Canals

High Water in Bucks

Canal pumphouse  Horton Wharf  BucksThe pump house at Horton Wharf is set back from the canal, and built on to the bridge causeway. It has a large window on the right hand end, (not visible here) twice the size of the door in this side. It has the usual hipped roof.

The Northern Engines Part 2

The nine Northern engines were placed along the Grand Junction canal between the River Ouse valley at Old Wolverton and the canal summit at Bulbourne, near Tring.

These steam powered water pumps returned water to the summit, which had an inadequate water supply.

Going South you rise up a total of almost 112 feet through the many locks; apart from a few miles through Bedfordshire, that stretch of the canal is all in North Bucks. I told you more about the Northern Engines and their pump houses last week in part one.

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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.

Pennyland
Behind Bernay Gardens, the canal no longer narrowed.

Simpson
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.

Cheddington
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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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.

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Water Mistake

Thornborough Medieval bridgeThornborough bridge from the downstream side. The bridge is not quite eleven feet wide and there are plenty of scrape marks on the parapets, from the days the bridge was on the main road. The bridge was bypassed in 1974.
This is where the Roman ford isn’t. The ford is quite a few yards downstream, on the right and way out of shot.

I confidently took the photo above, thinking this was the site of the Roman ford, right next to Thornborough’s 14th Century Medieval bridge.

The shallow slope on each bank looked like a ford, the brook is shallow and wide, I was on the correct side of the bridge; what could possibly go wrong? I made assumptions and didn’t check first, that’s what; the ford is actually a bit further downstream.

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Foot Locked

Canal swing bridge  Fenny StratfordThe swing bridge is built over the lock and you can see the track it swings round on here. This bridge was built in 1999, and judging by old photos, is quite similar to the one it replaced. The weight limit sign nearby can’t be the one for this bridge, which probably has about a two ton limit.

In May 1800 the Grand Junction canal opened between Brentford in London and Fenny Stratford. It was a success.

But the next stretch was built on more porous ground and would be trouble; it leaked. To aid repairs, in 1802 the canal company built a temporary lock at Fenny Stratford. That lock is still there; it's Fenny lock.

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The Unlocked Canal

Stoke Hammond lockThis is Stoke Hammond lock. As in five other places on the canal the lock was right up against the bridge, so the bridge had to be rebuilt with a second arch. This is the South side of the bridge, and the furthest arch now takes the farm track over route 6 of the National Cycle Network.

In the 1830s the Grand Junction Canal company found stiff competition from the new railways in England.

In response they reduced their tolls and soon there was a great increase in the number of boats on the canal. But every lock became a bottleneck, so they twinned the locks; building a second lock next to nearly every existing one.

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