Liv­ing Na­tional Trea­sure

Lock-gate maker

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Tessa Waugh www.canal­ Pho­to­graph by Richard Can­non

Lock-gate maker

With more than 1,500 locks, some with five lock gates each that need re­plac­ing ev­ery 25 to 30 years, main­tain­ing them can be ‘a bit like paint­ing the Forth Bridge’, ad­mits Steve Brunt, a work­shop su­per­vi­sor for the Canal and River trust, which is ded­i­cated to pro­tect­ing and main­tain­ing more than 2,000 miles of wa­ter­ways in Eng­land and Wales.

Mr Brunt man­ages one of two sites where lock gates are hand­made for the trust, which em­ploys 12 full-time car­pen­ters— in­clud­ing two sets of fa­thers and sons —to pro­duce about 180 gates a year. ‘i like to call them ar­ti­sans,’ he de­clares proudly of the eight lock-gate car­pen­ters he su­per­vises at the Stanley Ferry work­shop near Wake­field, West York­shire. ‘their trade is carpentry and join­ery, but their skills are spe­cialised for the wa­ter­ways and there’s noth­ing else like it in any other in­dus­try.’

Each lock gate is hand­made in the time-hon­oured fash­ion. When they start to wear out, the car­pen­ters go on site to mea­sure them up and a new one is then pro­duced back at the work­shop. Mea­sure­ments are taken in im­pe­rial, the sys­tem that was in use when they were de­signed 200 years ago, then con­verted into met­ric to pro­duce a CAD draw­ing.

‘there’s no stan­dard­i­s­a­tion within lock gates,’ points out Mr Brunt. ‘Each one is dif­fer­ent ac­cord­ing to the sec­tion of coun­try it comes from and the engi­neer who de­signed it, so they’re all made to mea­sure us­ing tra­di­tional meth­ods. We use Bri­tish oak and build them to sur­vive un­der water, con­trol huge water pres­sures and en­dure the gen­eral wear and tear of boats pass­ing through.’

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