Anchor the Canal Bridge!

Grand Junction Canal Co. wall plate

The Monday Photo

This wall tie anchor plate tells us which company installed it, and in what year; this was an easy post to research. It was the Grand Junction Canal Co, and the anchor was installed or at least cast at the foundry, in 1913.

The company formed in 1793 and built the canal that runs through North Bucks and crosses the River Ouse over the Iron Trunk aqueduct at Wolverton. We know it as the Grand Union Canal; the name changed on January 1st 1929 when several canal companies merged.

These plates are used in pairs with an iron rod between them, and they stop the sides of the bridge from spreading; the rod has threaded ends and large nuts hold the anchors.

Hot Stuff
I think the rod is heated up when it goes in so that it expands. Then the nuts are done up nice and tight. When the rod cools it contracts; the anchor plates are pulled in even tighter.

This plate is on canal bridge number 123 which carries the B488 over the canal just North of Ivinghoe. Two pairs were installed here, and there’s another pair on the bridge at Simpson, Milton Keynes.

I expect there are plenty more but I haven’t spotted them yet. If you like canals there are more posts on the North Bucks Wanderer; just look at the categories list in the sidebar.

If canals aren’t really your thing there are over 400 other posts, here on the NBW.

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Four Villages and a Bridge

An important little bridge

The Monday Photo

This river crossing, on a minor road between Thornborough and Leckhamstead is of more local importance than it first seems.

From the evidence, this was once the only accessible local route across the Ouse. There’s a bridge over the river not far away at Thornton, but that seems to be part of the manor grounds, so may not have been open to all. Thornton, by the way, is the site of a deserted Medieval village.

To support this, a trackway or lane once cut the corner between the Thornton to Thornborough road and the bridge, running along the parish boundary.

It would also have made a shorter journey to the water mill, not far upstream from the bridge. It appeared on the mid 19th Century Ordnance Survey 1” “Old Series” maps, but had gone from the maps half a century  later.

Four parishes meet at or by the bridge; Foscott, Leckhamstead, Thornton, and Thornborough.

I thought at first that this was so that each of the four parishes that found the bridge so important all claimed a part of it, so that all would be responsible for maintainance. But now I think only two of the parishes had responsibility for it; Foscott and Leckhamstead.

The small parish of Foscott, site of another deserted Medieval village, looks like it once didn’t quite reach the bridge. But it seems to have had its border extended from one corner over a couple of small fields just to reach it. I think this happened over seven hundred years ago, because of the 14th Century dispute over the bridge.

The dispute arose between the master of St. John’s Hospital, Oxford, and the inhabitants of Leckhamstead and Foscott. So Foscott parish must have already been altered to reach the bridge by then; the mill just upstream, granted to St. John’s Hospital, Oxford in 1244, needed access to the road network.

I think the condition of the bridge put that access into doubt, hence the dispute.

Altering parish boundaries doesn’t seem to be too unusual; there’s another example in Milton Keynes, part of the old parish of Woughton on the Green.

The bridge itself is not too remarkable, being an 18th Century brick recasing of an older, rubble stone structure; you might walk across it without a second glance. I wonder how old it is.

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The Shortest Day

Lane to Peartree BridgeThis lane leads to the Peartree Bridge; named, it’s said, after an orchard. Possibly the “orchard of half a rood” (an eighth of an acre) referred to in a 1639 terrier, a book recording land boundaries and contents. It’s bridge 88 on the Grand Union canal.

You’ll have been told by all and sundry yesterday that it was the shortest day; the winter solstice. What else could I do but go out with the camera just as it was getting dark?

I have to admit, I have a new camera and lens and so I’ve been busy seeing what it could do. The old one was good in low light, but I’ve found that this one is better.

Yesterday we had a whole 7 hours and 44 minutes between sunrise and sunset. Not a lot, really. The summer solstice next year is on the 21st of June, and on that day we shall have 16 hours and 44 minutes, with sunset at 9:28 pm instead of 3:54 pm. Much better.

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The Mystery of Denbigh Hall Station

Denbigh railway bridge crosses Watling StreetThe railway crosses the road close to the bottom of a small valley. A stream which ran just this side of the bridge was culverted under the road and the built up land on the far side of the tracks. The nearest part of the stream ran roughly along the line of Melrose Avenue, West Bletchley.

This is Denbigh Hall railway bridge, and for a few months in 1838 the line from London stopped here.

You’ve probably seen articles and videos about this bridge and the temporary station here and wondered where that station stood. I wondered too, because nobody ever gives a location.

I looked at every source I could find, and for a while went on a wild goose chase, finding a low wall said to be the remains of the platform. It wasn’t.

Nobody seemed to know, but I think I’ve found the answer.

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All Quiet on the North Bucks Front

Lodge Plugs factoryThe Lodge Plugs WW2 shadow factory, Olney.

The Monday Photo
Folks, I'm taking a break from the Wanderer. I'll be back next week but there are quite a few posts in the planning stage, with research and/or pictures to be finished. In the meantime, here's a few photos from the archives of the Monday Photo. Please click on the links if you want to learn more about the photos.

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Swing into Action


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.

Canal swing bridge  Cheddington  Bucks

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.

What's Left?
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:

New Bradwell
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.

Fenny Stratford
Still in use and maintained, at the bottom of Lock view Lane.

South of Willowbridge Marina
Off Stoke Road, the canal no longer narrowed.

Stoke Hammond
Halfway between the Bragenham Side canal bridge and Stoke lock. The canal still narrows here.

Leighton Buzzard
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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