Four canal restoration projects across the country are set to share a £200,000 bequest left to the Inland Waterways Association. We look at how each canal will benefit from the legacy
New bridges and restored locks are being funded by Tony Harrison’s £ 200,000 legacy
What would you do if you found yourself with a sizeable amount of money to donate to canal restoration? It’s an occasional fantasy of mine, just in case I ever win the Lottery: give it all to one project to give it the biggest boost, or spread it widely to make a smaller difference to as many projects as possible?
The Inland Waterways Association found itself in this position, albeit in rather less happy circumstances. Tony Harrison, who as honorary consulting engineer had contributed a great deal to canal restoration in his lifetime, died in 2014 leaving a legacy of £200,000 to IWA. And the Association needed to decide how best to spend the money for the maximum benefit for the waterways.
Initial discussions having failed to come up with a clear front-runner, IWA turned to the tried and tested method of inviting organisations to bid for anything up to the full £200,000 – simply stipulating that the projects should do ‘the maximum good for the inland waterways’.
A total of 28 applications was reduced to a shortlist of six; after more detailed evaluation the IWA Trustees finally agreed on four grants of widely varying sizes supporting four projects of varying nature across the country: • New gates for Great Cornard Lock on the
River Stour. • Creating a water control structure to maintain levels on the top length of the Cromford Canal. • Reopening two miles and two locks on
the Pocklington Canal. • Rebuilding a bridge which will remove the last major blockage to reopening two more miles of the Montgomery Canal. The IWA grants won’t fund these projects in their entirety; however in combination (in some cases as ‘match funding’) with other sources and with volunteer labour, they will help to achieve the following: 1 new bridge 2 improved trip-boat operations 3 restored locks 4 canals supported 6 miles reopened to boats
The Pocklington Canal is a nine-mile waterway climbing through nine locks from the Yorkshire Derwent river at East Cottingwith to Canal Head, on the outskirts of Pocklington.
Although it went out of use in the 1930s and fell derelict soon after, the canal was never legally abandoned and all its locks
and bridges survived. Following a proposal to infill it with sludge in 1959 (successfully fought off by the Inland Waterways Association and others), the Pocklington Canal Amenity Society was formed in 1969 with the aim of reopening the entire canal.
Initial progress was good, with the first lock and three miles reopened in 1972, followed three years later by a second lock and a further two miles to the Melbourne Arm. But there, navigation has stopped for over 40 years.
It hasn’t been for lack of effort (PCAS has carried out work on four more locks since then) but a combination of factors including the official designation of most of the route as Sites of Special Scientific Interest on account of the canal’s rare aquatic plants, insects, otters and nesting birds.
In the past this has prevented dredging work from taking place, curtailing reopening plans; however more recently relations between nature bodies and navigation interests have improved greatly, and wildlife conservation is no longer seen as a barrier to reopening.
Indeed, in recent years a successful Heritage Lottery Fund application has seen a programme of work worth almost £700,000 get under way including restoration of historic bridges as well as dredging work aimed at benefiting wildlife but also facilitating future reopening.
In parallel with this, PCAS has launched a £250,000 Bicentenary Appeal which will put two partially restored locks (Thornton and Walbut) into full working order, enabling two further miles of canal to be reopened to the Bielby Arm, leaving just a couple of miles to complete from there to Canal Head.
Work is already under way at Thornton Lock thanks to the Heritage Heroes scheme (which helps injured exservicemen to rebuild their lives by working on heritage projects) and local volunteers. A contribution of £106,400 from the Tony Harrison Legacy will bring the Appeal close to its target, supporting work both at Thornton and at Walbut Lock, including new gates, lock ladders, landing stages and dredging.
All being well, the canal will reopen to Bielby in 2018 to mark canal’s 200th anniversary of its original opening.
What is now known as the Montgomery Canal is a chain of waterways with a complex history, reaching from Frankton Junction on the Llangollen Canal via 35 miles of splendid borderland and Welsh countryside to Welshpool and on to Newtown. Abandoned by its railway company owners in 1944 after a breach ten years earlier had been left unrepaired, the canal suffered serious damage with numerous road bridges being demolished over the following decades.
A threat to use its route through Welshpool for a bypass road led to a ‘Big Dig’ protest working party which kickstarted restoration. Since then, support from a number of groups including the Shropshire Union Canal Society, IWA, and its volunteer labour subsidiary, Waterway Recovery Group, has seen a great deal of progress with more than half of the canal now open. This includes seven miles in England from Frankton to Gronwen Bridge below Maesbury, and a 12-mile isolated Welsh length from Arddleen via Welshpool to Refail.
However in recent years progress has slowed, partly because heading southwards from the Gronwen the canal enters a section whose underlying geology means that it was plagued by leakage problems during working days, has long since run dry, and needs expensive and labour-intensive relining work. Volunteer work continues on this length with the
‘Use of volunteers will bring the cost of the bridge down to around £200,000 and the legacy’s contribution of £70,000 means that this can go ahead during 2018’
initial target of getting to Crickheath, where a full-length winding hole will enable boats to turn, which will allow the restored sections to be reopened.
A £3m Lottery grant has recently been confirmed which will enable the completion of this work within five years – but in the meantime, the Montgomery Canal Partnership is already raising funds to tackle the next two miles which will bring boats to the Welsh border at Llanymynech (and within four miles of linking up to the Welshpool section). This will mean more channel lining work (although there is optimism that the entire length won’t need relining), but the good news is that there are only two physical obstructions.
The first is a disused railway embankment whose removal WRG’s volunteers are already tackling; the second is School House Bridge, the last remaining road blockage on the English part of the canal.
The Partnership aims to use contractors to construct the basic arch, but volunteer labour for everything else – earthworks, parapets, wing walls, channel walls and so on – following the success of this approach at Compass Bridge on the Wey & Arun Canal.
Use of volunteers will bring the cost down to around £200,000, and the legacy’s contribution of £70,000 means that this can go ahead during 2018, with a target of opening the canal to the Welsh border in close to the same five-year timeframe as the length to Crickheath.
The Cromford Canal provided a connection from the Erewash Canal and the former Nottingham Canal at Langley Mill to the mills at Cromford, and to the Cromford & High Peak Tramway. As a through route it lasted until Butterley Tunnel collapsed in 1900, after which some local trade continued on both sides of the tunnel until the canal was abandoned in 1944.
Early work to restore the canal concentrated on the upper section in the Derwent Valley which had survived in better condition, and by the early 1970s a trip-boat was operating from Cromford Wharf.
However with the demise of the original canal society in the late 1980s, this length began to fall back into disuse – and has since been retained as a nature reserve rather than a navigation.
At the same time the Erewash Canal Preservation & Development Association reopened the first lock and basin at Langley Mill to create a terminus for the Erewash, and has gradually extended this basin northwards, and more recently the Friends of the Cromford Canal have been formed with the aim of reopening the entire canal.
Their restoration work has concentrated mainly around Ironville Locks near the centre of the canal, but following dredging of the Cromford length they have restarted trips to Leawood steam pumping station on historic boat Birdswood, as a way of publicising the restoration and raising funds.
However the boat’s operation has been hampered by the variable water levels in the canal, and the problem has been traced to the lack of a water control sluice
which appears to have originally existed at Cromford where the supply enters from the Derwent.
As this is a highly sensitive area, being part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and part of the Cromford Mill Grade 1 listed building site, a control sluice has been designed which will be built from oak, and based on an adjacent historic structure.
Paying for it with £15,000 from the legacy is a fitting tribute to Tony Harrison’s career and lifelong interest in water engineering.
RIVER STOUR NAVIGATION
The Stour, running along the Essex and Suffolk border and made famous by John Constable’s paintings, was once navigable for 25 miles from Sudbury down to Manningtree, where it entered the tidal estuary. However by the late 19th Century it was in decline, trade on the upper reaches ended during the First World War, and the last traffic on the lower end finished in the 1930s.
However the bottom three locks – Flatford, Dedham and Stratford St Mary – had only very recently been rebuilt in concrete by the Essex & Suffolk Water Company (as a condition of being allowed to extract water from the river), so when the River Stour Trust was formed in 1968 they were still in good condition. The Trust therefore began work at this end of the river, reopening Flatford and Dedham Locks.
Stratford St Mary Lock was more problematical. Partly this was because of its tricky site on an island, but also by this time the Anglian Water Authority (predecessor of the Environment Agency in this area and the navigation authority for the river) was becoming more opposed to reopening the river for boats – to the point where it attempted (unsuccessfully) to have it legally abandoned.
Faced with this opposition (and also with conditions precluding most powered craft from using the river), the Trust turned its attention to the upper end of the navigation, building a new lock at Great Cornard thanks to a grant from the Millennium Fund. More recently its volunteers have returned to Stratford St Mary, where the lock is now largely complete but lacks gates.
A Landfill Tax Credit grant has now paid for most of the cost of the new gates; £ 8,600 from the legacy will provide matching funding to this grant, and enable the new gates to be installed – opening up almost two miles more river for access by the Trust’s trip-boat.
Pocklington Canal: boats through Walbut Lock in 2018
Canoeists enjoy the restored length of the Pocklington
The restored Montgomery at Maesbury
Melbourne, current limit of the Pocklington
Montgomery Canal: a new bridge to replace this blockage
Monty target: Welsh border at Llanymynech
Impression of new Cromford Canal sluice
Cromford Wharf, base for trip-boat Birdswood
The Stour’s Flatford Lock, already restored
Leawood Pump, Birdswood’s destination