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Restoration of the Basingstoke Canal
- some questions and answers

[Published 1970]

booklet front cover (13K) This was the Society's campaign booklet in 1970.

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Q.When was the Basingstoke Canal built?
A.

It was purchased by Act of Parliament in 1776 but construction work was delayed by the war of Americal Independence and not started until 1788. The Canal was completed and opened in 1796.
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Q. How long is the Canal and where does it go?
A.

The Canal starts at New Haw, near Weybridge, where it is connected with the River Wey Navigation. It was originally 37 miles long to Basingstoke, passing through Woking, Aldershot, Fleet and Odiham. But today it is often quoted as being 32 miles long, which is the distance to the eastern end of the Greywell Tunnel. This is because much of the last five miles have been filled in and also because of the partial collapse of the 1,200 yard tunnel.
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Q.What is the condition of the Canal today?
A.

This is a relative question and therefore difficlult to answer precisely. Compared to a fully navigable canal it is in poor condition. Most of the locks are not operative, the pounds containing water are choked by weed, silt or rubbish and the towpath is often difficult for walking. But compared to other derelict waterways, it is in reasonable condition. For example, before the National Trust became responsible for restoration of the southern end of the Stratford Canal it was in a worse state than the Basingstoke.

Throughout the 32 mile of canal to Greywell the water channel is generally in good condition. At the eastern end, most pounds have a reasonable head of water, with the exception of the 'Deepcut 14' flight of locks. All the pounds in this section are virtually empty and overgrown but the channel itself is generally sound. After Frimley top lock the Canal again contains a reasonable level of water through Ash to the Blackwater Valley embankment. This was sealed off and has remained empty since September 1968 when the embankment burst a few hundred yards below Ash lock. The remaining 15 miles are lock free and contain water together with plenty of weed growth. The most noted area needing attention is at Broad Oak where the channel is heavily silted.

But a word of warning: lack of maintenance is bound to increase the rate of deterioration. We have repeated this prediction many times and it is proving correct. September 1968 - the Canal burst at Ash and Farnborough. December 1968 - a culvert at Fleet collapsed. March 1969 - Broad Oak culvert was reported to be leaking. August 1969 - partial collapse of Whitewater aquaduct.
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Q.How is the Canal supplied with water?
A.

The Canal is fed by springs situated in the Greywell section of the watercourse.

Silting has reduced the flow in recent years but experts estimate that they are throwing at least one million gallons a day. We believe this amount could be considerably increased by dredging.
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Q.Who owns the Basingstoke Canal?
A.

From New Haw to Up Nately, just beyond Greywell Tunnel, is owned by the New Basingstoke Canal co. Ltd. The remaining four miles to Basingstoke are owned by various other people, mainly riparian landowners.

The Company has owned the Canal for the last 20 years. Previously it belonged to Mr A. J. Harmsworth who used it as a part of a successful haulage business from 1923 until his death in 1947. The family auctioned the Waterway in 1949 and it was sold for £6,000. The total paid, including equipment and stock, was around £10,000. Within a year of the sale, the present Company was registered with Mr S. E. Cook its mamaging director and major shareholder.
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Q.What does the owner intend doing with the Canal?
A.

In July 1967, the Canal Company published their proposed future policy. In a memorandum addressed to Surrey and Hampshire County Councils, the Company rejected full restoration as being uneconomical. Instead they suggested the elimination of the 'nuisance' factor of the Canal, which they claimed is a barrier to development.

Since the Canal forms an integral part of the land drainage system, this would mean replacing the locks by weirs and culverting those sections which might then be filled in. Since publishing their policy, the Company has indicated a willingness to consider a change of ownership to 'a responsible body, such as a county council.'
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Q. Why is the Society opposed to the Canal Company's plans?
A.

We are opposed to the Company's basic proposal which would mean permanent closure of the Canal as a navigation. The Company's plan to weir the locks and culvert certain sections would reduce the waterway to a series of long narrow ponds. As such the Canal would have a limited appeal and its unique attraction as a navigation would be irrevocably lost. How could such a decision be justified when the Government has acknowledged the amenity value of our nationalised canals? To quote the White Paper "British Waterways: Recreation and Amenity" : "In the waterways this country possesses a priceless asset, an asset whose value will grow as the demand for leisure facilities intensifies".

Adoption of the proposal may constitute the most profitable policy for the New Basingstoke Canal Co. Ltd. But will it make the best use of the Canal for the benefit of the community? We do not believe it will. Instead we advocate restoration of the Canal to a fully navigable condition. This way its tremendous potential amenity value may be fully developed.
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Q. Why is the Society seeking a policy of full restoration for the Canal?
A.

Quite simply, as mentioned in the previous answer, because we believe that full restoration will make the Canal far more attractive, both visually and as a useful recreational amenity, than any other scheme.

The South-East Economic Planning Council's first report, published in 1967, stressed the need for careful planning to prevent the region surrounding the Canal from becoming one vast urban sprawl. The report emphasised the importance of providing amenities and recreational facilities as an integral part of our overall planning.

Far from being a barrier to development, as suggested by the present owners, we contend that the presence of the Canal will provide a balance to the increasing urban canal-side developments. The Canal's linear shape also has advantages over conventional open spaces. Although it covers a total area of some 200 acres, the Waterway utilises only a fraction of land per square mile, and by its length, brings the amenities within easy reach of many more people.

Apart from the increasing need for more recreational facilities, brought about by a shorter working week and better standards of living, recent surveys show that our choice of leisure activities are changing. Organised team sports are no longer the most popular pursuits. Instead, motor boat cruising, rowing and canoeing are becoming increasingly more attractive in a move towards less organised pastimes. Other activities for which the Canal is ideal, such as rambling, angling and natural history study, continue to attract widespread interest.
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Q. What would it cost to eliminate the whole Canal?
A.

Total elimination, that is piping and filling in the entire water channel would cost an estimated £2 million. This figure is based on the cost of eliminating the Monkland Canal which was around £60, 000 per mile.
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Q. Why does the Society advocate public ownership?
A.

We have two basic reasons for wanting the Canal taken over by Hampshire and Surrey County Councils.

If the Canal is not properly maintained, it becomes a liability and a possible source of danger to those working and living nearby. Since the present owner appears to have no legal responsibility for its upkeep, we consider the Canal should be taken over by the public authorities.

Secondly, our plans for restoration envisage use of the Canal as a public amenity. As such we would not expect the Canal Company to continue managing the Waterway any more than we should advocate private ownership of a public park.

A petition signed by 10,000 electors of Surrey and Hampshire supporting public ownership, was presented to the Councils in July 1969.

(Text continues after pictures.)
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above Sheerwater Lock, 1967 (20K)
THEN ---- Cabin cruisers moored above Sheerwater Lock, 1967.

above Sheerwater Lock, 1967 (22K)
NOW ---- The neglected lock gates and dry canal bed, 1969.

view from Monument Br, 1967 (16K)
THEN ---- View from Monument Bridge,
Woking, 1967.
view from Monument Br, 1969 (16K)
NOW ---- Rubbish litters the derelict scene, 1969.

above Sheerwater Lock, 1967 (19K)
THEN ---- A cruiser negotiating the swing-bridge below Arthur's Bridge,
Woking, 1967.

above Sheerwater Lock, 1967 (22K)
NOW ---- The same scene on the canal, overgrown and choked with weed, 1969.

Q. When was the Society formed and how many members have been enrolled?
A.

The Society was formed in the Autumn of 1966. On its third anniversary, we announced our one thousandth member. This figure includes a number of affiliated organisations such as youth clubs, residents' associations and other local groups interested in the improvement of the Canal. Our total membership is in the region of 10, 000 individuals.

Contrary to an assumption sometimes made by the Canal Company, the Society is not a boat club. A recent survey showed that only a small percentage of members own boats. Other interests listed were natural history study, rambling, angling, canoeing and canal archaeology. The overiding interest of the majority is the desire to see the canal preserved and restored to a useful and attractive navigable waterway.
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Q. Briefly, how does the Society envisage restoration being carried out?
A.

Our approach would be to divide the project into three stages. The first would be make the Canal safe to carry and retain water. At the time of writing this would involve at least the following: repair of the Ash Embankment breach, also the Whitewater Aqueduct, Frimley Weir, and Ash Lock.

Secondly we would want to prevent any further deterioration. Saplings and undergrowth should be cleared from lock chambers, the canal bed and towpath, followed by towpath and bank repairs. Thickly weeded, silted and rubbish filled sections should be cleared and the lock gates made water tight (though not necessarily useable). All the pounds could then be filled with water to protect the bed and other installations. Having brought deterioration under control, more substantial improvements would be started such as clearance of embankments, heavy dredging where necessary and restoration of the locks.
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Q. What kind of work would you expect to be done by volunteer labour?
A.

Our plans are based on employing voluntary labour to do as much of the work as possible. Tasks such as towpath clearance and the removal of rubbish from lock chambers and the canal bed make ideal work for unskilled volunteers. Recruits would not only be enlisted from members of our Society, but also from the Inland Waterways Association, local civic amenity societies, youth groups and riparian residential associations.

Even the more skilled work, requiring craftsmen and mechanical equipment, need not necessarily be done by paid contractors. Units from the Armed Services have given invaluable help on other restoration projects, particularly with work requiring specialised equipment such as dredgers, cranes and pumps. A further source of unpaid skilled labour, such as carpenters and bricklayers, may be available from trusted prisoners.
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Q.Have you any proof of the Society's ability to undertake such a project?
A.

Like all groups of canal enthusiasts, we have a hard core of members eager to commence to work. Regrettably, because of our conflicting policy, the owner has refused permission for the Society to work on the Canal. Despite this restriction, we have managed to prove our ability to undertake even major tasks towards restoration.

In July 1969, after three months of spare time work, a group of members successfully completed the construction of a pair of upper lock gates suitable for the Canal. The materials cost £130 which was don­ated by members and friends of the Society. The Canal Company refused the Society's offer to install the gates in Ash Lock.

Another group of members have also collected money to purchase a steadily growing range of mechanical equipment, including a tractor, two autosythes and a dumper truck. All the items have been extensively renovated by volunteers.

At a national level, the value of voluntary labour has already been proved as a major contribution to successful completion of some major projects. These include the re-opening of the 13 mile southern end of the Stratford Canal and the Stourbridge Canal. A demonstration of voluntary manpower was given in a weekend working party of the Ashton Canal in September 1967. Over 600 volunteers turned out in extremely adverse weather conditions and cleared 2, 000 tons of rubbish. Almost every weekend, less spectacular though equally necessary work is being carried out on waterways throughout the Country.
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Q.How much would full restoration cost?
A.

In our booklet "Basingstoke Canal: the Case for Restoration" we gave detailed costings ranging from £26,000 to £92,000. The lowest figure was calculated on the basis of employing voluntary labour for all the work except for heavy dredging. The highest figure was estimated as the cost of placing the entire job in the hands of a contractor.

In between these figures we gave a further costing based on a combination of voluntary and contracted labour. This would make an ideal compromise, both in terms of the time taken to complete the project and the cost involved.

The contractor would be used for the heavy dredging and building lock gate frames; all other work would be done by volunteers. On this basis we estimated it would cost £32, 000 to restore the Canal. Since publication, costs have risen and the Canal has deteriorated further. One of the more obvious additional expenses is the cost of repairing Ash embankment. Despite these increases, savings could be made on our original estimate; for example a sum of £10,000 might be saved if the Army were willing to undertake the work of dredging.

With these considerations in mind we believe a realistic estimate to be in the region of £40,000.
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Q.What would it cost to maintain the restored Canal?
A.

Regular maintenance is vitally important to the safety and efficient running of the canal. Neglect of a minor task can quickly become an expensive and even disastrous major repair.

From the experiences of previous owners, we believe the most economical and efficient method of maintenance is to employ a small staff with a powered dredging punt or barge, equipped with tools and materials. This method gives the staff mobility and means that minor repairs and adjustments can be dealt with immediately.

We estimate that the total annual cost of staff, employment overheads and materials would be in the region of £13,000 to £15,000.
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Q.If ownership of the Canal is transferred to the two County Councils would the Society continue to take an active interest?
A.

The quick answer is an unqualified 'Yes'.

When the Canal is taken over, and providing the future policy is not adverse to full restoration, the Society would want to play as full a part in improving the waterway as possible.

We have already examined the advantages of registering as a Trust with the aim of raising substantial funds for restoration and providing volunteer labour. Such an organisation might be regarded as a 'supporters club' to the management committee.
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Q.Would the Canal derive any income, and if so, how much?
A.

Unlike the maintenance of a municipal park, one of the attractions of restoring the Canal as a recreational amenity, is that it would derive a substantial income. Enough, we estimate, to pay for the cost of maintenance.

Of course the level of income would take time to build up, but the sources have considerable scope for development. They include angling permits, boat licences, mooring fees, lock tolls and wayleave rents. In addition we consider local authorities should contribute towards the amenity and other uses by provision of monetary contributions such as towpath and drainage grants and payments for the use of water for fire fighting. We have estimated that the total income could be built up to at least £17,000 p. a. of which £13,000 would be contributed from boating. A detailed breakdown is given in our booklet "Basingstoke Canal: the Case for Restoration", available from the Society, price 4/6d.
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Designed by Dieter Jebens, Photographs by Richard Snell,
Published by the Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society 1970.
Hon. Sec. [in 1970] Miss J. Sparey, 8 Beaufort Road, Maybury, Woking, Surrey.

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Last updated March 2006