November 1969

1949 and all that
Coming events
The day they cleared the canal
The new navvies
Canals and their architecture
Pleasure for hire

Contact the Society

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Newsletter No. 26November 1969

Correspondence columns in local newspapers have been fairly bristling with canal news and views of late, with shots fired by the public and the society and broadsides from the New Basingstoke Canal Company Ltd.

Perhaps it was this that persuaded the Managing Director of the canal company, Mr. S.E. Cooke and his solicitor, Mr. Harry D. Swales, to attend our public meeting in Aldershot Library on November 13. Whatever the reason, the opportunity to hear them in public came as a pleasant surprise to everybody.

Sadly, there was little joy to be gleaned from any comments made by the canal company representatives. The owner's thinking seems to be firmly entrenched in the days of 1949, when the New Basingstoke Canal Company was set up. As one member of the audience pointed out, Mr. Cooke appeared to be blissfully ignorant of the new interest in the retention and restoration of inland waterways, the growth of cruising for pleasure - quite apart from the strength of feeling among local people who know and love the canal and who would like to see it in a condition which would serve a useful purpose.

However, Mr, Cooke did say that he "would like to see the canal restored" (though his precise meaning was not clear). And the answer to a question he put to the public meeting must have given him some food for thought. Mr. Cooke, addressing the audience, warned that if the society's recommendations for the canal were carried out, there would be "boats rushing up and down" past houses and gardens. "Is this what you want?" he asked. The spontaneous response from the audience was a loud cry of "Yes". The answer may have come as a surprise, but the question was misleading: anyone who knows about inland waterways knows that boats don't "rush" - they are normally controlled by a speed limit that is little more than a walking pace.

On the vexed question of the safety or otherwise of Ash Embankment - which we appre­ciate is a matter of great concern to nearby residents — the canal company and the society remain sharply divided. The canal company maintains that the embankment cannot be safely repaired and that it should therefore be left as it is. The society is seeking a second opinion from one of the country's leading experts in soil mechanics. After a preliminary investigation, our consultant has said that provided the breach is properly repaired and the embankment properly maintained, there is no reason why it should not be safe.

The society would never put the canal before the safety of hundreds of people where a real risk exists. But while that risk is not proven, and where adequate steps can be taken to remove any element of danger and at the same time preserving the canal in its entirety, the society will continue to press for the proper repair of the breach in Ash Embankment.

One hopes that Mr. Cooke left our meeting in Aldershot a wiser man. He saw a full house representative of a good cross-section of public opinion, heard that opinion, and may have realised that the society was more representative of the general public's thinking with regard to the canal than he had formerly thought. Certainly, he and his legal adviser are welcome to attend any other of our public functions in the future.

For the first time since 1963, the Inland Waterways Association's National Rally of Boats is being held south of Little Venice - on the River Wey at Guildford, to be exact. The rally will be held during August, 1970, and it should help focus public attention on the lovely River Wey Navigation and its neighbour, the Basingstoke Canal.
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Saturday/Sunday November 29-30: Model Transpo' '69 Exhibition, held by the Railway Enthusiasts' Club, Farnborough Town hall, Alexandra Road, We shall be manning a stand and helpers are still required. Offers of help, also of model barges or any other items of canalia for display should be made to Les Harris, 198 Hermitage Woods Crescent, St. John's, Woking (Tel. 01-735-9133 Ext.366 during office hours). Exhibition will be open from 9.30 to 21.00 on Saturday; 9.30 to 18.00 Sunday. Free tickets to stand helpers; admission 3s. for adults, ls.6d. for children under 16, and pensioners 3d.
Sunday, December 7: Machinery working party, Ash Vale Barge Yard, 10.30am. Bring wire brushes, hammers and cold chisels to clean rust and cement off the dumper trucks so that they are ready for painting.
Saturday, December 13: To celebrate the publication of the book "Canals and Their Architecture" by society committee member Robert Harris, you are invited to a party at Brookwood Memorial Eall, Connaught Road, Brookwood, from 4.30 to 8.00pm. This will combine a pleasant social function with the opportunity to congratulate Robert on a very excellent book (reviewed in this newsletter). Catering is being handled by Robert's mother, so it would be appreciated if members definitely coming would let her know to give her an idea of the number to cater for. Write to: Mrs. G. Harris, Stanley Villa, 33 Crondall Lane, Farnham, Surrey. A slide and film show will be included.
Wednesday, January 28: ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING, Brookwood Memorial Hall, 8.00pm. Please make a note in your diaries now of this important date.

Halina projector for sale. New lens just fitted. Screen and three slide magazines. £9 complete, can be collected by arrangement from Farncocibe. Apply to: Mr. G. Webb, 16 Balfour Road, Brighton, BN1 6NA.
Wanted: Someone to play "host" to a jumble sale in the Byfleet area. Anyone willing to store jumble in that area please contact the secretary.
Wanted: Someone to be the society's archivist. A responsible person who would catalogue and keep for reference the increasing amount of old photographs and documents we are collecting, so that they are in a safe place. Offers to the secretary.

The following items are available to society members and the general public from the Sales Manager, Paul Dyson, 53 Wyke Avenue, Ash, Aldershot, "Hants, Postage rates are as shown, postage is generally only charged where items would otherwise be only marginally profitable. Please do not leave Christmas orders, especially for larger books, to the last minute since delays occur when it is necessary to order new stocks. All those who ordered badges and maps before they were available and had cheques returned may now have these items post free.
London's Lost Route to Basingstoke and London's Lost Route, to the Sea by P.A.L. Vine, published by David & Charles, 50s. post free. All other David & Charles books and publications at retail price and post free. Please order well in advance.
Canals and their Architecture by Robert Harris, published by Hugh Evelyn Ltd. £4.4s. post free.
6" to the mile map of the Basingstoke Canal, two sections, east and west, 8s. 6d. per section, 6d. per section postage.
SHCS badge based on barge symbol, blue and white. 4s. 6d. postage 6d. per order. Basingstoke Canal: The Case for Restoration, 4s. 6d. post free, 2nd edition. Boats from the Basingstoke's Past, 2s. plus 6d. postage per order.
Miniature Measham Teapot and China Narrow Boat, 22s. 6d, and l7s.6d. respectively. Available only from society stalls or by personal application to sales manager. IWA Canal Holiday Guide, ls,6d. plus 6d. postage.

Any suggestions from members on new items which could be added to the sales list will be welcomed by the sales manager for investigation.

An item under this heading appeared in the Woking News & Mail and described how a group of residents in the Woodham area had got together and removed two tons of rubbish from the canal bed. A comment from Mr. Swales appended to the report pro­voked some interesting correspondence in that newspaper and gained us at least one new member (welcome, Mr. Rozelaar).

This comment was to the effect that the only people to whom the canal company would not give permission to work on the canal was the Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society - "because they attack us in all sorts of ways", Mr. Swales was quoted as saying. For the benefit of new members who may find this attitude puzzling, we should point out that the official reason, given by the canal company itself, is that the society is "antagonistic" to the company's policy for the canal's future. The word "antag­onistic" in this context simply means that we do not agree with them on the best use of the canal, and that we have said so publicly.

Since canal company policy involves culverts, weirs, development on canal land and public money spent on private property - in short an end to the through navigation which the society advocates - it would need a complete reversal of society policy before we could become acceptable to the canal company. Hence the stalemate.

At the same time, work is being carried out on the canal which is in no way connected with this society. Apart from rubbish clearing by local residents, some anonymous angels have cleared sections of the towpath in Woking, making walking much more pleasant. Local authorities are at last taking positive action to improve the canal's anpearance: both Woking and Fleet Urban District Councils have recommended that action be taken under the Public Health Act, as amended by the Civic Amenities Act, to tidy up the canal in their areas.

Some letters are still being sent to the secretary's former address in Reading. The majority of these have been re-directed, but some have obviously gone astray. If you are likely to be writing to the secretary, or contacting her by phone, please make sure that you use the address and telephone numbers given at the bottom of page 6 of this newsletter. If you are unable to contact the secretary and have an urgent message, this can be left with Mrs. Woolgar at Brookwood 4064.

Member Mr. Michael Baldey is a director of The Horsebarge Hotels Ltd., Towpath, Berkhamstead, Herts. and operates horsedrawn trips by barge on the Grand Union Canal at 33 gns. inclusive per head per week. Two Basingstoke Canal barges, Tuba (formerly the Gwendoline) and Fleet make up the hotel. The route taken is between Boxmoor in Hertfordshire and Stoke Bruerne in Northants from May to October. For anyone who wants to sample a canal holiday without the hard work this may be the answer.

The date is Wednesday, January 28, 1970. Formal notice will be sent to every member 28 days before the event. Meanwhile, all nominations for committee (which must be accompanied by the nominee's consent) and items for AGM discussion should be sent to the secretary by December 28 latest.

With regard to the Constitution, it is hoped that we will have our application for registration as a charity finalised by the date of the AGM. This will enable us to couple the AGM with the formal adoption and approval of the new Constitution. Subject to the Charity Commission granting us registration as a charity on the basis of the draft of the new Constitution which they are now studying, copies of the Constitution will be sent to every member in time for the AGM, and any amendments to it can be discussed. Alterations to the Constitution were fully detailed in Newsletter No.24 and a limited number of draft copies are available from the secretary.

We are indebted to Mr. R. J. Bevington of Guildford who sent us a picture of a wide boat leaving Guildford for the Basingstoke Canal rally some years ago, and to Miss Majorie Childs of Woking for a postcard showing the old boathouse that once stood by the canal in Woking. The society is always grateful for old photographs or postcards of the canal. Copies can be taken and originals returned if necessary.

THE NEW NAVVIES - By Jim Woolgar
"Usually when I speak in these rooms, my audience is far more formally dressed. What amazes me is that you have come so far and that many of you are young. In this day and age it is encouraging to see people doing something for the community". These words were spoken by the Mayor of Welshpool on Saturday, September 18 at the reception rooms above Welshpool Railway Station. Dress was informal, as his audi­ence consisted of about 150 "Navvies" who had finished a hard day's work. Infor­mality was also the word, as he had to weave his way between bodies, beds and sleeping bags to find somewhere to stand.

"Navvies", or volunteer working parties, have grown up slowly over the last decade. But in the past 12 months there has been a fantastic spurt. The turning point was "Operation Ashton" - the first big working party. This was held on the Ashton-under-Lyne Canal near Manchester one weekend in September, 1968. One of its objects was to see how large an impact could be made in just one weekend, using volunteer labour combined with mechanical plant. An experiment that was 100 per cent successful. The plant - dumpers, diggers, loaders and tipper lorries - was hard pushed to keep up with the Navvies, over 600 of them. Mechanisation had arrived.

The digging season this year started with a similar, but smaller onslaught on the top five locks at Marple, Cheshire. Again machinery, but this time another addition: cranes to haul the rubbish from the lock chambers.

And so on to Welshpool. The Montgomery Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal was closed in 1943, and since then has laid dormant. But surprisingly enough, decay has not been too overpowering. Things were triggered off by a plan to route a ring road along part of the canal. The local residents and fishermen, joined with the Shropshire Union Canal Society in planning this operation.

The Navvies, many of whom had never heard of Welshpool, came from far and wide: Manchester, London, Birmingham and Sheffield, with exceptional cases from Cornwall and Belfast.

By Sunday evening 1 1/2-miles of canal was transformed. Besides having all the rubbish taken away, sedge was removed, hedges and grass trimmed and the lock was painted. We were selling the canal, so it had to be made presentable. The townspeople came to look, stayed, and many helped. One local took a paint brush from a girl, finished all the steel work on the gate that he could reach, then dangled by one hand to go down a foot further. Not satisfied he went away and returned with a ladder, and painted to the water level. The net result was probably the best looking stretch of canal in the country. The canal diggers of the 70s have their own Bible - "Navvies Notebook", published bi­monthly, annual minimum subscription 5s. This gives news of events past and future, humourous articles and comments, where necessary, aimed at irresponsible authorities. Even though we have moved into the mechanical age, hand tools are still required. These are purchased by a community fund of cigarette coupons, trading stamps etc. Unfortunately, mechanical plant (even after the plant hire people have been brow­beaten) cannot be paid for in Green Shield Stamps. This needs hard cash.

If you cannot spare the time to join them, why not help in another way. Spare stamps, odd cigarette coupons, a donation or even a subscription to Navvies Notebook. All these can be forwarded to me, Jim Woolgar, 56 Connaught Crescent, Brookwood, Woking, Surrey. The Navvies are waiting to work on the Basingstoke Canal - help them now and they may well help us in the future. Provided of course that it's not too late...

Recently committee members of the society met representatives of both Hampshire and Surrey County Councils at Winchester and Kingston respectively. On both occasions, the urgent need for a quick decision on the canal's future was stressed and the society's offer of physical help in restoring through navigation was reiterated. From the county councils' side, it was made clear that no decision has yet been taken on what will happen to the canal should they purchase it.

We are grateful to both authorities for opening their doors to us and enabling personal contact to be made, and hope that further co-operation will result from this first meeting.

CANALS AND THEIR ARCHITECTURE by Robert Harris (published by Hugh Evelyn Ltd) £4.4s. Reviewed by Flo Woolgar
Written by SHCS committee member Robert Harris, this is one of a series of books entitled Excursions into Architecture. The series is designed to "create an aware­ness and appreciation - and encourage the enjoyment - of the less well-documented aspects of building and architecture" - an aim well achieved in Mr. Harris' book.

It is a book of contrasts between styles of architecture, new and old, use and dis­use of our waterways and canals at home and abroad - with of course generous mention of the Basingstoke Canal. It contains an excellent variety of photographs, capturing the many accidentally beautiful aspects of canals; like bollards worn into lovely patterns by towing ropes and the intricate patterns of paddle gear. It is not so much a reference book as a book to enjoy and make one want to explore for oneself some of the places illustrated.

There are sections devoted to bridges, locks, aqueducts, tunnels and the homes of those whose living is concerned with canals: boats, lock housas, inns and wharves with their buildings in many cases displaying the inevitable signs of disuse.

In the last section, the second canal age, Mr. Harris explores "modern" engineering structures brought about by advances in technical skills acquired in railway building. American and Canadian waterway systems are illustrated and what emerges is the contrast between the vastness of commercially used canals abroad and the British system which carries less than 2% of our freight and which is used mainly by holidaymakers wishing to escape from the ever-increasing number of lorries transporting our goods by road.

Copies can be obtained through the society (see Sales List, Page 2).

Our last working party at Ash Vale discovered two willing workers; Mick Fairlies and Jeff Holman, who are prepared to get the dumper truck engine going. A section of public footpath at Greywell has been trimmed and we are now awaiting the go-ahead to repair the footpath itself.

The society sent 11 volunteers to work on the Upper Avon at Harvington during the weekend October 25-26. The work involved cutting back a line of willows, some of which were in the way of a new lock cut at Offenham. Plant and machinery arrived the following Tuesday, and work has now started on the third lock site. Virtually all the work on this project is being done by volunteers, augmented by army groups and prison labour, but it is dependent on a steady supply of workers. Another society date for the Upper Avon has been provisionally booked for the weekend of February 7-8. If anyone wants to go before then, John Dodwell, 19 Drill Hall Road, Chertsey, tel. Chertsey 3278 organises groups to fill gaps. Bookings for the February date are being taken by Jim Woolgar, 56 Connaught Crescent, Brookwood, Woking, Surrey. Finally, those who went to Harvington wish to thank Jim and Flo Woolgar for organising the event and feeding the hungry workers.

The society's luck with the weather finally ran out on November 16. But this did not stop a bedraggled but determined group of hikers assembling at Brookwood Station for the ramble up the 14 locks. The rain did cease after a while and after an invigor­ating stroll along the towpath sustenance was taken at the King's Head, Frimley Green. The ramble then proceeded to Ash Vale. It was noticed that with the rain, water was moving along the 14 locks.

For those who like to know what's happening on other waterways, a working party is being held on the Slough Arm of the Grand Union Canal on December 14. This is an IWA working party, held jointly with the Grand Union Canal Society. Meet at Thorney Lane Bridge, Slough, and follow signs along the track. Tools should be taken.

My wife and I spent a week cruising the Grand Union Canal Main Line two years ago. We set out from Bletchley, Bucks, in a two-berth outboard cruiser. It was an old boat which had seen much hire service, but it was well scrubbed and very well equip­ped. It even had a good engine, a smooth and reliable Evinrude 'Fisherman', but the installation was poor. The wheel steering was difficult to handle in forward gear and the depth of immersion of the propeller was inadequate, leading to a marked cavitation beyond half-throttle.

However, we enjoyed our leisurely cruise to Braunston, near Rugby and back. The boat enjoyed it less, collecting a few more dents on the way and emerging from the tunnels at Blisworth and Braunston liberally coated with soot. An appreciative audience outside the Waterways Museum at Stoke Bruerne watched my efforts at turning in a stiff wind, scudding along the side of a Willow Wren butty loaded with coal but seemingly abandoned by its motor boat, like an errant billiard ball.

On the windy heights of Weedon Embankment we met a pair of narrow boats stranded on the mud and blocking the fairway and again found difficulty with our cumbersome craft. The failure of the headlight in the Blisworth Tunnel was the last straw. After bouncing off the sooty brickwork umpteen tines we emerged with the Blue Line coal boats Stanton and Belmont in hot pursuit, their way being lit by an electric lamp as big as a baby's bath.

On setting out we made a fundamental mistake. We had brought little food with us, in­tending to rely upon shops at Bletchley, but by the time we chugged into the town the shops had shut and it was in a state of semi-starvation that we arrived next day at The Old Forge at Linford just before opening time. Fortified by fried chicken and crisps we plodded on, finally stocking up the larder at Cosgrove.

The cruising guides recommend making use of the special moorings for overnight stops but there is very little risk of being run down in the dark providing that one ties at places well out in the open, away from bends and bridge holes. To my mind, the greatest pleasure of boating is to slip off to sleep two or three miles fron the nearest motor car, with only the sound of a far distant train or a restless sheep to disturb one's slumbers. Once we were awakened by a Willow Wren motor loaded with coal, thudding past in the night with, surprisingly, a houseboat in tow, and on another occasion by the heavy breathing of an inquisitive cow who leant over the fence about five in the morning to investigate her new neighbours.

Travelling up Stoke Locks we penned with another hire craft. One of the crew was a portly, middle-aged gentleman who fell in the cut at two locks in succession. Apart from this particulour encounter we worked the 16 locks in each direction on our own. This was no great hardship, although we descended the 7 locks beside the M.1 at Long Buckby in the rain. The discomfort of this was greatly relieved by the sight of the world in general tearing by in a hurry. The Buckby locks are big and the gates and paddles are heavy, but at least they do not give the innocent bystander an impromptu shower-bath like some of the locks on the narrow canals, whose hydraulic arrangements can only be guessed at.

Our final destination, Braunston, is a regular Piccadilly of the canals. It boasts a genuine aquatic traffic island and a complex of reservoirs, the towpath being carried on a number of beautiful and graceful cast iron bridges, symbols of an age when everything was purpose built; an age without redundancy or obsolescence, when the sacred cow of "production" was as yet unfed.

The old boatyard and dry dock which once maintained a fleet of hundreds of narrow boats in the service of Fellows, Morton and Clayton Ltd. is now operated by Blue Line Cruisers Ltd. The working boats have largely been replaced by pleasure craft but Blue Line, to their credit, still have three pairs of boats in service carrying Warwickshire coal to the jam factory of Kearley & Tonge at Southall. These craft, spotlessly clean and immaculately maintained are a delight to the eye, adding a splash of traditional colour to the waterway scene.

The canals are steadily becoming more popular among holidaymakers and yet more traffic of all kinds is sorely needed but, fortunately, the motorist - long a familiar figure on the Thames and the Broads - has not yet appeared. There are few unfriendly folk on the cut. Even the much-maligned fisherman often waves or smiles if you just close the throttle a few seconds as you pass, so as not to immerse his keepnet with your wash. He can be a useful ally, like the character who dragged us off the mud with the aid of a fishing line-mooring line complex. "Tricky spot, that. You're the third I've pulled off there this mornin".

Tanned, weatherbeaten, bent and gnarled, the retired boatmen totter out of the waterside cottages to wind a windlass for you. A shopkeeper offers to take in meat for your return journey if you 'phone ahead, and trading boatmen invite you to inspect their bulled-up brasses and lace plates, bought at Woolworths 50 years ago at ninepence apiece and now fetching £4 each in antique shops.

It was with some regret that we gave up the floating box that had been our home for a week and returned to the indecent speed of the road. After only a week on water the speed and acceleration of our car felt unfamiliar and uncomfortable. A month or two of canal cruising would surely convert the keenest motorist for ever.

Secretary & Newsletter Editor: Miss June Sparey, 8 Beaufort Road, Maybury, Woking, Surrey. Tel: 01-992-5167 (weekday evenings), Woking 63095 (weekends only).



Last updated April 2005