[Every so often] I would hear a rumble as another bit of historic mill tumbled.”

Andrew Denny  | 2.00pm | add a comment

Sunday 18 August

Public viewing point for New Cut

The New Cut Heritage & Ecology Group, the society caring for what remains of the old New Cut Canal in Warrington, has opened a public viewing point to see the remains of Woolston Lock.

The group formed in 2016 (WW August 2016) to identify and protect archaeological structures and wildlife habitats, while further developing Paddington Meadows, part of the riverbank between the New Cut and the river.

The new platform also gives a view of the non-tidal River Mersey as it might have appeared to the old working boatmen, and explains the significance of the area's history.

The New Cut Canal opened in 1821, and was once a part of the Mersey & Irwell Navigation, linking Manchester to the tidal Mersey at Warrington. The Manchester Ship Canal eventually superseded it.

Also commemorated with a plaque was Old Billy, said to have been the world’s oldest working boat horse when he died, aged 62, in 1822. His portrait hangs in Warrington Museum & Art Gallery.

A drone view of the New Cut can be seen at youtu.be/9U10QSQhs24.

The New Cut Heritage and Ecology Group unveiled a viewing platform on 16th July, also paying tribute to Billy, at 62 said to have been the world oldest working horse.

Andrew Denny  | 1.40pm | add a comment

Thursday 15 August

Emergency at Whaley Bridge 

Potential disaster was narrowly averted in possibly the darkest hour for the Canal & River Trust in its seven-year history

A deluge of rain fell on the Peak District on the night of 31st July, and some observers felt like half of it had descended on Toddbrook Reservoir, overlooking Whaley Bridge at the head of the Upper Peak Forest Canal. 

By the following day the water began overtopping the spill weir, and suddenly a section of the concrete gave way, with water eating away at the soil underneath. 

Fearful of a collapse, the police called for an immediate evacuation of a quarter of the town’s 6,500 population.

To prevent disaster, dam pumps were soon installed to lower the water level and RAF Chinook helicopters dropped hundreds of aggregate-filled bags to stabilise the structure. 

An additional worry was that if the dam had collapsed the torrent of water could have swept away the modest 35ft aqueduct that carries the canal over the River Goyt. Twenty-three miles of the Upper Peak Forest and Macclesfield canals, which effectively hold more water than Toddbrook itself, would then also empty back into the River Goyt, compounding any disaster. Stop planks were inserted along the canal near New Mills to forestall this.

The reservoir slowly began to lower and worries eased. But it was six days before residents were allowed to return to the affected area, while rail services through the town were halted for the duration.


Toddbrook, a canal reservoir completed in 1839, takes water from the Todd Brook, a tributary of the River Goyt. Water only goes into the reservoir during high flows in the brook; this was done to ensure mill owners on the River Goyt always had a water supply. Since the emergency, this inlet has been blocked so that all the water now flows around the reservoir into the bypass channel.

Originally the reservoir keeper lived on site. He would watch the weather and reduce the level when heavy rain was predicted. Now monitoring is through an electronic SCADA system, and the reservoir inspected twice a week, a requirement under the Reservoirs Act. 

The current spill weir was built in the late 1960s after a flood risk analysis decided that the original structure was inadequate. It is 83 yards long and nearly a foot higher than the 1839 weir, and at the time was doing exactly what it was designed for.

Engineers said the amount of water flowing over the weir at the end of July was nowhere close to the maximum predicted for the design, so the subsequent failure of the concrete capping slabs gives cause for concern. 

The UK’s 1975 Reservoirs Act is claimed to have the most stringent inspection protocols in the world, amended further by the Flood & Water Management Act 2010. Toddbrook had a mandatory ten-year inspection in November 2018 and had been given a clean bill of health.

Initial works include a temporary repair to the spill weir and pressure grouting of the top capping. The next stage is a detailed investigation into the structure to decide on the necessary repair works, which are likely to be lengthy and expensive. 

Eleven 12in submersible electric pumps are still in place, with over half a mile of piping. They are supported by a floating platform to stop them becoming clogged with silt. These will be used to keep the water level low until the repair works are finished. 

A fish rescue took place once the water level fell below emergency levels, with around 30,000 transferred to Bittell Reservoir, south of Birmingham, which itself had been drained and repaired in 2018.

Meanwhile, for boaters, water levels in the long 23-mile pound from Whaley Bridge to Bosley are not in immediate danger; there are three other canal reservoirs (Combs, Bosley and Sutton) feeding this summit length. 

Businesses affected  

One business caught up in the emergency was the Judith Mary trip-boat, which has operated from Whaley Bridge since 1983. Owner Suzy Kelsall said they were carrying 40 people on a cream-tea cruise when friends phoned to tell them to get off the boat as soon as possible, something not easily accomplished for the (mainly elderly) passengers.  

“We felt we were in the middle of a huge disaster movie film set,” Suzy Kelsall told WW. “There were evacuees, roads closed, that Chinook flying overhead, emergency services everywhere, volunteers and our fantastic community offering shelter, beds and food to one another along with neighbouring communities. 

“After six days of being out of our homes I have never enjoyed putting my key in the lock in my front door and walking in so much. The next day we were able to collect the Judith Mary, and the one-hour journey back was incredibly emotional.” 

FAB day 

The Whaley Bridge Canal Group, a community interest company set up earlier this year to restore the transhipment warehouse, said it would be holding a special FAB (Food & Art at the Basin) market on 7th September and asked boaters to return to the town. 

Rupert Smedley 

Andrew Denny  | 2.32pm | add a comment

Olympic cycling champ opens Ashton towpath link

Erstwhile Olympic cycling champion Chris Boardman did the honours on 31st July when a new access ramp onto the Ashton Canal was officially opened at Guide Bridge, in Audenshaw.

The towpath of the 7-mile canal was upgraded in 2015 with a £1.2m grant for both wheels and walkers, but until now the neighbourhood at Guide Bridge, 30ft above the canal, has been tantalisingly out of reach from the towpath.

The ramp was built by the Canal & River Trust, but the Department for Transport’s Cycle City Ambition Grant paid the £724,000 cost.

Chris Boardman, now Manchester's new Cycling & Walking Commissioner, praised the ramp as a benefit for towpath users, but boaters may also find it a useful shortcut, especially to the handy suburban railway station of Guide Bridge.

CRT region director Daniel Greenhalgh (l) and Chris Boardman (second from l) open the ramp at Guide Bridge on the Ashton Canal. Photo: CRT

Andrew Denny  | 2.15pm | add a comment

New C-Fest adds to Shropshire Union events

G-Fest, a fortnight-long biennial village festival in Gnosall, Staffordshire, which has been running for several years, was this year joined by C-Fest, a brand-new weekend bash that extended the celebrations to the nearby Shropshire Union Canal.

Held the week before the regular Audlem Festival of Transport, C-Fest was able to attract historic boats on the way to Audlem, along with roving traders attending an event at Market Drayton.

Two canalside pubs, the Boat Inn and the Navigation, held a gin and cider festival and provided musical venues to give a soundtrack to the weekend.

The organisers said it was successful enough that, despite G-Fest being only once every two years, the new event could become annual and stamp Gnosall more firmly on the canal festival map. While the canal is some distance from the village, the presence of a quarter-mile of good linear mooring, bookended by two good pubs, makes it a natural canal venue.

The first C-Fest at Gnosall could have found its feet as a regular canal event.

Andrew Denny  | 2.06pm | add a comment

Wednesday 14 August

Mixed reception for Regent's Canal 'upturned dustbins'

A modern canalside supermarket and residential development in London has been Grade II-listed, drawing scathing comments from local canal supporters. They ask why it has not been possible to list some other, more traditional structures on London's waterways.

The Sainsbury’s Grand Union development, overlooking the canal in Camden, is the first purpose-built supermarket to be added to the National Heritage List. Built in the 1980s, it transformed a former industrial site which had previously included a wharf.

Ian Shacklock, chair of the Friends of the Regent's Canal, said he was not alone in questioning the lack of effort to protect more traditional structures on London's waterways.

“Asking Historic England to list anything on the Regent's Canal is like getting blood out of a stone,” he told WW.

“They have resisted throwing their weight behind the iconic gasholders at Bethnal Green and the former ironworks at Holborn Studios, which have undeniable connections with the canal's early decades. So it came as quite a surprise to us to hear that their most treasured structure on the canal is a modern building resembling a row of upturned dustbins.”

However he gave grudging acceptance of the decision: “This building is an acquired taste and it wins the approval of some of the architects in our group. All in all, it's good to see something on the canal gaining recognition, and at the very least this should guarantee that there will no attempts to create roof extensions in this narrow stretch of the Regent's Canal."

Andrew Denny  | 1.57pm | add a comment

Tuesday 13 August

Obituary: John Williams

Carpenter who pioneered fitouts for the first steel leisure narrowboats and had a huge influence on the hire-boat industry. 

Trained as a high-quality housebuilding carpenter by his father in Shrewsbury, John Williams came to the new Shropshire Union Cruises hire company at Norbury Junction in 1965, just as it was building the first steel leisure narrowboat shells.

He became responsible for fit-outs of this pioneering firm, inventing and developing new techniques, and played a key role in establishing their standards of construction and operation.

John represented Shropshire Union Cruises on the then-new Association of Pleasure Craft Operators, later British Marine Inland Boating. He brought together many hire operators in supporting restoration schemes, realising that hire-boaters could turn into new purchasers of private boats and become enthusiastic supporters of restoration. He was recruited as a key advisor to the Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council, playing a significant role in changing political attitudes to waterways.

In the 1970s he moved to the Norfolk Broads, joining Porter & Haylett of Wroxham which, from 1979, built and operated Connoisseur Cruisers.

Eventually John opened his own boatyard at Stalham, building, restoring and servicing classic Broads sailing yachts and motor cruisers. In the 1990s he became involved with the Electric Boat Association, pioneering trailable electric-powered cabin launches.

Paul Wagstaffe, former chief executive of British Marine and a friend, said: “He was very much a character but always a complete professional.“

Andrew Denny  | 2.04pm | add a comment

Today's news from the web

  • On a quiet canal, a church peace garden remembers the brave nurses of WWI's 'floating hospitals' christiantoday.com

    Meandering its way through the suburbs of Edinburgh is the historic Union Canal, a once bustling waterway that was at the heart of Scottish Victorian industry. Polwarth Parish Church, which sits on its banks, wants to utilise this historic waterway for the spiritual benefit of locals. Affectionately known as the "Kirk on the Canal", the church is fundraising to buy a barge that will be used to provide spiritual, recreational and education activities. For the barge project, called "All Aboard", the church is teaming up with local social innovation charity, People Know How, which works with children and young people in the city. A jetty has already been constructed at the bottom of the church's garden bordering the canal. The next step is to raise enough funds to buy the barge. ...

  • Canal barge spotted submerged in Yorkshire yorkshirepost.co.uk

    A sunken barge was spotted in a Yorkshire canal by a worried witness. The submerged canal boat was spotted at Boroughbridge, North Yorkshire by a passing motorist who "feared the worst."...

Monday 12 August

Rain mars Audlem

Extremes of weather made for some discomfort in the run-up to this year's Audlem Festival of Transport on 26th-28th July. Attended by 28 historic boats, the event was marred by weather too hot for enjoyable locking in the run-up, and too wet over the weekend, almost wiping out attendances by the general public.

Nevertheless Audlem has become a fixture on the historic boat tour, one of the half-dozen favourite gatherings for enthusiasts, and the crews still enjoyed themselves.

The Saturday hogroast at the lock cottage was abandoned during the downpours, but the Historic Narrow Boat Club found an alternative venue in marquees left up in a field after an earlier Ramblers Club annual picnic.

The attenders and organisers, all enjoyed the weekend, but the purpose was to put on a spectacle for the public, to remind them of this marvellous form of transport and wonderful setting, and the weather worked against this. Better luck next year!

Peter Silvester, Audlem Mill 

Andrew Denny  | 2.18pm | add a comment

Grantham celebrates 50th birthday

On 28th July the Grantham Canal Society held a 50th birthday party at its headquarters in the Woolsthorpe depot.

The society came into being as an idea of the Grantham Civic Society in 1969, and held its inaugural meeting at The Plough Inn, Hickling, overlooking Hickling Basin.

That first meeting was chaired by local architect and archaeologist Garland Grylls, who died in 2006. His daughter Jane, current treasurer and membership secretary, was present at the birthday party, along with two of the original members from 1969, Chris Tizzard and Jim Barker.

Chris and Jim represented those who, in the 1970s and early '80s, fought attempts to turn the canal into a linear rubbish dump, helped thwart the mining of the Vale of Belvoir (subsidence would have destroyed the line) and challenged the indifference and negativity of British Waterways at the time.

Also present was Francis Bailey, who in the early days was instrumental in setting up what became the Hickling Reach Project, the first real success of the canal. Hickling Basin was rejuvenated, nearly 3 miles of canal dredged and three new accommodation bridges

The society celebrated its birthday with optimism. The lottery-funded restoration of Woolsthorpe locks 15 and 14 should be completed next year, membership has nearly tripled to over 650 and it has over 70 active volunteers.

Plans are now shaping up for the completion of the two remaining locks of the Woolsthorpe flight, while the society has also turned its attention to the Cropwell Bishop dry section as its next project.

Andrew Denny  | 1.47pm | add a comment

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