Let’s go to Secklow
Swing into Action

Pumping Iron

Canal pumphouse at Fenny Stratford  BucksThe pump house at Fenny Stratford has a rounded corner, probably to give clearance for horses working on the towpath. The windows and doors have flat brick arches rather than the semi-circular arches found on the other pump houses.

The Northern Engines Part 1

From the Iron Trunk aqueduct over the Great Ouse at Old Wolverton, the canal through North Bucks rises 111 feet and 11 inches on its way South to Tring Summit.

Every time one of the many locks on this stretch is used, tons of water move to the next level down and is lost; it's always a problem for canals.

At Tring Summit the Grand Junction Canal Company found only a few very small streams, not enough to keep the canal supplied. To get water, the canal company built the Wendover Arm, a branch canal, along the base of the Chilterns to pick up water from the streams that emerge there.

But once the canal opened over the summit in 1800, the company found that their water supplies were barely adequate.

Reservoirs were built and wells were sunk but the company struggled to get enough water. The Wendover arm had been leaking for years despite many repairs. It would eventually be stopped up but more had to be done.

Canal pumphouse  Stoke Hammond  BucksStoke Hammond pump house is half a mile along the towpath. If you walk from Bragenham Side, look out for the canal narrowing about halfway along, where there was once a swing bridge.

Pump Houses
To ease the loss of water, in 1838 the company began construction of nine pump houses between Marsworth and Fenny Stratford.

Just as well, because construction of the immensely deep Tring Cutting that same year for the London & Birmingham Railway, diverted the only stream of any size feeding the summit.

The engine houses (pump houses) and their culverts were built by the civil engineering contractors Grissel & Peto. The buildings are readily identified by their hipped roofs and arch topped windows and doors, but the design was adapted to suit each site.

Each pump house lifted water past one or more locks. They were powered by steam and would come to be known as the Northern Engines.

Canal pumphouse at Three Locks  Soulbury  BucksA large pump house serves the combined 20’3’’ rise at three locks. It’s set a long way back because there was once two lots of locks, to improve traffic flow.

Canal pump house at Leighton lock  Beds. Part of the Grand Union CanalNot in Bucks but here for completeness, the Leighton Buzzard pump house still has an electric pump, I’m told. This is about the best view you can get; the building is surrounded by private land. It has flat brick arches on the canal side, but arched windows facing away. There’s also a round topped gate under an arch facing the canal. (not visible here)

Canal pumphouse at Grove  BucksGrove’s pump house is still in use by the Canal and River Trust. In the foreground is a pound, somewhat silted up.

Steam to Electricity
Between 1946 and 1964 the pump houses were all converted to run on electricity, but some of the 1838 pump houses seem to be either disused or have some other function. Water is still pumped back to the summit, but the pumps are now smaller and more discrete; to be honest I wasn’t looking for them anyway.

You can get close to nearly all the Northern Engines, them being by the canal; many are close to a road and are easy to reach. Four are large, five small, but it doesn’t quite follow that the bigger Northern engines were placed where the water has to be lifted the furthest.

Below is a list of the first five with the locks they serve, running South from the Great Ouse. I’ll show you the other pump houses next week.

Lock name and how
to get there



The Pump house
is next to this lock.
Large pump houses in bold

Fenny Stratford
Take Lock View Lane E. from Simpson Road, Fenny Stratford. Cross the swing bridge; you’re there. Red Lion pub on the canalside.



For lock 22

Stoke Hammond
Go less than ½ mile down Bragenham Side (a lane) that runs E. from Stoke Hammond to canal bridge. Walk ½ mile N. along towpath.



For lock 23

Soulbury “Three Locks”
Take minor road S. from Stoke Hammond, turn left at the first junction then immediately right into the car park, or you may be able to turn immediately left instead and park a little closer, by the Three Locks Pub. The locks are just beyond the pub and the pump house is across the canal.

24, 25,

for all three

 Next to lock 25
for locks
24, 25, 26 

Leighton (Buzzard) Beds

Go S. on Stoke Road towards Leighton Buzzard from the A4146, and take the narrow lane to the Globe pub, 250 yds on the left after the railway bridge. Park in the customers only pub car park and walk the towpath E. just under ½ mile. Don’t forget to buy something at the pub on your return.



For lock 27

Grove Lock
Next to the Grove Lock Pub & near Grove Lock Marina; turn E. off B488 not far from the Leighton Buzzard bypass. Not in the hamlet of Grove. (See below)




Grove Church Lock.
In the hamlet of Grove, which is down a narrow lane going E. off the B488. There's a layby about 80 yards from the canal bridge, with a turning area on the bend just beyond. The pump house is just beyond the bridge.



For locks
28, 29

This post's photos were taken with a Pentax camera and lenses.

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