Newsletter No. 19February 1969
THE YEAR AHEAD
A most stimulating annual general meeting kicked the society into 1969, thanks to a large and enthusiastic attendance. We welcome two new members to the committee: Mr. Barry Humpidge, of 48 Wood Lane, Fleet, and Mr. Dave Romaine, of 65 Church Road, Addlestone, Surrey. Both have been active in society affairs - Barry Humpidge gave assistance with the printing of the restoration booklet which proved invaluable, and Dave Romaine has been the leading light of the group which now meets regularly on the first and third Sundays of each month at Ash Vale, calling itself "Dave's Rave" (see letters page).
Since the AGM the committee has met and the following changes have taken place: June Sparey, who produces the newsletter, has taken ower the secretaryship from Jim Woolgar. She will be assisted on the membership side by Mrs. Flo Woolgar, who resigned from the committee but is to take over the job of Membership Secretary. All membership inquiries and renewals should now be addressed to Mrs. Woolgar at 56 Connaught Crescent, Brookwood, Woking, Surrey, while general secretarial correspondence should be sent to Miss Sparey at 76 Basingstoke Road, Reading, Berks. As yet, we have not found a treasurer to replace Mr. Woolgar - but we are working on it.
Dave Gerry, 10 Fairland Close, Fleet, Hants, continues for another year as chairman, with Les Harris, 198 Hermitage Woods Crescent, St. John's, Woking, Surrey backing him up as vice-chairman.
Now for the future. The committee has decided on a campaign which should keep every member busy. We thought it was about time that the county councils received positive evidence of how much support there was from the general public for any plan to take the Basingstoke Canal into public ownership. We are therefore organising a petition - the best way for us to get the message to county halls. You will find a petition form with this newsletter, plenty more are available from the new secretary.
The petition urges the two county councils to acquire the ownership of the canal, and permit its restoration to full navigation. We plan to present the first large batch of completed petition forms to the county councils at Easter. The petitions will arrive at The Castle, Winchester, and County Hall, Kingston, via a route which will cover the length of the Basingstoke Canal. Petitions addressed to Surrey County Council will arrive by water, from the Wey Navigation along the Thames.
In order to make the petition as representative of local feeling as possible, signatures will be restricted to those who are local government electors in the two counties and/or members of this society (this will enable our non-local members to add their names).
We hope that every member will sign the petition enclosed, and if you can't persuade your friends to fill the remaining spaces, let us have the unfinished form back and we will get it completed. Most important, the petition will not close at Easter: that, we hope, will merely be the start. We will continue to canvass for signatures throughout the year, feeding completed forms to the county councils after the first batch. Our chairman, Dave Gerry, will collect the petitions, so please send them to him. Let's get signing - and show the county councila we mean business!
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Sunday, February 16: Working party at Ash Vale Barge Yard, meet 10.30 am. We hope to start cleaning up the dumper truck and crawler tractor. Bring paint scrapers and wire brushes, wear old clothes, and any donations of old paint, red lead, red oxide or any other primer will be gratefully received. Some fencing will also be done.
Sunday, March 2: Combined working party with the Wessex branch of the Ramblers Association: who have been given permission to clear the footpath allong the towpath at Brickorks Arm. The society will be doing most of the work, so we would like a good turn-out of members. Bring wood clearing tools, and cutters. Meet 10.30 am at Brick Kiln Bridge. Further information and anyone requiring help with transport from Hook Station contact Dave Gerry, 10 Fairland Close, Fleet, Hants.
Saturday, March 8: Members' meeting, talk and film on Stourbridge Canal restoration by Mr. David Tomlinson, who is coming from Wolverhampton to give this talk. Interested county councillors will be invited, and a large attendance would be appreciated to justify Mr. Tomlinson's long journey. Time: 7.30 pm; place: Brookwood Memorial (large) hall, off Connaught Crescent, Brookwood, Woking, Surrey.
Saturday, March 15: Conference on development in this area of south-east England organised by 1ocal civic and amenity societies. The society will be represented at the conference, held: at the Palmer Building, Reading University, Whiteknights, Reading. Admission is 25s. (including lunch and tea); tickets from Mr. D. A. John, 2 Western Avenue, Woodley, Reading, Berks, before February 28.
Sunday, March 23: Ramble, probably along the Basingstoke-Greywell section of the canal.
More details in next newsletter.
EASTER - APRIL 4-7: Collection and presentation of petitions to Surrey and Hampshire County Councils, coupled with members' boat trip along the River Wey Navigation. Full details later.
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Basingstoke Canal: The Case for Restoration: Now in its second edition, with improved banding and larger map. Price 4s.6d. inc. postage.
Boats from the Basingstoke's Past: Tony Harmsworth's interesting series on Basingstoke barges put together in a fascinating booklet, which traces the growth of the barge building industry on the canal and lists the boats built at Ash Vale. With map. only: 2s.
London's Lost Route to Basingstoke: Paul Vine's comprehensive study of the Basingstoke Canal's history. Several members of the society helped with the production of this illustrated book, which reveals some interesting characters who were connected with the canal in its early days. Price 50s.
Ball Point Pens : White barrel, with society's name engraved on the side, blue ink. 6s. per dozen.
All these items are available from the Sales Manager, Mr. Paul Dyson, 53 Wyke Avenue, Ash, Aldershot, Hants. Please send cheques or postal orders - not cash - payable to Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society.
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Basingstoke Development Group wants to hear from local people on how the new town should be served with amenities. A Basingstoke Amenity Conference is planned for the future. Enthusiastic Basingstoke members might like to tell the group what an important part the canal could play in providing amenities for the overspill population. Write to Mr. Basil Ratten, Director of Town Development, Basingstoke Development Group, Basingstoke, Hants.
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From: Paul Dyson, SHCS Sales Manager,53 Wyke Avenue, Ash, Aldershot, Hants.
With the cost of running the society increasing so rapidly, it is vital that we raise funds from other methods than society subscriptions. This includes the production and sales of various items which we believe to be of interest to members. We do not intend to sell cheap or shoddy items simply to make a profit, but to concentrate on such things as will widen interest in canals and promote our cause while making a useful contribution to society funds.
I hope that in the coming year members will give their support, not only by purchasing these items for themselves, but also by selling them to friends and neighbours or by making gifts of them.
From: A disgruntled lock-keeper
Last year I took a turn at voluntary lock keeping at Bowers Mill and although handicapped by the lack of a windlass I stayed from 10am to 4pm one fine summer day.
However, I found that most of the boat owners treated me with the greatest suspicion. Some thought I was from the canal authorities and showed me their lock passes; others thought I had no business there at all. When I explained who I was, they replied to my questions cautiously but none would allow me to assist with the gate paddles and gave me the impression that I was interfering with their enjoyment.
In other words, most people travelling the canals want to work the locks themselves as this is the fun of it. Having been on the canals myself, I tend to agree with them.
From: Dick Snell, Bridle Path Cottage No.2, Bridle Path, Ewshott, Farnham, Surrey.
Many of us who attended "Operation Ashton" last year have come to realise the need for mechanical aids in canal restoration work. With this in mind, Dave Romaine and some of his colleagues have recently purchased a second hand dumper truck which, after renovation, will be of considerable use when we can start work on the Basingstoke Canal.
Since the acquisition of the dumper, and as the result of a generous offer from Foxwarren Machinery Services Ltd. of Weybridge, a Ransomes MG6 crawler tractor and an Alien autosythe grass cutter have also been purchased.
Some members may think we are jumping the gun in obtaining machinery which we are at present unable to use on the canal. On the other hand (being optimistic) when we are given the go ahead the equipment will be ready and we shall be all set to start work immediately.
For those who think that the society's money should at present be spent on other things, let me add that the equipment is NOT being paid for out of society funds.
Jim Woolgar has very generously loaned the money for the tractor and autosythe and we shall be paying him back as soon as we can. It is proposed to raise the money by donations, charging for coffee etc. at Dave's Raves, and any other means we can think of.
We do not wish the Lock Gate Fund to suffer as a result of collecting for the Machinery Fund but several members have donated and further donations will be gratefully received.
Mr. Snell's letter clears the position of the machinery now acquired by the society, and we are extremely grateful to Dick, Dave Romaine and the rest of the gang for their efforts. Dave's Rave is an informal get together on the first and third Sundays of each month at Ash Vale Barge Yard, and they are certainly getting things done. More members would be welcome to swell this gallant band (and wives might like to encourage their husbands to go and "play" with the dumper truck and assorted gadgetry). Any donations for this fund should be sent to Mr. Snell.
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WHAT WE HAVE DONE - AND WHAT WE ARE DOING
We achieved a hit with our first public meeting in Woking, when Paul Vine spoke on the history of the Basingstoke Canal and an astonishing 200 people flocked into Christ Church Hall. The sales stand - to be a feature of future society meetings - made a handsome profit and it gives us the opportunity to welcome several new members.
During this month the society is having a display in the window of Eltons bookshop in Chertsey Road, Woking. Stop and take a look at it if you are passing and a crowd will soon gather round.
Another display is also being staged on February 17 in a shop window at Alton, thanks to Mr. Paul Buck who runs an excellent bakery in the town and looks after our interests in that area.
Tony Harmsworth and Dave Gerry have finished a most comprehensive report on the breaches in the canal and what should be done about them. This will be sent to canal-side local authorities, some of whom seem to have strange ideas on canal repair. We are watching the situation closely to ensure that silly things are not done which would prejudice any restoration plans for the canal.
Mr. Gates, our honorary legal adviser, has produced an excellent legal document on the Transport Act and its possible application to the Basingstoke Canal. This will be sent to the Ministry of Transport and the county councils. It will ensure that the society is kept informed of any moves by the canal company to close the Basingstoke Canal - provision for which is made in the Transport Act. Our sincere thanks to Mr. Gates for his expert advice and help in this field.
The Society is co-operating with Courages brewery, who are building a new pub in Basingstoke. It will be called the Goat and Barge, and will feature lots of items connected with the Basingstoke Canal. One idea is to turn a bar into a barge, with murals of canal pictures. Should be open by the end of the year. Jon Talbot, who submits articles for the newsletter, is now engaged on preparing a society booklet on Basingstoke Canal-side pubs. Hope he is enjoying the research!
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The chairman has appealed for the following tools, which will be useful when we start work on the upper lock gates: large mallets, 2" chisels (preferably morticing type), long augers and another adze. We also need access to a circular saw. If you are clearing out the tool shed, don't throw anything away, contact Tony Harmsworth, Inverurie, Frimley Road, Ash Vale. Timber for the lock gates should be delivered by the end of this month.
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LONDON'S LOST ROUTE TO BASINGSTOKE - reviewed by Tony Harmsworth
Of course we disagree with the title - we don't consider the canal's route to Basingstoke to be lost. But Paul Vine has produced a most interesting and comprehensive account of the building of the Basingstoke Canal, and its see-saw fortunes under a succession of speculators. It takes us back to the days of the American War of Independence, when people seemed to be hypnotised into investing their cash in canal building. There is a particularly interesting account of the part the canal played in building Aldershot Camp, and attempts made to link the canal with other navigations. The Basingstoke Canal was never intended to go just to Basingstoke, but somehow it got stuck there.
A work of this type involves tremendous research and it is inevitable that there should be a few errors. Pirbright Wharf is shown as being above Lock 15, in fact it was below the lock where the garage now stands. Above the lock was just a swinging bay. The photograph of the barge Brookwood states it was being built, in fact it was being repaired, and the date should be 1939, not 1929.
The last barge, Ariel, was built in 1935, not 1939 as stated; and the last barge to use the canal was in June 1949, not March (see booklet: Boats from the Basingstoke's Past). In the account of the last attempt to reach Basingstoke by barge, Mr. Vine says a dam was erected to flood the pound, in fact the pound was flooded by pulling out the dam.
These errors are, of course, minor, and certainly do not spoil the
enjoyment of reading a graphic and well documented account of the cut
for which we all have some affection.
Mr. Vine's book can be ordered through the society (see For Sale).
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A GROOVE IN THE GROUND, by Jon H. Talbot
The Basingstoke Canal forms one of the few surviving stretches of what was once quite a complex network of waterways in this corner of the country. The adjacent River Wey Navigation is now in the hands of the National Trust and its future is assured, but its linking canals are dead and, in places, literally buried.
If you follow the Wey on its course south-westwards through the village of Shalford, you come to an ugly factory which once made gunpowder. (Said the clairvoyant child of a friend of mine: "Look daddy, a firework factory!") This is Stonebridge Wharf, and the short arm which branches off to the lift is the only section of the Wey and Arun Junction Canal which is still navigable. At its southern end, this canal joined the Arun River which, though tidal throughout its navigable length, has been improved in recent years and can be used by large craft.
A short section of the canal at Lordshill Common is still maintained for fishing and is "topped up" at intervals by the unlikely expedient of blocking off a stream with a temporary dam until it overflows, and then pumping the water over a bank with the aid of a fire pump (future topper-uppers of Nateley-Basingstoke please note!). Another very short portion at Bramley has a rowing boat on it,- but the owner must either be a frustrated J. B. Dashwood - the first and last pleasure boater on the canal - or else has grown too big to have boats in his bath.
Most of the route is now little more than a groove in the ground. Occasionally the explorer finds a brick bridge which spans withered bracken and umpteen generations of dead leaves. The ruins of one or two low aqueducts can still be seen.
In Sidney Wood, which is now Forestry Commission land, the canal bed probably held rain water for many years, for at one point there are signs of a violent "burst" on top of a high embankment. Of the two locks which were sited in this wood, there is no trace. It was at one of these locks that a negligent boatman once left a paddle drawn. The summit reservoir, the Vachery Pond, happened to be rather low at this time (a not infrequent state of affairs), the pound was drained and no boats passed for eight weeks.
The Wey and Arun was closed in 1871, following competition from the now defunct Guildford-Horsham railway. A wooden viaduct which crossed the canal south of Wonersh was replaced by a high earth embankment. A local farmer now intends to use the soil from this embankment to fill in the canal in order to provide a little extra agricultural land.
Many stretches of the waterway are inaccessible by road and decay has not been hastened by vandalism of the navigation works. Crumbling lock gates may still be seen at the southern end, even after 97 years of abandonment.
The Rother Navigation, connecting Midhurst to the Arun, nas also been derelict for donkey's years. In places it looks a most attractive waterway and is still canoeable, I believe.
Part of the Chichester Canal is still maintained as a mooring and the entrance lock at Birdham which connects with the tidal waters of Langstone Harbour has received regular attention by the boatyard, which uses it. The canal is used a good deal for fishing and has been cleaned out this year, but a succession of low bridges prevents navigation, rendering almost useless what could be a useful amenity for Chichester. It would provide many extra winter moorings in an area where sailing is popular and safe berths are few and far between and expensive as well.
Sadly, the branch of the Chichester Canal which connected with the Arun at Ford, just outside Littlehampton, is dry and has been filled in in places, although the site of the old locks at Ford can still be seen.
It has been said recently that the reopening of the Kennet and Avon Canal between Reading and Bath might well change completely the pattern of cruising in Southern England, with the provision of a wide route between the Thames and the Severn Estuary. Such a remark would surely be true of the Wey and Arun Junction Canal. Many must be the yachtsmen who mourn this "short cut" between London and the boating centres of the south coast. Unfortunately, there seems little possibility of reopening this utterly derelict line. However, who can tell? The waterways have seen several near-miracles in recent years. There is more money being spent on recreation than ever before and yet more becomes available with each passing year. Another decade may make the almost forgotten Wey and Arun a money spinner!
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RAMBLES ALONG THE BASINGSTOKE CANAL
No.5: Ash Barge Yard to Deepcut and back, across Great Heath. Total distance - 5 miles; recommended footwear good walking shoes (except after very heavy rain).
This ramble starts from Ash Barge Yard or Ash Vale station nearby, which can be reached by bus from Camberley, Guildford and Aldershot. Cars can be parked in the barge yard, by the society's hut. For those who have not yet visited the hut, the barge yard is reached by turning into Ash Vale Station approach and crossing the canal bridge at the top of the slope; the barge yard is then immediately on the right, on the non-towpath side.
Join the towpath and turn to face north. Pass under both road and rail bridges. Follow the towpath past several flashes and the remains of narrow boat Robin and in just over -1/2-mile reach Mytchett Lake. Continue on the towpath under two road bridges, and 1-1/4 miles from Mytchett Lake turn up over the third bridge. Note the quadrant shaped recess in the masonry under this bridge, a metal safety gate used to lie on the bed of the canal at this point and in an emergency a rush of water across the gate would lift the gate into an upright position and stem the flood.
Having crossed the bridge, turn left down the first lane on the left and cross Frimley Aqueduct. Rejoin the towpath and follow it for 3/4 mile to the next road bridge (Deepcut). Pass under the bridge and climb up out of the cutting to join the road. Turn left (south) and cross the railway bridge. In 1/4-mile you will come to a T-junction. Cross over and join the footpath opposite, which follow, keeping a chain link fence on the right hand side. In 1/4-mile cross the Old Guildford Road and continue along a wide gravel track across the Great Heath. In 3/4-mile reach a major junction of five gravel tracks, turn right and follow the track, keeping right until reaching a T-junction. Turn left and follow the track until some green corrugated iron sheds appear in front of you, then turn right for 300 yards to the road. Turn left along the road, and in 1/4 mile turn right to Mytchett Lake, follow the road over the canal, rejoin the towpath and return to Ash Vale.
Secretary and Newsletter Editor: Miss June Sparey, 76 Basingstoke Road, Reading, Berkshire. Tel (evenings): Reading 84076.
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