BasingstokeCanal Restoration[Published 1985]
|Basingstoke Canal 1769-1964|
|The Harmsworth Connection|
|The Campaign for Public Ownership|
|The Early Days|
|The Hampshire Rangers|
|Youth Training Schemes|
|Lock Gate Workshop|
|SCC, MoD and BR|
|Visiting Working Parties|
|Fundraising and Publicity|
Published by: Fulltone (graphics) Ltd. for the
Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society,
Meadow Vale, Guildford Road,
Normandy, Guildford, Surrey.
Copyright Dieter Jebens and David Robinson, 1985
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The Earl of Onslow, President, The Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society
"In the year that England won the Ashes, I first went on a canal from Braunston to Ellesmere Port and Chester. My father did the washing up and my mother looked at castles while a hired bargeman did the steering. The idea was that the children - myself, my sister and a friend - would open and close lock gates, but "the best laid schemes o'mice an' men, gang aft a-gley".
It poured throughout and we played monopoly. That holiday certainly aroused my interest in, and my affections for the canals of England. It was rekindled the year after I was married when we took a day trip from Market Drayton with my parents-in-law. My father-in-law (wearing plus fours) fell in, in the classic fashion while pushing the boat out from the bank, and my young brother-in-law was sick on the way home in the car. After that, almost every year we, as a family, have taken canal holidays, so I was more than pleased to be asked in 1971 to be President of the Surrey & Hampshire Canal Society. I have always taken a delight in the silly and funny things that go wrong on canals. The fact that time vanishes and seems of no importance; the fact that one observes more clearly what goes on, both in the countryside that is passed and in the living industrial museums - all go to make canalling and the canals an essential part of a civilised holiday.
The canals, the precursors of the railways and motorways, may have a limited commercial future; they may attract eccentrics and I am perhaps one where they are concerned, but they do provide idylic holidays. This being so it is an excellent idea that this Basingstoke Canal is being restored. The Book itself is a brief but fascinating story of the efforts of countless volunteers aided by imaginative County Councils, who have seen the benefit that so many can obtain, not only from the canal's re-opening, but also from the actual enjoyment and satisfaction of getting stung by nettles whilst clearing overgrown towpaths, of falling into oozy slime-filled locks whilst repairing them, all probably in the pouring rain of an English summer. In a bygone age that sort of thing used to be called character building, and I am not sure there was not a good deal of truth in it.
The Society has shown quite enormous stamina and faith. It is hard now with so much established, repaired and revitalised, to realise what the totally derelict canal of 1968 must have looked like to a dedicated band of enthusiasts who have been the driving force all these years. I presume there have been arguments, but none have been serious. I presume there have been mistakes, but none are noticeable. I know that people like Robin Higgs, Dave Gerry, Lisa Hamilton, Frank Jones and June Sparey to name but a few of the hundreds whose contribution is appreciated by us all, will be remembered by future generations who will enjoy being able to travel from Odiham to Weybridge through to the Thames, and if they wish down to the open sea.
1769: A 21-1/2 mile long canal is proposed from Basingstoke to the Thames at Monkey Island.
(Above) 1913. Workmen from the London and South Western Canal Company at work on the Goldsworth flight of locks. Here, still in use, are the methods and tools that had been used 140 years before in the construction of the canals. The unusual white lock gates were a result of white paint being carelessly spilt on part of the gate while under construction. The workman concerned was then instructed to paint the whole gate white!
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Alexander John Harmsworth, born 23rd September 1869, is a prominent name in the contemporary history of the Basingstoke Canal. But he was not the only member of the family to make a living from the canal. At least two generations proceeded Alec Harmsworth's 24-year ownership of the navigation. Both his father, George Thomas Harmsworth, a carpenter, worked on the canal, and his grandfather, James Harmsworth was employed as lock-keeper at St John's from 1830. Although no direct relationship has yet been proved, a Harmsworth from Basingstoke was employed by the canal's contractor, John Pinkerton, as an inspector of bricks in the construction of Greywell Tunnel.
Long before he bought the canal, Alec Harmsworth worked on the Basingstoke as a carpenter, carter and bargeman. He became a registered lighterman and was eventually made a Freeman of the River Thames.
He married Susan Sandom at Odiham on 1st December 1890, and made their home aboard a houseboat at Ash Vale. He started building pleasure boats for hire and established a boathouse at Ash Vale which was run by his brother Frederick Thomas while his youngest brother, Archibald William Ducket, ran another on at Frimley.
A.J. Harmsworth started trading on the canal in the early 1900's with his first barge Mabel bought from the Nately brickworks company. He purchased more barges and then commissioned new ones. By the time he acquired the canal in 1923, Alec Harmsworth had established a thriving commercial carrying business with a fleet of 20 or more barges and narrow boats, five of which including the tug Shamrock he designed and built on the canal at Ash Vale. He went on to build a new barge each year until 1935.
By the 1920s the business had become a family concern. A.J. Harmsworth's second eldest son, Alexander Thomas, known as 'Young Alec', became responsible for lighterage and wharfage. His youngest son Wilfred Henry became a carpenter and concentrated on the barge building and repair side of the business with his brother Arthur John (both were appointed directors of A.J. Harmsworth Ltd) and their uncles Fred and William Harmsworth. Even Alec Harmsworth's daughters became involved through their husbands who were employed on the canal and barges.
The family's connection with the canal is maintained to this day by Tony Harmsworth, the son of W.H. Harmsworth, who is Hampshire's senior canal ranger. A.J. Harmsworth increased trade on the canal from a dwindling 1,295 tons in 1907 to 31,577 tons in 1935. Without his development of trade upon the canal as a part of the family's more extensive haulage business, the navigation would almost certainly not have survived to be restorable today.
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The Society is formed
But neglect was causing the canal to deteriorate rapidly. Almost the first step the Society took was to seek the owner's permission for volunteers to halt the decay, but without success. The offer was rejected.
The reason was revealed in July 1967 when the New Basingstoke Canal Co. Ltd. published their plan for the future of the waterway. In a memorandum to the County Councils, the Company claimed that the canal was a barrier to development and suggested the urban sections should be culverted and filled in. In recognition of its amenity value, the plan included piecemeal restoration of the canal's rural areas for recreational use, at the expense of local authorities.
This was the start of a vigorous campaign to recruit new members and make the Public aware of the canal and the Society's aims. During the Easter holiday, in 1968, a small armada of boats cruised up the canal to the first lock. The event was well covered by the local Press. Regular membership recruitment drives were organised with public meetings and stands at shows and fetes. By July 1968, the Society had 600 members, the 1000th member was enrolled in October 1969 and by February 1973, the number had doubled.
The Case for Restoration
The publication evoked widespread publicity and support for the Society's campaign; almost the only dissenting view was expressed by the Canal Company.
But support through the Society's membership was not enough. A petition, calling for the two County Councils to take action, was organised and resulted in 10,000 signatures being presented to the Councils' representatives at Ash Lock on June 14th, 1969. A further 5,000 names were subsequently added to the list.
Like most groups of canal enthusiasts, the Society started with practical aims. But because of the owner's refusal to allow voluntary working parties, another way had to be found of showing that the Society was not just a pressure group. An ambitous project to build a pair of lock gates was started and successfully completed in July 1969. At a ceremony at Ash Vale bargeyard, Paul Vine, author of'London's Lost Route to Basingstoke', secured the final plank with a golden-plated nail. In 1973 work started on a second pair of much larger lower gates which were completed in July of the same year. Both pairs of gates cost the Society £418 in materials against a commercial value of £3,000.
At last, in June 1970, Hampshire announced their plan to enter into purchase negotiations following a positive report from Col. Bowen, a retired Thames Conservancy engineer. In spite of years of neglect, the Hampshire section of the canal was found to be in reasonable condition.
Top left - Towpath refreshments at Crookham Village for Hampshire Councillors during a canal inspection cruise in 1979.
Bottom left - Canal Society founder member Les Harris, exercising the right to navigate the Basingstoke Canal in 1967.
Above right - Spanton's Timber Yard, at Woking, now demolished. The last commercial barge loaded with timber for the yard came up the canal in 1949.
Joint purchase negotiations were opened in July 1970, the Canal Company had valued the canal at £100,000 and so it came as no surprise to learn that both parties were seeking independent valuations.
Twelve months elapsed before any further news was released. Talks between the authorities and the owner had reached a 'delicate situation' and a report would be made by the end of 1971. By February 1972, however, negotiations had broken down. Surrey County Council stated their intention to apply for compulsory purchase orders under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Hampshire followed suit in December and by July 1973, both the authorities had published official notice of their applications.
The inevitable Public Enquiry ensued. It was held at Farnborough Town Hall and opened on November 1st 1973. On the first day a surprise announcement was made that the Canal Company had agreed to sell the 15-mile western end of the canal to Hampshire County Council.
In Surrey, public ownership remained unsettled. The canal's owners sought a Certificate of Appropriate Alternative Development. Their application was rejected and so an appeal was lodged with the Secretary of State for the Department of the Environment.
In February 1975 the DoE confirmed the compulsory purchase orders. For Hampshire confirmation came as a mere formality but for Surrey it signalled an imminent conclusion.
On March 8th 1976 an official of Surrey County Council left County Hall, Kingston-upon-Thames, with a cheque for £40,000 which was accepted by the Canal Co.
While the Basingstoke was still privately owned, several unofficial working parties were active up and down the canal, mostly clearing the towpath which was almost impassable in places. One group, led by Clem Hebert, a local councillor, cleared the bridge-holes at Colt Hill (below) and at North Warnborough, the hard way, standing knee deep in liquid mud. At the end of 1973, with their compulsory purchase order confirmed, Hampshire County Council gave the go-ahead for the first official working party. On November 17th and 18th, 180 people arrived to help clear the towpath from Barley Mow Bridge westwards (above left). At last the Canal Society was able to get to work. In just two weekends the towpath from Barley Mow Bridge through to Broad Oak Bridge was transformed; trees were trimmed back, and undergrowth cleared and burned. At the same time the bridge-hole at Barley Mow was cleared of bricks and rubble down to the original depth (above right).
By the end of 1974 Hampshire County Council had placed a contract for the repair of the Whitewater Aqueduct (above, bottom right). This structure, carrying the River Whitewater under the canal, had been leaking for some years. The river, only a few feet lower than the canal at this point, flowed down 6 brick culverts, under the canal bed through 3ft diameter wooden trunking, and up again through brick culverts; an interesting structure dating back to the early days of the canal. To carry out the repair work, the river was diverted across the canal and the old structure removed and replaced by larger diameter concrete pipes. Three of the old brick culverts can be seen in the picture. One complete 26ft length of wooden trunking was removed, together with samples of the old bricks, for preservation.
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In 1974, a few months after their acquisition of the western end of the canal, Hampshire County Council appointed David Gerry, a former chairman of the Canal Society, as Canal Manager, and a permanent staff of four rangers.
By 1975, with the steam dredger working above Colt Hill, Hampshire also started dredging, using Hymac excavators to clear a short length below the lift-bridge at North Warnborough.
The other became a major £80,000 operation at Dogmersfield in 1983. After excavating the slip, a stepped retaining wall was built of gabions filled with 1,500 tons of Oxfordshire stone (below).
The excavated material — 5,000 tons of it—was carried in barges down the canal to reinforce the embankment adjacent to Tundry pond.
The 70-ton steam powered dredger, Perseverance, was built in 1934 by James Pollock & Sons at Wallingford on the Thames and by Grafton Cranes of Bedford, for the Grand Union Canal Company at a cost of £1,639.
The Canal Society acquired the dredger from the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust in 1973. There followed twelve months of intensive work. The boiler was descaled and retubed under the direction of Ian Cripps who recalls "lying inside the boiler wearing goggles and a respirator, cutting out tubes with oxy-acetylene equipment on a hot July afternoon". The crane was stripped down and overhauled, and the hulls renovated and repainted.
After a brief steaming and demonstration, the dredger was dismantled again ready for overland transportation from the River Kennet at Reading to the canal at Odiham.
On July 29th 1974, the hulls were lowered onto the canal at Colt Hill and the dredger reassembled. By the end of the year the boiler had been re-installed and the crane's mounting refitted. The steam grab and jib were restored at the Apprentice Training School, Pyestock and returned to Colt Hill with the assistance of an Army unit.
Now, ten years on, the dredger team has cleared over seven miles of the canal between North Warnborough and Dogmersfield, removing 30,000 tons of mud a mile. The volunteers, originally led by Brian Bane and now Andy Stumpf, have worked practically every weekend contending with the vagaries of the English climate, breakdowns and other unexpected mishaps.
Their determination and enthusiasm has made a significant contribution towards restoration of the canal.
(Below) A space is cleared in the weed on the canal at Colt Hill, Odiham for the dredger hull.
Vehicular access to any waterway is both a practical and financial problem. This was evident when volunteers started dredging at Colt Hill in 1975. Heavy lorries could neither reach the canal-side nor could the Society contemplate the cost of removing silt by road transport.
The solution was to lay a narrow gauge railway along the towpath for skips to be manhandled alongside the dredger, filled with silt, and tipped on an adjacent site. The idea was conceived by Stan Meller and John Peart.
A somewhat Heath Robinson layout was devised with the line running on a makeshift pier over the dump-site some 20 yards from the dredging area. With oozing, black mud everywhere, the site resembled a re-creation of the Somme during the First World War, but the railway proved to be a practical method of moving the silt. As the dredger progressed westwards the railway line was extended, sidings added and a 1939 Hudson Hunslet 22 hp diesel locomotive was introduced to relieve aching backs. Now with 900ft of track, an 8-skip train could carry a load of 10 tons to the dump site. Each weekend 70 yards of canal were dredged, 600 tons of silt removed. 10cwt of coal and up to 2 tons of wood were burnt on a typical weekend.
When barges, tugs and a dragline crane were introduced, the railway was made redundant. But with its application proved, the track was transferred to Deepcut to carry construction materials to the equally inaccessible flight of 14 locks.
Perseverance with attendant mud barge and Bantam tug at Colt Hill, the start of dredging the canal eastwards at the beginning of 1977.
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In 1969 Ash Lock acquired special significance during the 7-year campaign to save the canal. Following the breach which occurred in Ash Embankment during September of the previous year, the Canal Company obtained planning permission to build a reinforced concrete dam across the head of the lock chamber. It replaced the decaying upper gates, as a safety measure, to ensure water could not reach the breach below.
The dam also served as an ominous threat to the Canal Society's aim to have the waterway retained and restored as a continuous navigation, and as a positive step towards the owner's proposal to truncate the canal. This was one of the reasons why volunteers built a pair of new upper gates which were offered to the Canal Company the same year. In reply, the Company's solicitor, Mr Harry D.Swales, declined the offer on behalf of the canal's owners, pointing out that". . .a proposal by your Society to install lock gates of your construction at Ash Lock could not possibly fit in with the arrangements that are envisaged for this lock".
The gates, along with a pair of lower gates built later, were subsequently stored under water until 1980 when Hampshire's canal rangers fitted them in the restored chamber (bottom, left), following demolition of the concrete dam (top left).
The Society has celebrated a variety of achievements since restoration work started officially in 1973, but no event gave quite the degree of satisfaction as the sight of Ash Lock filled with boats, during a memorable weekend rally held on the site in June 1984. (above right).
Above: Volunteers digging a trench for a bypass weir and culvert around a lockchamber, designed to control the water levelautomatically, saving the need for a lock-keeper to open the paddles to let excess water through the chamber.
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One weekend in October 1977, an army of 600 volunteer 'navvies', from all parts of the country converged on the Deepcut flight of locks to take part in 'Deepcut Dig'. Two exhausting days were spent clearing the lock chambers, removing old lock gates, repairing brickwork and constructing five new bypass weirs and channels. In real terms, the voluntary work achieved was valued at around £8,000; work which would have taken a year to complete by normal weekend working parties. 400 bags of cement, 90 tons of ballast, 10 tons of sand, 18 concrete mixers, 14 hand powered concrete breakers, 4 dumper trucks, hundreds of hand tools were used and 1,400 pints of beer consumed. The event was described as "the most exciting and worthwhile venture I have seen in the whole time I have been involved in local government work", by the Chairman of Surrey County Council, Brig. David Bastin.
There can be no doubt that this massive working party, organised by the Canal Society and The Waterway Recovery Group, gave a tremendous boost to the eventual restoration of the whole flight.
In 1969, Lock 25, one of the Deepcut Flight, lay derelict and neglected, typical of all the locks on the canal. An official working party made a start in 1974 to clear a thick layer of silt, vegetation and rubbish from the chamber.
By the time Surrey County Council had bought the eastern length of the canal, considerable progress had been made on the lock by Canal Society working parties. The chamber had been finally cleared of rubbish and vegetation old crumbling brickwork removed and a start made on repairing walls.
By 1976 the top and bottom aprons were restored as they were originally built—oak cross beams with clay in between and elm planking over the top. The original culverts were also rebuilt. Financed by the Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society, the lock was rebuilt to the original Basingstoke designs. The work is a credit to all those volunteers, led by Peter Jones, who helped in its restoration. The task proved a valuable experience in learning building techniques, solving restoration problems and the logistics of renewing lock chambers. Volunteers went on to restore locks 19 and 17 of the night.
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Without the Manpower Services Commission's training schemes for unemployed school-leavers, restoration of the Deepcut 14 flight of locks would not have been completed today.
The Society was awarded a £34,633 grant, plus £775 for running costs in March 1977, to provide a basic training and employment to 18 youngsters, supervised by six craftsmen, for a short period of six months. The grant was made under the original Job Creation Programme soon after it was launched.
The Deepcut project was co-ordinated by Frank Jones as a full-time job. He had previously acted as the Society's working party organiser.
In the Autumn of 1977 the project was extended for a further six months with a grant of £18,000 by which time MSC workers had already restored three lock chambers. It was also reported that a third of the original recruits had found jobs with local builders.
The following year the Society was granted £137,000 for a further 12 month JCP project to employ 45 young people.
The work of demolishing unsound brickworks and re-building lock chamber walls, cills, and water inlet culverts was extended to building new lock gates. A derelict Army swimming pool, adjacent to Lock 28, at Deepcut, was converted to a workshop for the specific purpose of building gates.
There followed STEP, WEP, PBWE, YOP and lastly the Youth Training Scheme which is a far more sophisticated evolution of the original JCP, involving college lectures to supplement both workshop training and on-site working.
Restoration of the fourteen Deepcut locks culminated with the re-opening of Cowshot Manor Bridge, at Pirbright, in 1982 and re-building the unique dry dock, (adjacent to Lock 28) in 1983. The dock, which was part of a wharf and barge repair yard, was abandoned at the turn of the century and in-filled in 1930.
During the seven years, youth employment schemes have been organised at Deepcut, the MSC has granted the Society more than £500,000 to finance them.
The Deepcut Line was first laid at Lock 25 and ran for a continuous length of just over 1-1/2 miles along the towpath between Locks 22-28 during the height of its operation. The railway carried some 7,000 tons of bricks, sand and other building materials. The train would often be given a friendly acknowledgement by westcountry bound BR express drivers, with the rasping blare of the engine's horn, as the passenger trains sped by alongside.
The Railway group was helped by Henry Frampton-Jones with the loan of some track and rolling stock. These also came from such diverse sources as the Finedon Sewage Treatment Works and the West Sussex Industrial Archaeological Society. Move to Ash Embankment.
In 1980 the railway-line, stock and engine were transferred to Ash Embankment. It was laid almost the full length of the 1,000-yard long embankment and utilised to transport 14,000 tons of clay needed to re-puddle the water channel, (bottom right).
The Hunslet locomotive was supplemented by two engines loaned by Mr Frampton-Jones. A 15 hp Ruston-Hornsby and a more powerful 30 hp Motor Rail Simplex built in 1960. £1,000 was provided by Rushmoor District Council for an engine shed which was built at the Gas Works Yard below Lock 29.
While operating the railway, other volunteers were needed to load and off-load a mountain of clay. The records show regular visiting voluntary working parties, noticeably the WRNS from HMS Dauntless based near Reading, and the Fleet Branch of Toc H.
Full credit must go to Stan Meller and his team whose tenacity to the railway concept and its contribution to restoration progress can only be recorded but never adequately quantified.
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The Society's first experience in constructing lock gates culminated in 1969 with the completion of a pair of upper gates, each weighing 15 cwt. The timber cost the Society £120 and work was supervised, if not largely done, by Mr W.H. Harmsworth and his son Tony at the former Ash Vale barge yard.
This led Society volunteers to construct a pair of much larger upper gates working to a 1921 specification used by Alec Harmsworth. A team of 15 volunteers took 400 hours to build the gates, each measuring 12ft high by 8ft 9ins wide and weighting 1V2 tons.
The frames were built of selected English Oak, secured by steel straps, and yellow deal for the planking. The gates (valued at £3,000) were completed in 1973 at a cost of £418 for materials.
The workshop at Deepcut was not established until 1979. A derelict and overgrown Army swimming pool was discovered in the beech woods adjacent to the canal above Lock 28. Originally it was suggested that the pool, built in the 1930's, might be cleared and filled with water again and used to store newly built lock gates. The idea of converting the pool to a workshop was the ingenious suggestion of Surrey's Countryside Officer, Raymond Stedman, to solve the more pressing problem of accommodation in which to build gates.
Job Creation leader Frank Jones seized on the idea and, with MoD approval, work started. First, two feet of mud had to be excavated. Then the walls of half the pool were extended upwards and roofed over to provide 2,250 square feet of workshop area complete with store-room, mess room and an office above. The other end of the pool was opened up to give access to a concrete-based yard where finished gates could be stored. 28 Another imaginative solution, to the problem of moving the heavy, finished gates to the lock chambers, was successfully demonstrated. A narrow gauge railway line was laid leading from the workshop yard to the canal, for gates to be run down onto the water and then floated to the site.
Lock gates have been built mainly by MSC workers under skilled supervision. Frank Jones paid several visits to the British Waterways Board's Bulbourne workshops to study construction techniques. Oak for the massive frames was provided by Surrey County Council from their estate near Dorking. Latterly, voluntary workers have been building lock gates at Deepcut.
Eight first-year apprentices at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, also contributed by constructing two pairs of gates which were installed at Lock 20 in 1981 (below).
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The Council's administration of restoration work is undertaken by a Kingston-based Countryside Officer with the support of civil engineers, forestry workers and other specialists required. The Council also has a staff of three wardens, one of whom, Les Foster, was employed by the New Basingstoke Canal Co. Ltd.
The Council has also supplied building materials to the MSC team and to voluntary working parties.
A training unit of the Royal Engineers from Cove sandbagged the canal bank along the western side of Mytchett Lake (below, bottom left). Royal Engineers from Chatham undertook demolition, bricklaying and dredging work at Locks 17 and 18. Heavy transport and mobile cranes from REME's base at Church Crookham have found useful training exercises launching barges and the Society's tugs (below, top left). Even some dredging has been undertaken by an Army Hymac excavator at Pondtail Bridge, Fleet, and a number of recruits were once detailed to join in the Society's sponsored walk - at the so double!
British Rail, or the London and South Western Railway as it was known when the main line was built under the canal in 1838, is responsible for maintaining the aqueduct which was subsequently widened in 1901.
British Rail drained the aqueduct in 1981 and re-lined it (above, right).
Unfortunately the work was not entirely satisfactory and further work was undertaken in 1984.
(above) Broad Oak Bridge, officially re-opened by the Earl of Malmesbury in July 1981, cost £14,000 which was raised by the Society.
(above) Cowshot Manor Bridge was similarly re-built by MSC workers and re-opened in October 1982 by the High Sheriff of Surrey, Mr J.P.M.H. Evelyn.
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Perhaps the most bizarre was a group of lorry drivers who camped by the canal with their wives and girl-friends. Unaware of the restoration work, their curiosity was aroused by work at Lock 25, and like other bystanders, were infected by the enthusiasm of the workers and joined in. They became known as Mob H and once visited Lock 1 equipped with Hymac excavators loaned by one of their employers.
Summer work camps have, in recent times, brought visitors to the canal. The fortnight's camp at St. John's in August 1984 proved especially successful. Eighty volunteers attended from as far away as the USA, West Germany and Iceland. Aided by SCC, they put in 4,000 hours and achieved £15,000's worth of work, building a pair of lock gates, clearing a lock chamber, constructing a by-pass weir and bank protection work, using steel piling in conjunction with a pneumatic hammer.
(below, left) Kennet and Avon Canal Trust members making up the towpath at Ash Vale boathouse.
(above, right) Ken and Liz Parish leading voluntary bricklayers at Lock 19 in 1979.
(above, left) IVS volunteers excavating the top cill of Lock 27.
Lock 1 is situated 200 yards from the canal's junction with the River Wey Navigation at New Haw. It was 'adopted' for restoration by the Guildford and Reading branch of the IWA. One of the first jobs for the volunteers, organised by Jeff Holman, (above, left) was to have the old lock gates removed in 1977.
At a later date Dick Harper-White organised the monthly working parties which have been hampered by the constant presence of water and vandalism. By 1984 the chamber had been two-thirds restored. (above, right)
(above, from top left to bottom right) --
June 1974, Lady Verney, wife of the artist and writer Sir John Verney, officially opened a new footbridge over Fleet Weir.
August 1975. 3 year old Sally Kelly reopens Artillery Weir, Aldershot.
Volunteers spent 133 hours re-building the weir.
October 1982. The High Sheriff of Surrey Mr J.P.M.H. Evelyn officially re-opened Cowshott Manor Bridge, immediately below Deepcut lock 17. The bridge was restored to its original design by MSC workers. The original bridge became unsafe and was closed in the 1920s.
September 1979. Surrey Councillor John McFarlane declares Deepcut lock 28 open.
On his left: Mr W. Britton, SCC Surveyor and Mr Raymond Stedman, Countryside Officer. To Mr McFarlane's right, Robin Higgs and Stuart Browning, Society Committee Members.
June 1984. The Countess of Onslow declaring the new let-off weir, built on Ash Embankment, officially operational.
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Restoration was aided by £5,000 awarded to Canal Society member Marguerite Redway in 1979 by Spar the retail grocers. The Company invited entrants to submit a case for improving local environmental feature or building. Marguerite Redway presented a case for restoring Lock 11 at St John's. She won the regional prize and then the top national award. (bottom left)
Shell UK is ever conscious of its responsibilities especially where the environment is concerned. The Company ran its 'Inland Waterways Restoration Awards' scheme for a number of years. In 1979 Shell picked the re-building of Lower Wilderness Weir at Deepcut for a £250 award and two years later the Society was awarded £500 in recognition of the reconstruction of Cowshot Manor Bridge. The IWA's Guildford branch was awarded £275 for their work on Lock 1.
One of the more unusual and successful publicity exercises emerged in the form of a travelling exhibition staged in a Portakabin. The authors, in conjunction with Surrey's exhibition designers, set up an attractive display of photographs, artifacts and an audio-visual slide show. The unit travelled the length of the canal during 1977-78 introducing the waterway - its history, restoration and amenity potential in the future - to thousands of curious visitors. As many as 800 people saw the exhibition on a weekend visit to Ash.
Another imaginative publicity enterprise has been the Society's float, entered in Fleet's spectacular carnival procession. Latterly Roy and Penny Tree's initiative - their 'narrow boat' won third prize in a very competitive field of entries in 1982. (below)
Since 1973, fund raising has been paramount among the Society's activities. A wide variety of events have been organised from the humble jumble sale, raising a mere £60, to the coveted Marks and Spencer fashion show. The Society was fortunate in raising £l,200 by organising one of these superb shows at the Army Boxing Centre in Aldershot's military town in February 1977.
Sponsored walks, for which the towpath is an ideally safe route, have become the Society's biggest single annual event raising as much as £5,000. A recent innovation, inviting entrants to walk both for the Society and another charity, has helped to keep participation active.
Another source of financial aid, sought by Richard Allnutt, has been the donations made by charitable trusts. Restoration work has benefitted by contributions amounting to £20,500 to date which the Society has greatly appreciated. Without their support, renovation of the bridges at Broad Oak and Pirbright might not have been undertaken.
A family party enjoying a cruise on the canal at Odiham.
Waterways must, in terms of amenity values, have few if any equals. For young and old, men and women, active and passive, a canal offers recreation and relaxation. A tremendous asset utilising a fraction of space per square mile.
Fishing on the canal's western length is organised by the Hampshire Basingstoke Canal Anglers Association. By 1983 the Association had stocked the waterway with 10,000 carp, perch, roach and rudd. And that distinctive predator the pike, weighing 30lbs or more, may also be caught in the canal. Angling permits are available from local tackle shops.
The old wharf area at Reading Road Bridge has become the centre for the annual canoe tourist trials organised by the Westel Canoe Club, in association with the Canal Society. As many as 350 canoeists take part covering distances of 6 to 40 miles.
Years ago the canal supported a good number of boathouses along its length, offering skiffs for hire. Skiffs may still be hired from Ash Vale Boathouse. At the western end, rowing boats, punts and even motor boats can be hired from Benford's Boat Station at Colt Hill.
With the construction of slipways during 1984 at Wharf Bridge (Farnborough Road), Barley Mow Bridge, Winchfield and at Potters (near Mychett Place Bridge), owners of larger boats (maximum speed 4mph) now have launching facilities.
Boat licences can be obtained from the Canal Office, Ash Lock Cottage, Government Road, Aldershot, Hants.
For those content to watch or walk, the canal towpath offers 32 miles of attractive, (often outstandingly so), quiet and always traffic-free recreation.
(Top right) Benford's boat station, Colt Hill. (Bottom right) Members of the Basingstoke Canal Canoe Club at Chequers Bridge.
In the meantime, the Canal Society was involved in protracted and often frustrating negotiations to allay the fears of local councillors, answer criticisms and hold a succession of meetings in an effort to obtain an agreement to operate the boat.
Months of work culminated on 20th May 1978. With her paintwork gleaming and brass fittings sparkling, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu arrived at Colt Hill on a glorious spring morning to name the trip boat John Pinkerton - after the contractor responsible for building the canal - and embarked for a champagne cruise to North Warnborough.
At the outset, the organisers estimated the boat would make an annual profit of £3,000 a year. At the end of the first season the John Pinkerton had made a net profit of £4,500 and an average of £10,500 per annum over the following five years to the end of 1983.
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Although no longer in use, this unusual craft (above left), built by Howard and Davis of Houghton, Bedfordshire, was bought by the New Basingstoke Canal Co. Ltd., in 1950. Powered by a 10 hp Ford petrol engine, the craft was propelled by paddles at the stern. The main shaft also reciprocated the stainless steel cutting blades which had to be re-sharpened twice a day when in use.
Apart from operating on the canal, the Canal Company hired it out to cut weed on local waters such as Frensham Great Pond. In 1964 it sank at Ash Lock. Ten years later the boat was raised and restored by apprentices at 43rd Command Workshop, Aldershot, including the manufacture of a new set of blades to the original drawings.
In 1983 the county councils jointly purchased a new weed cutting craft (above right) built by John Wilder Engineering at Wallingford. Named Water Warrior by the makers, a Lister 2-cylinder air cooled diesel engine drives port and starboard paddles. Constructed as a weed cutter, a hydraulic rake may be fitted to clear cut weed. It cost £14,000. Dry docking boats also require maintenance, and hiring a crane to lift larger canal craft out of the water can be expensive. YTS workers excavated a filled in former dry dock adjacent to Lock 28 and rebuilt it, complete with lock gates to replace the original stop planks. (top)
The dock was demonstrated for the first time in May 1984 when the John Pinkerton entered it and the hull was ready for inspection within minutes of the gates closing.
Public ownership of the Basingstoke Canal came as a rewarding conclusion to the Society's seven long years of campaigning during which progress was so often punctuated by setbacks and despondency; especially for the active members who fought for the right to save the unique navigation for posterity.
They cajoled, reasoned, argued and patiently explained their aim to anyone who could influence a satisfactory outcome, from parish councillors to county council officers and Members of Parliament. They campaigned for Public support by promoting their objectives by way of meetings up and down the canal and beyond. Their enthusiasm was infectious, the message lucid and their reasoning persuasive.
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Last updated April 2006