The Monday Photo
Canal builders often had to deal with roads and farm tracks that crossed their path. Often that meant building a brick or stone bridge, but sometimes they built a swing bridge, instead.
A swing bridge has advantages and disadvantages. It’s much cheaper to build, but there’s always a delay for boats, who have to come to a stop, open the bridge, go through and stop again, and close the bridge before moving on.
If they don’t close the bridge, anyone wishing to cross on the wrong side of the bridge (the left side in this photo) can’t get across.
The only thing to do is to go to the nearest lock and cross over on the lock gates, or to find the next bridge along. Not so good if you are a farmer with a load of sheep.
This bridge on the Grand Union Canal at Cheddington pivots on the far bank. The bridge ends are curved and part of a circle, with its centre at the bridge pivot. The masonry at each end is curved too, to suit the bridge ends; all these curves minimises the gap when the bridge is closed.
There were eight swing bridges on the Grand Union canal in North Bucks, but only two are left. the other one is at Fenny Lock in Fenny Stratford; the bridge right next to the lock.
I think that swing bridges were chosen when the crossing was little used, and that’s why many of them have now disappeared.
Brick bridges in this area were built where they would be used frequently, and every one of the nearly 50 in North Bucks I found on a 1900 map are still there. There’s even a few steel bridges been added since, for foot traffic.
The swing bridge at Fenny Lock only gives access to a lock keeper’s cottage and a canal pump house, and perhaps into the field behind; it didn’t get much traffic.
But being right next to the lock it could be left open to aid canal traffic, as it only took a moment to nip across the lock gates to swing it shut.
For the sake of completeness, there were about five more masonry bridges on the stretch of canal through Leighton Buzzard (it’s in Bedfordshire) and one more swing bridge. The swing bridge, near the lock, is gone, as is one of the brick bridges. The canal still narrows for the swing bridge.
Sometimes the canal still narrows where a swing bridge once stood, so keep an eye out when you are on the towpath. The ones in North Bucks (and for completeness Leighton Buzzard) are:
Behind the end of Chipperfield Close, the canal no longer narrowed.
Behind Bernay Gardens, the canal no longer narrowed.
Just South of the village, where the canal swings back to run alongside Simpson road. The canal doesn’t show on the map as ever being narrowed, but the swing bridge might have something to do with the wharf that was once here; perhaps it crossed a loading dock.
Still in use and maintained, at the bottom of Lock view Lane.
South of Willowbridge Marina
Off Stoke Road, the canal no longer narrowed.
Halfway between the Bragenham Side canal bridge and Stoke lock. The canal still narrows here.
Not far North from Leighton Lock. The canal is still narrowed.
Near Leighton Buzzard
But just inside Bucks, it’s off Grovebury Road, just inside the town. Opposite a National Grid pylon is a path to a new footbridge and the narrow spot for the swing bridge is still there.
At the South end of the High Street, through the narrow bridge in the railway embankment and along the footpath just after it on the right.
I only checked these locations with online maps; I haven’t been to all of them. You might be able to find more evidence or confirm what I've said here on a visit to your local one. If so, please comment below.
This post's photo was taken with a Pentax camera and lens.
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