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Issue 364 - August 2002

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Chairman's Column

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Society Visit to Crofton Beam Engines

Would all those members (and their guests, of course) interested in joining this visit to Crofton on Sunday 29 September contact me as soon as possible. Thanks to those who have already done so. I need to give the Warden our anticipated numbers in advance.

Full details of this visit were included in the last Newsletter [and are repeated this month on page 5].

The Dorset & Somerset Canal

Just a few days after Derrick's Hunt's talk at our last meeting, the August issue of 'Waterways World' was published, containing an interesting article by Edward Paget-Tomlinson about James Fussell's balance lock or lift at Barrow Hill on that canal. The article is illustrated by Edward's splendid drawings of this structure.

If any member would be interested in seeing a copy of this article, please see our Librarian, Alan Howarth.

Ray Brooks and the London Narrowboat Project

In the same issue of 'Waterways World' was an article entitled 'Cruising with Kids, where Lynne Haye looked at the potential offered by our canals to the younger generation.

Part of the article referred to the 'Stoke Bruerne Story' which described how a group of children from Chernobyl and their English host families were enjoying a trip on the London Narrowboat Project (LNBP) boats 'Merlin' and 'Megan'. Every year the Chernobyl Child Lifeline arranges 4-week holidays abroad for children needing non-contaminated food, and lots of bananas to help clear radiation from their bodies. The LNBP had offered the use of their boats for a week, but ran out of bananas within two hours!

Society member and LNBP cover skipper, Ray Brooks, was one of the skippers on this occasion. In the article he describes how he had early memories of earning a halfpenny for helping at Blackburn's locks and, after a remission of decades, was re-infected by the boating bug. Now, after completing Project training, he takes boats out eight times each season. He said "It seems a great way to go boating without having to own or hire a boat - just as long as you like kids."

The Good Shepherd

And speaking of Ray Brooks, whilst he was at Braunston recently on LNBP cover skipper duty, waiting for his party to arrive, he was looking over one of the new boats currently being built for the Project, when he saw what looked like a very large white duck swimming down towards the top gates of bottom lock. However, on a closer look he realised that it was a sheep and dashed off to give assistance. Well - have you ever tried to pull a sheep out of a canal or river? The waterlogged fleece obviously makes the animal exceedingly heavy, and the fleece itself when wet is very greasy. Not easy to get a good handhold. In the end, with the assistance of Helen who was fitting out the new boat, Ray managed to haul the sheep onto dry land and return it to its paddock. Not exactly an everyday occurrence on our inland waterways!

The Wey & Arun Canal

BBC 'South Today' on 16 July carried an interesting item about the replacement aqueduct currently under construction at Loxwood on the Wey & Arun Canal. Whilst this was only a brief item it gave some useful coverage of this important southern restoration project and work currently in hand.

New Sweat-shirts and Polo Shirts

Further to the item in last month's Newsletter, don't forget to place an order for your new Society sweat-shirt and/or Polo Shirt. Orders to me or to Ray Brooks on the Sales Stand.

Paul Herbert


4 July Meeting

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A sizeable gathering, including Society members who we hadn't seen for a while (it was good to see you) welcomed our July speaker, Derrick Hunt, who talked to us about 'The Dorset & Somerset Canal - Friends, Families, Feuds, Finance, Failure and Future'.

In his very humorous and entertaining presentation, Derrick described the 'ups and downs' of the proposed canal, and went into much detail about the various personalities and shareholders involved in the promotion of the canal (who subsequently lost £000s), and some of their dubious goings on. But, to start us off, he explained that up until about 16 years ago he was a 'canal virgin'. It all started when he was walking his dog along the route of an old railway line and found a disused canal. That was actually the Somersetshire Coal Canal. Upon undertaking some research he came across reference to the Dorset & Somerset Canal and then went out to find it. By 1986 he had taken a few canal holidays and is now a boat owner, with a mooring at Pewsey on the Kennet & Avon. Derrick is now a member of some 32 canal and related societies! (But not, however, the Southampton Canal Society!!!).

He spoke about the social history of the time this canal was being promoted, which coincided with the 'Canal Mania' of the 1790s, and provided details of the Somerset coal field in the area.

The Dorset & Somerset Canal was planned to connect the Bristol and English Channels by building a canal from Bath to Poole, via Wincanton and Frome. The proposed route, authorised in 1796, was from the Kennet and Avon Canal near Bradford-on-Avon southwards to near Sturminster Newton, and on into Poole Harbour, with an 11 mile branch from Frome to Nettlebridge Collieries. Both the main and branch lines would have been heavily locked, with the latter having a fall of 264ft from the collieries. For this reason a balance lock/boat lift was promoted. Robert Whitworth and his son, Robert, carried out the main survey for the canal but John Rennie was subsequently engaged to re-survey the line.

One peculiarity of the 1796 Act was that it required the Company to build the branch line before the main line, but the promoters didn't mind that requirement because they had so much confidence that their proposed canal would be successful. Some 8 miles of the branch were built but the cost was more than estimated. After unsuccessfully trying to raise further funds in 1803, work was abandoned. The canal suffered from being built from the middle with no completed 'ends'. Attempts were made in 1825 to revive the project, but this too failed.

Unfortunately, most of the canal documentation has been lost, except for a beautifully detailed map showing the whole line of the proposed canal and the relevant land owners.

Derrick then turned to the remains of the canal that can be found today. We saw slides of various features of the canal, including an old winding hole still in water, and a restored bridge (the bridges on this canal were unlike those built elsewhere in the country, having very low flat arches). Two aqueducts were built, puddled and watered, but were never used. Both still exist. - the Murtry and Coleford aqueducts. We were shown slides of the former which had been completely overgrown but was now in safe hands and the stonework had been cleared. The Environment Agency had cleared out the river bed and ¾ of the parapet recovered. Derrick referred to the discovery of the remains of a canal tunnel (under a road in Coleford) which had been 'lost' for 200 years without anybody, including the local authority for the area, being aware of it. In woods in Coleford are some perfectly preserved culverts.

Derrick explained the restoration work that had been undertaken to date and that proposed. There was a particular need for interpretation boards. It appeared that the Dorset & Somerset Canal Society was virtually a one-man-band, and Derrick roped in a number of friends and other 'volunteers' when there was work to be carried out. He explained how he now 'owns' (seemingly by default) a medieval pack-horse bridge and has a 10 year management agreement with English Heritage, from whom he had been able to secure funding. He was now looking for a kindly sole to assume ownership of one of the aqueducts (we subsequently attempted to make this the first prize in our July raffle, but unfortunately nobody wanted that particular prize!).

Regarding the future, Derrick pointed out that the Dorset & Somerset Canal was shown 7th in IWAAC's projected list of restorations! As he said to close his presentation, in 20 years time when all other canal restoration schemes have been completed, who knows - there maybe hope for the Dorset & Somerset!

Many thanks Derrick for not only a very interesting presentation, but a highly entertaining one as well. For those with access to the Internet who want to know more about this little known canal, the Dorset & Somerset Canal has a very informative website.

Paul Herbert


The Warwickshire Branch of the Southampton Canal Society

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I am sure that when the Southampton Canal Society was first formed back in 1967 little thought was given to branches becoming established in other parts of the country, but that is what seems to have happened in Warwickshire.

It all started off at the Old Engine Arm at the top of Napton Locks where the first Society members based themselves, but more of that later.

Under powers granted under an Act of 1786, by which the Oxford Canal Company was allowed to use any water found within a thousand yards of the canal, in c.1791 the Company built a 900 yard canal, with one bridge (Old Engine House Bridge - No. 117) which started between locks numbered 11 and 12 on the Napton flight* (above what was later to be known as Green's Lock, No. 14 - and now named Adkins' lock). This arm, originally called the 'Napton Engine House Arm', was dug to enable coal boats to reach a stationary steam pumping engine (no other details known) which lifted water up into a brick channel which, after a distance of one mile, was discharged into the summit pound by Marston Doles top lock. The land purchased for this branch cost £205.20. The Company must have had a lot of trouble with the engine for, in the first year, the boiler had to be replaced at a cost of £70. Then, two years later, in 1796, a man was killed whilst attending to it and the Canal Company made an ex-gratia payment of £10 to his mother.

With the completion of Boddington Reservoir in 1811, which fed the summit pound of the Oxford Canal just north of Claydon Top Lock, the pump was considered redundant and by 1911 the old pumping engine had long been out of service. Many years later, in 1974, saw the resumption of regular back-pumping during the summer months at Napton and Marston Doles locks using modern equipment. In recent years that equipment and pipe line was completely replaced by a more up to date and efficient system.

To bring us up to more recent times, the arm is located within the boundaries of two separately owned farms. That at the junction with the main line is Holt Farm, owned by the Adkins family (hence the renaming of the adjacent lock). That family has long been interested and involved with the canal running through their property and even ran a small hire fleet some years ago. In addition to running a working farm (mainly, but not exclusively, sheep), they also manage the moorings above Napton Top Lock and in the arm itself, and also operate a caravan and camping site. For many years there was also a Farm Shop. Sadly, Ken and Anita Adkins are no longer with us but Holt Farm is still owned and farmed by the family.

The accommodation bridge over the arm, the Old Engine House Bridge, which forms the boundary between Holt Farm and its neighbour, was demolished about ten years ago (and it is rumoured that many of the bricks were recycled as ballast on the Lewis family's 'Remus'). Beyond the former bridge hole the remains of the arm down to the site of the pumping engine is heavily overgrown but is still in water. It is understood that the present landowner has no interest in the canal, otherwise one could see the opportunity to open out that part of the arm, replace the bridge, and extend the current moorings. It is believed that little remains of the former pump house.

And now to the main subject of this article, the Society's Warwickshire Branch............

In 1976, long-standing Society members Ken and Margaret Froud moved their boat 'Duorf' on to the arm, having first camped at Holt Farm in 1968. In 1980 they fitted out their current boat 'Duorf II' for residential use and moved onto the arm permanently. Subsequently, in 1984, Eric and Sue Lewis moved on to the arm with 'Remus', followed in due course by Society members John and Joyce Bates with 'Horus'.

In more recent years, Gill and I moved onto the arm with 'The Evelyn Broadbent' (EB) in July 1997, with Terry and Ann Phippard bringing in 'Dolly' on the same day. Three years later we moved EB 'down the road' to Napton Marina, joining Michael and Angela Faull's 'Laura'. Subsequently, we have been joined by Laura Sturrock's and Peter Oates' 'Swallowdale' and David and Maureen Butcher's 'Wychwood No.2'. Just around the corner, beyond Napton Junction, we find David and Margaret James's 'Calmore Chervil II', and Malcolm and Barbara Hartas' 'Marianne', moored at Calcutt Marina.

So all told, out of the Society members' known nineteen boats, nine are moored in and around the Warwickshire village of Napton-on-the-Hill, hence....our Warwickshire Branch!

Paul Herbert

* Much of the historic information used in this article originates from Hugh J Compton's 'The Oxford Canal' published by David & Charles. To explain the variation in numbering of the locks on the Napton Flight - the three locks at Hillmorton were originally single locks, numbered 2,3 & 4. On 25 August 1840 the Oxford Canal Company completed the duplication of those locks and these were subsequently renumbered 2,3,4,5,6, & 7, which in turn altered the numbering of the Napton locks.


Society Trip to Crofton Beam Engines

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The Society's trip to the Crofton Pumping Station will take place on Sunday 29 September 2002, a date deliberately planned as it is a steaming weekend.

The station houses two Cornish Beam Engines, the 1812 Boulton & Watt and the 1845 Harvey of Hayle. These engines have been restored and the 1812 engine is the oldest beam engine in the world, still in its original building, and still doing its original job of pumping water to the summit level of the Kennet & Avon Canal. Both engines are steamed from a hand stoked, coal fired, Lancashire boiler.

The Crofton site has a gift shop, light refreshments, a picnic area and easy access to the Kennet & Avon towing path and Crofton Locks.

The plan for the day is for members and their guests to make their way to Crofton using their own transport. Car sharing would, obviously, be beneficial. Participants should take a picnic lunch etc and we could partake of such refreshment either in the picnic area or elsewhere alongside the canal and locks. A guided tour of the Pumping Station has been arranged for 12.30pm. Directions to the site will be issued in due course.

The cost of entry to Crofton is £4.00 for adults; £3.00 for seniors; and £1.00 for children. This will be payable on the day.

Many members put their names down on the original list before the date was known. I would now like to have confirmation as soon as possible from those who would like to go. Can you please let me know (in person, by 'phone, by email or even a note through the post).

Paul Herbert


Correspondence

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I'm very pleased to be able to include the following letter in the Newsletter:

Dear Friends,

I would like to extend a big thank you to all of you for your messages of support, cards, visits and loaned books during my recent illness. As the chairman informed you in last month's newsletter I am currently undergoing chemotherapy, which is due to continue until October. I am often very tired but am still able to enjoy life fully on my better days - maybe some boating soon! I hope to see you all again in the not too distant future - in the meantime Happy Boating!

Peter Lewis


The Newsletter

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I've received several contributions for the Newsletter from members. For example, a number of cuttings about canals from newspapers have been handed to me. However, a very tight production schedule (less than 3 hours in the middle of July) means that I have not been able to incorporate any of this material in this issue. Hopefully the next Newsletter will include something of these.

Talking of the next Newsletter, I am hoping that I can produce a September issue, but in the next seven weeks before that meeting, I shall be at home for less than half that time.

Then there's Southampton Boat Show looming up ...

Peter Oates


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Page created 11 October 2002. Updated 20 May 2003 - layout changes 16 December 2003.

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