No. 195 Autumn 2002
My perception of the Canal Society seems to follow a sort of manic-depressive cycle, veering from the gloom of my last editorial, triggered by the lacklustre AGM, to at least modest optimism this time.
The reason? New people coming forward.
We have a new Committee member, Bob Malcolm, and out of the blue I received a comprehensive survey of the Western End from Roger Reed, who describes himself as a very new member. Both of them feature elsewhere in this edition and show that there is still life out there.
I think that one of the problems that we have in getting people to come forward is that the sort of person who is attracted to the serenity of canals is not the type to put themselves up for election, and may be shy about asking someone else to propose them. They are more likely to quietly come up at a meeting somewhere and say something like "I don't know whether I'd be any use, but I wouldn't mind have a go at..." And of course, nine times out of ten, they prove very good at whatever it was, because they are interested in doing it.
I get the impression from talking to Bob, and others, that the Society's Committee looks a bit of a closed shop from the outside, which may deter people from coming forward.
In fact nothing could be further from the truth. True, many of its members have served on the Committee for a very long time, but in some ways this is a sign of weakness rather than strength. Many of us would love to be thrown off by a wave of keen young enthusiasts!
We are intending to organise a social for new members some time in the autumn, but don't wait for this. If you feel that you would like to get involved in some way with the life of the Basingstoke Canal, please don't be shy about getting in touch. Write, e-mail or phone me or any of the officers of the Society listed on the back page.
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Following the last local government elections, Hart has two new representatives on the Canal's Joint Management Committee. Anthony Burrell lives in Fleet and Sean Holden in Chatter Alley, Dogmersfield, right next to the Canal. Let us hope that this proximity will lead to them taking some real interest in the Canal's affairs. The signs are good, as I understand that Sean has already had a session with the Canal Director. I'm sure that Leigh will not have missed the opportunity to impress upon him the vital importance of getting Hart's full contribution to the Canal's budget restored.
The whole business of local government fund seems crazy. I know that it all comes out of different budgets, but on the one hand the Canal is starved for money and on the other HCC is spending a fortune on installing speed bumps and other hazards all over our roads. Our local paper today reports that local councillors are demanding that some of these be removed before they kill someone. I hope nobody starts speeding on the Canal or we shall find them installing chicanes on that!
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Members living in the Aldershot/Fleet area may have noticed that tree felling is still going on next to the Canal in the Eelmoor/Claycart area. Leigh Thornton assures me that this has absolutely nothing to do with either the BCA or the conservation efforts to bring more light to the Canal.
It is apparently all being done by the Ministry of Defence, who own the land. The BCA actually owns only a quite small strip including the towpath. The trees that have been cut down are behind the towpath.
The MOD tends to act in a rather autocratic way and one feels that the JMC should try to impress upon them the fact that their actions are affecting the appearance of the Canal and that they really ought to liaise with interested parties a bit more.
The example of non-liaison that I recall most clearly was some years ago when we were moving the Pinkerton from Odiham to Ash and arrived at Queen's Avenue Bridge in Aldershot only to find that it was full of scaffolding because the Army had decided to paint it. A call to the Aldershot News got us a picture on the front page under the headline "A bridge too far!"
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I paid my first ever visit to the Odiham Fire Show today - a great day out for small boys of all ages. It's always interesting to get an insight into the obsessions of others and I found it strangely comforting to discover that there appear to be some people even balmier than canal enthusiasts!
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COVER PICTURE INFO
Odiham Rally at Colt Hill. Photo: Roger Cansdale
Lead times on publication of the Newsletter require the compilation of copy some weeks in advance of the issue date and as a result, the sun is shining and temperatures are rising as I pen this column.
The canal is still open for navigation, and I hope this will continue through the summer, but water supplies will be dependent on rainfall as the summer progresses. St. John's levels have been depleted following problems on the pound between Locks 8 and 9 when the pound emptied, and full recovery at this time of year will take some days and reinforces the need for a sustainable water supply strategy which is fully discussed and endorsed by the Canal Joint Management Team.
The backpumping at Woodham is operational, but as reported in past Newsletters, the Environment Agency, at a very late stage in the project, challenged the right of the Canal Authority to operate the pumps without an Abstraction License, as they did not consider the Canal had Navigation Authority status. An interim, without prejudice, agreement has been tabled, the Environment Agency will issue a license to move water at a nominal fee whilst the County Solicitors continue to negotiate the Right of Navigation issues. Application and advertising for the licence is in hand, and meanwhile both Counties have involved their legal advisers on the navigation issues, with further joint discussions scheduled to identify a way forward.
The development of a sustainable water supply is essential and needs to be included in the Operational 10 year Plan for the Canal, which is due for revision this year. I have raised the issue of water supply, when responding to Water Catchment Area Plan consultations and also at various meetings, so far without success. The Environment Agency could be far more pro-active on water supply for the canal, but very little, if any, support has been forthcoming from them when I have raised the issue.
English Nature designated 28 miles of the Canal a S.S.S.I, for which a management plan was produced requiring the B.C.A. to maintain water levels within very tight margins. With the then existing water supplies the BCA could not meet the water level requirements. English Nature supported the Lottery bid for Woodham Backpumping on the basis of improved water levels being achievable, so I would expect the same support for any future water initiatives which may be put forward to the Joint Management Team.
On a totally different theme, the rape of Eelmore continues, the M.O.D., having cleared the Farnborough Airfield approach, presumably being able to enforce a process objected to by many members of the public, returned for another bout of tree felling. Mature trees have now been felled in the vicinity of the bridge, even on the off-bank and downstream side where stands of mature trees had been retained on the previous felling sequence. The trunks and cordwood of the recently felled trees have been left in situ, indicating that commercial felling was not the objective.
The BCA do not own the land in question, and the M.O.D. seem to be accountable only to themselves. I can imagine the repercussions, if we as volunteers operated in such a cavalier manner - we would be taken to task in very short order. The M.O.D. should also be answerable to criticism and state their reasons.
HEALTH & SAFETY
Health and Safety considerations seem to pop up everywhere these days and small voluntary bodies such as the Society are just as liable as the largest company.
We have long recognised this and every effort has been made to ensure that activities such as the Work Parties are conducted in a responsible and safe way. However, safety is a bit like justice - it not only has to be done, but has to be seen to be done. This means paperwork!
The Committee has discussed the subject and feels that, to ensure that all liabilities are being properly addressed, a review ought to be done of all its operations to ensure that proper procedures are in place, and documented, in all
areas. The Boat Company is taking care of issues connected with the operation of the John Pinkerton and Dragonfly, so the principal concern is obviously the activities of the Work Parties.
With this in mind, we are looking for a volunteer to tackle the job. Obviously a background in safety management would be an advantage, but a lot of it comes down to common sense and an ability to look at and document things in a logical way.
If you feel tha tyou could help, please contact our Chairman, Peter Redway on 01483 721710.
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Since my last report at our AGM, work has progressed on many projects. The Woodham Pumphouse electrical installation, unfortunately remains outstanding and alternative options are being considered, as an early completion is now essential so that full domestic facilities are made available.
Work on the St. John's pipeline has made steady progress, with the pipeline now at Lock 10, and plans for negotiating Woodend Bridge and beyond during the Summer Work Camp are well advanced. Those involved in the project will be aware that as the construction progresses the pipe gradient remains constant, resulting in deep excavations as the locks are passed. Deep excavations involve trench supports and more earth requiring compaction on backfill, hence slower progress. Once past a lock normal excavation depths become possible and progress speeds up.
Woodend Bridge is restricted in height and width, and spoil will need to be loaded into barges so as to maintain working access. Excess materials can be removed to an unloading site clear of the bridge and Lockfield Cottages.
Improvements to the Dry Dock at Deepcut by the B.C.A. require the provision of a dedicated bywash pipe for Lock 28; the existing shared bywash and dry dock drain often results in water remaining in the dock.
The Work Camp will be working on this, with modifications to the Upper Wilderness Weir for the inlet and also new structures for the outlet below the lock.
Kent & E Sussex Canal Restoration Group
at work on new Lock 28 bywash
(photo: Roger Cansdale)
The canal west of Greywell Tunnel is requiring some attention, as the towpath growth has not been cut for some years. Our aspirations of the County Footpaths maintaining this section of towpath (designated as part of a long distance footway) has not been achieved to a satisfactory standard. On the weekend 26th and 27th October we are arranging for a working party to clear the towpath and also fallen trees from the canal bed. Hedge laying and other countryside skills will be required as well as family involvement in general clearing of undergrowth.
Make a date and come along; hot soup and drinks will be available. The usual hand tools will be supplied, or of you prefer, bring your own. What has been created west of the tunnel is due to the Society's efforts and should not be allowed to degenerate over time.
Please come and give us your support for one or both of these days.
A couple of months ago we received the letter below from Roger Reed, one of our newer members. It was accompanied by a four page survey of the Western End and a dozen photos of various parts. It was discussed at our July Committee meeting and, as a result, a Work Party is being organised to tackle some of the jungle that is being allowed to grow. Note that responsibility for maintaining this part of the canal towpath is with HCC and not the BCA.
I was interested to read Alan Smith's letter in Basingstoke Canal News No 194 that the canal section from Greywell Tunnel to Penny Bridge "....is a credit to all those involved in the restoration". Indeed, in Paul Vine's book London's Lost Route to Basingstoke he states that beyond Eastrop Bridge the bed "...was until 1993 choked with trees, both upright and fallen".
As a very new member, who has only recently discovered the facination of canals, I have walked this section several times recently. In June, I decided to walk from Greywell Village to the site of Penny Bridge undertaking a layman's survey of the canal, the towpath and the footpath signage over Greywell Hill.
In summary, (a detailed report accompanies), I found that the majority of the towpath was in reasonable condition except for one short length halfway between Brickworks Arm and Brick Kiln Bridge which appears to be slipping into the canal. The canal has two sites, immediately below Eastrop and Brick Kiln Bridges, where several cubic yards of debris are almost blocking the canal bed to a depth level with the towpath. Two trees have fallen across the waterway and vegetation is taking over one section that is virtually without water. Trees up to ten feet high are growing between the towpath and canal. A couple of trees and small areas of reeds and other vegetation are growing in the canal bed. The footpath over the hill has four 'tunnel' signs, two of which are in need of repair. These signs alone are not adequate for walking this route, without the assistance of a map. This applies particularly when walking 'downstream'.
Having completed this non-technical survey, I can see that the canal is still in far better condition than before restoration. However, nothing stands still and once again nature is beginning to take over. At present, our efforts are rightly going into the backpumping projects. However, do we let nature take its course, or do we 'make a stitch in time and save nine' and keep the western end of our waterway in reasonable condition? I would recommend that at least the towpath be kept in reasonable condition.
Yours sincerely, Roger Reed
One of the photos in Roger Reed's excellent survey, showing Eastrop Bridge with a partial blockage of the canal bed in front of it.
One of this summer's rather rare hot days is currently occurring outside the window. Of course it is very welcome. However, the wet weather we have been experiencing does have an up side - lots of water! Levels in the canal are fine at the moment (mid - July), with plenty still coming in from the Broad Oak stream. This is despite a couple of recent panics when Ash Lock has been used overnight, paddles left open, and we have found Hampshire down by up to [4ins]. Not what you want in high summer! After staying open last year, the Rangers now see it as a challenge to keep going all of this summer and are making sure everything is sealed up at the end of a day.
You can't mention "water" without talking about the Pumpback Scheme. Some of you will be aware that lengthy dialogue has taken place over whether the two landowning County Councils are "Navigation Authorities" and hence exempt from the need to apply for an abstraction licence (and yes, it appears you do need an abstraction licence to "pump back" water!). The current situation is that Surrey County Council have applied for a licence "without prejudice" whilst the more complicated legal situation is explored. This means we can operate the system without threat of a court case. What the lawyers discover and recommend will be "interesting" to say the least - and may well be setting a precedent for other waterways.
Back at the Canal Centre we are progressing a planning application for a revised mooring basin. The idea is to make it slightly smaller and as a "lay by" to the main canal. We should be able to get 20 (ish) boats in it. Importantly it will be cheaper to construct and involve the removal of about a third of the amount of soil than that originally proposed. This makes the whole thing a lot more feasible. The stumbling block could be the necessity to remove some mature pine trees from the waters edge.
Over the summer the focus of canal work will move to Deepcut. Pete Redway will be working with the WRG summer camps to construct a new by-pass at Lock 28, which will negate the need to flood the dry dock to let water down the Deepcut Flight. This will please many dry dock users! Following that work we will be putting a new waterproof cover on the dry dock and generally improving the surrounds.
Dredging the Deep Cut itself is the next major maintenance challenge and we are starting to look at how that might be done. The key element of the challenge is silt disposal. The army land is the obvious place to put the silt, but it is a considerable haul to get it from the canal level up to the top of the cutting. Whatever solution is worked out, it will doubtless be more costly than the relative luxury we have had with more recent dredging of spreading the stuff on adjacent fields. Deep Cut itself is also now hosting some particularly tall and ungainly trees - a product of the clamber for light in the dark depths of the cutting. These are beginning to threaten the stability of the cutting side and we will have to look at selective thinning of these, whilst retaining the Cutting's unique wooded feel.
Out on the Canal the new booking in system for boats appears to be working well with a lot of pleasantly surprised boaters finding they are able to ring up one day and come on the next. We are still ironing out any glitches with the system, but overall it seems to be working very well. Colleagues at the Wey Navigation are being very helpful and flexible with the issue of transit licences for our visitors.
In the Canal Authority Office there have been various changes as a result of the identified need to rethink our Administrative set up. We are currently in the process of recruiting a new team which will deal with all aspects of Visitor Services and Admin with a "multi skilled" approach. While this sounds a bit jargony, it will make us more flexible and means you should be able to call in at any time and get a licence, get information, book a visit or camping etc. A new dedicated full time administrator will have a vital role in this team, supported by an assistant. In this process, long serving Licence Clerk Mary Harmsworth opted not to apply for one of the new posts. I am sure many members know Mary and would like to thank her for over 20 years of dedicated work on the Canal. We all wish her many happy hours in the garden at home!
And finally, why not get out and enjoy the canal in it's summer finery? With the summer towpath cut just completed and plenty of boats moving it's an ideal time!
Leigh Thornton, Canal Director
ASK TONY - Tony Harmsworth
In the last BC News, I mentioned that Tony Harmsworth had volunteered to try to answer any questions about the Canal that people cared to send in. In response to this. John Craig sent the following e-mail:-
I am taking you up on your editorial invitation (in the recent newsletter) to send you queries.
I am looking into the history of the development of the area around the Wheatsheaf Bridge in Woking. My query simply is did the bridge take its name from the nearby pub? Or did the pub take its name from the bridge?
The pub is not very old. There is nothing in the 1841 Census, only a 'beer retailer' in 1851, and the first reference to an Inn is in 1861. So I suspect the Inn took its name from the bridge. But I feel there must be old maps or plans of the canal that would show whether or not the bridge had a name either when it was constructed or pre 1851.
A subsidiary query is who Arthur was whose name was given to Arthurs Bridge?
Perhaps I was rash to offer, these are two difficult ones!
Wheatsheaf Bridge first: I understand this bridge was originally called Horsell Bridge and Horsell Wharf was adjacent upstream on what is now Brewery Road carpark. Woking as we now know it, of course did not exist until the coming of the railway in 1838. As Tony Craig says the pub came in the 1850's and the wharf declined after the opening of the railway so it may have got its nick name gradually over the years as Woking Town developed.
The new Woking hospital was built about the turn of the century (1900) and the bridge was called Hospital Bridge until the 1970's and now its official title appears to be Chobham Road Bridge.
As for Arthurs Bridge, all I can say is that the tale handed down in my family is that Slocock's Brickfield stood on the north side of the canal and was set up by Arthur Slocock. He made many of the bricks for Woodham Locks and the canal bridges and this bridge was by Arthurs Brickfield and got its name from him. The Slococks went on to build up a huge nursery business which dominated all the area now known as Goldsworth Park and Goldsworth. How many Society members remember the chain ferry that crossed the canal approximately at the site of the present Goldsworth Bridge and was used by the nursery workers to cross the canal from the North Nursery to the South?
Incidentally my Grandfather started his lighterage business in 1901 , carrying ashes from Southall Council in London to Woking for Slococks. They were used in the growing beds in the greenhouses mixed with compost. The Slococks were very good to him in the early years of his business and he had the wideboat "Dauntless" built specially for this work in 1905.
Hope this is helpful.
Despite getting a couple of difficult questions first time out. Tony is happy to carry on, so if there is anything about the Canal that has been puzzling you, let us know and we'll test Tony's knowledge again.
Bob Thornton, who recently volunteered tojoin the Society's Committee, has an association with the Canal that is nearly as long as Tony Harmsworth's and goes back 50 years to when his parents moved to Sheerwater.
He remembers being chased by Mrs Marshall, the Canal Manager, for not having a license for his canoe. She obviously thought that the best remedy would be to change poacher into gamekeeper, because she tried to recruit him as a junior bailiff. He declined the offer then but has obviously decided to make amends now by joining the Society's Committee.
Bob says that his main activity is helping with the Tuesday evening maintenance on the Pinkerton. At one time, these evenings were recognised as the Society's club night. In fact, I think members are still welcome to turn up, but the maintenance task tends to fall to a small band of stalwarts such as Boband Robert and Mandy Knight, who must have been doing it for 15 years or more now.
Bob says that he might also think about getting involved with the newly resurrected lengthsman scheme being organised by our other newish Committee member, Graham Hornsey.
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The trip to the Anderton Lift, to which members of the Society were invited by Andy Simmonds of the local branch of the IWA, was a great success. A full double-decker coach load set out from Guildford and arrived
just in time for half the party to board the trip boat Edwin Clark (named after the contractor who built the lift) for a one way passage down on the newly restored lift. The other half viewed the exhibition and the excellent video of the reconstruction and then followed with a trip up.
The Anderton Lift
I have to say that, although it was great to see this "Wonder of the Waterways" back in action, I felt that the actual trip on the lift was one of the less exciting features of the day. The lift is still undergoing a running-in process and as a consequence the passage was very slow and rather more juddery than one hopes it will be in future. Nevertheless, we can all say that we have done it and there was a considerable queue of boats waiting to use it.
We then went to Norbury Junction, where about two thirds of the party boarded Pat Barton's trip boat for supper and a ride on the Shropshire Union to Gnosall, while the rest went directly to the pub at Gnosall for a meal.
The whole day went like clockwork, thanks to Andy's impeccable organisation, and the IWA were even kind enough to share the profits from the trip with the Society, so the Water Appeal will be £70 better off. Our thanks to Andy and the Guildford and Reading Branch.
Inspired by the success of this outing, Andy is contemplating organising a day trip to St Omer near Calais in France on 17th May next year. The Fontinettes boat lift and various waterways are the chief attractions, but a stop at a hypermarket to top up on vital supplies is also a possibility. Watch this space!
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The evening of July 7th saw the Mikron Theatre back in action at the Canal Centre in Mytchett in front of a good crowd.
This year's production "All Steamed Up" was based on the inventive and exciting life of the great Cornish engineer Richard Trevithick and took us from Camborne to Cartagena.
The show had the customary mixture of drama, comedy and song, with a cast that was perhaps musically even better than usual.
Above: The rousing finale staring (l to r) Shelley Halstead, Charley Moon, Peter Toon and Kate Buxton. (photo: Roger Cansdale)
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# Teenage youths are causing more problems around the Canal Centre area. Recently three youths broke into a narrow boat and stole various items and a schoolboy was pushed into the canal by Potters Pool and his mobile phone was stolen.
# Hopefully these problems will diminish with the appointment of a local PC for the area of Mytchett who will also keep an eye on the Canal Centre grounds. We wish PC 2895 Josh Parish success and that, hopefully the local troublesome youths will get the message.
# The recent overhaul of the Lift Bridge at North Warnborough has caused a new problem for the John Pinkerton crews. It is now much stiffer to wind down and is exhausting some of our senior citizen crew members. The overhaul was prompted by complaints from adjoining residents that the banging of the bridge hitting the stops was disturbing them. The answer must be to bring the bridge up to a modern standard to eliminate manual operation. HCC please note and talk to British Waterways for a solution. In the meantime let's hope that adjustments to the clutch mechanism improve the situation.
# The Society has been fighting the installation of mobile phone masts in inappropriate places in or adjoining the canal conservation area. However the Canal Joint Management Committee, at its April meeting, voted to support any future applications in principle subject to the views of the two County Estates Departments and any planning constraints. Each mast can bring in £3000/£4000 per year and if they are sited on adjoining private land then no income would be received.
# With the late spring and early summer rains the towpath between the Norris gyratory bridges and Ash Lock (with the exception of the stretch past the end of the Farnborough airfield runway) has remained very muddy in many places. A recent Fleet U3A cycle ride resulted in one member coming off his bike and covering himself in mud. With the rest of the canal towpath in mainly good order the time has really come to sort out and upgrade this stretch. Hart DC and Guildford BC have upgraded their sections on either side so, come on, Rushmoor Borough Council, please do your bit. It doesn't need to be made an official cycle route - neither Hart nor Guildford made that a condition of their involvement, as it is not HCC policy to do so.
# JMC members discussed revised proposals for the Canal Centre Mooring Basin at their meeting in April. A potential sum of £10,000 was mentioned for the income that could be raised annually from usage fees. Let's hope that this time the planning process goes smoothly and that work can start this autumn.
# More vandalism has been reported this time to two overflow weirs on the Surrey section. Weir boards have been smashed and two pounds were drained recently. Society will really have to get a grip on vandalism and graffiti, but where do we start? Schools and parents must be the starting point. Any further ideas to halt this destructive social problem?
# Brian Roberts has been appointed the new Chairman of the Inland Waterways Association Central Southern Region which includes the Basingstoke Canal.
(From BCN 46 Sept-Oct 1972 and BCN 47 Nov-Dec 1972)
# Society proposes that the County Councils form a joint management structure for the future management of the canal when it is restored. This must have public participation and, if the Society are to provide volunteers, then we should be represented on the new body.
# The Society committee feels that a limited company of a non-profit making type Trust is what is required and the Inland Waterways Association are asked for advice .
# A draft "Memorandum of Association of the Basingstoke Canal Trust" is therefore circulated to county officials and our own President and Vice Presidents. As this rather bemused some of the recipients a simplified explanation was also circulated.
# An Open Day is to be held in October at the Ash Vale Barge Yard to give members a chance to view the various items of machinery the Society has acquired, including a Land Rover, four dumper trucks, three autoscythes, a crawler tractor, various trailers and the lock gates plus, on the water, our pontoon and dinghy.
# Spantons former timber yard by the Chertsey Road Bridge in Woking has been demolished. The last barge delivery before the canal was sold in 1949 was, in fact, a delivery of timber for the yard.
# The project to build a pair of lower gates for Ash Lock gets under way now that a suitable building has been found to build them in. John Edrnondson has persuaded the Army to offer us the use of an old Drill Hall in Blackdown Camp, Deepcut. Volunteers experienced in carpentry are urgently required as is the donation of suitable tools.
# Hampshire County Council is planning to destroy Brick Kiln Bridge west of the Brickworks Arm at Up Nateley so that they can put a 2ft pipe in the bottom of the canal and build an embankment of gravel on which to reinstate the road. The committee objected to this as we had recently submitted a case to HCC for them to acquire all the land owned by the canal company west of the Greywell Tunnel.
# Fleet Council wants HCC to spend £20000 on rebuilding and realigning Coxheath Bridge in Church Crookham which has a five ton limit at present, while Hartley Wintney Rural Council has asked the County to look into the poor state of Chequers Bridge in Crookham Village. HCC is already planning extensive repairs to Barley Mow Bridge at Winchfield.
# Wanted: a second hand BRIDGE, 8' or 9' headroom or more, minimum span 14', preferably about 17'. An old canal bridge or railway bridge would do, to span the River Wey and Basingstoke Canal junction.
We are indebted once again to Arthur Dungate for organising another season of monthly talks this Winter. They will still be at the Westgate Centre in Woking, next to Chobham Road Bridge, and still at 8pm on the THIRD Wednesday in the month.
OCTOBER - Wednesday 16 Oct 2002: Richard Thomas - The Gunpowder Plot.
We start the season with a bang! Yes, Richard Thomas is back again with yet another of his popular presentations. This one is about the former Royal Gunpowder Factory at Waltham Abbey which is now open to the public. This is a spectacular tour through the history of gunpowder and around the site. There is special emphasis (of course) on the canals that formed the backbone of the transport system.
NOVEMBER - Wednesday 20 Nov 2002:
Dick Allan - The short way home from the Med -
Bringing a sailing boat through the French canals.
Following his enthralling round-the-world journey in a sailing boat, Dick Allan is going to describe the trials and tribulations - and the pleasures - of a journey up the Rhone to Lyon, then via the Saone, the Canal du Centre, the Canal Lateral a la Loire, Canal du Briare and the Seine to Paris. Then down the Seine to Le Havre and home across the English Channel.
DECEMBER - Wednesday 18 Dec 2002: Once again our good friend Robin Higgs, always a popular speaker, will present one of his railway and/or canal journeys for our delight. Whatever the subject turns out to be, one thing is certain - it will be, as always, entertaining.
The RETURN of MOB-H - by Tony Haines
Thanks to Millett's Musings the secret is out now! Even Frank Jones didn't know what MOB-H meant until recently!
It began in the mid seventies with a glimpse of an old steam dredger below a hump-backed bridge near Odiham. My canal curiosity levels were raised. I had to take a look. I parked my truck, and took a stroll along the overgrown towpath. There I nearly tripped over a lone bearded man doing something mysterious with bricks in the long grass. He was Frank Jones. I soon learned about the Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society.
Persuasive was he. Enthusiastic was I. A few weeks later we found ourselves recruited to work on Lock 25, Curzon Bridge. We were an undisciplined bunch of lorry drivers with more interest in booze than bricklaying. However, Duncan had been a bricky in a previous existence.
"Why are we doing this?" he asked Frank's brother Peter,
whilst attempting to lay another course under water in the
"To restore the lock," was the reply.
"I know, but why are we restoring the lock?"
"To help get the whole canal reopened."
"But why are we trying to restore the whole canal?"
Peter knew he was being taken for a ride. "So that one day
I can float up and down it in my boat with a glass of wine in
rny hand!" he snapped.
"That's it," said Duncan, throwing down his trowel. "I quit!"
It took several cans of beer to persuade him back to work. However, on thinking about it, Peter was right. From that
time forward it became my ambition too, to one day explore the restored Basingstoke Canal in my own boat, though with a pint of cider, not a glass of wine, in my hand.
So, more than twenty-five years later, sitting on our mooring at Cassio on the Grand Union, we decided to give it a go, Jackie and I, but also to explore the River Wey whilst in the area. It proved to be an interesting journey from a licensing point of view alone.
Our BW licence covered us as far as Thames Lock, Brentford. At present no licence is required for the tidal Thames up as far as Teddington. But an Environmental Agency licence is needed to get from Teddington to Shepperton, where the Wey joins the Thames.
A National Trust licence is then needed to do the Wey, and a Basingstoke licence is necessary to enter this waterway at Woodham. So, all in all, at least four separate licences are needed to complete the journey. The BW/EA Gold licence wouldn't have helped either, as it doesn't cover the Wey or the Basingstoke.
For our size of boat we calculated that the trip would cost us an extra £132. It turned out to be worth every penny!
It was quite an emotional experience to be cruising along a canal that had been dry the last time I saw it. We moored below Woodham Lock One, awaiting a ranger to unlock the gates. He was on time, even though he was hung-over after being up all night watching England beat Germany 5-1!
Just being there brought back memories of an Easter weekend many years earlier. I was driving a low-loader for a plant hire firm in Herts at the time. They were pretty easy going, and when I jokingly asked if I could borrow their brand new 360-degree excavator and the low loader for the weekend, they agreed!
I was so surprised I borrowed a new MF 50 complete with back-actor too. We were decidedly overweight as we passed through the new 7.5-ton weight cordon south of Windsor Park!
Malcolm, their best machine driver, also came along for the ride, dressed in a cowboy outfit, as he always was. In fact we were mob handed. Apart from the usual bunch of lorry drivers, wives and current girlfriends, we also brought a few off-duty Morris dancers with us.
In one weekend we built a dam across the cut below the lock to keep the Wey out. We drained the lock, and cleared it out completely, using the big excavator. We also attacked the brickwork with a vengeance.
At one time the dam began to collapse under the weight of the machine that was building it. The tracks were underwater, and Malcolm had quality Basingstoke canal swilling around his cowboy boots in the cab. But he tracked the machine out like the expert he was, and repaired the damaged dam too.
We were supplied with a crate of beer to keep us going. It was only when we asked for a second one half way through the first day that we found it was supposed to last us all weekend! Of course, this was before the days of health and safety at work.
They housed us overnight in a village hall. We didn't get much sleep, what with Malcolm trying to silence the loudly ticking clock by lassooing the pendulum whilst swinging from the rafters.
Eventually all fell quiet. Folks were beginning to nod off in their sleeping bags, when Malcolm suddenly said loudly to his wife; "What do you mean, 'No!', it'll make too much noise!"
Returning to base on Easter Monday evening, we had to divert into a Redlands Sand Pit to wash the mud off the machine before its proud operatorsaw it, bearing in mind he had not driven it yet!
Most of MOB-H's work had been on Lock 25, Curzon Bridge, under the watchful eye of Frank, or Peter Jones. It was early days, and we didn't really have a clue what we
were doing, but we did it with a passion!
Duncan's brickwork can still be seen. However it was amusing to find, on our way up the Deepcut Flight last year, that Locks 25 and 26 were the hardest to work through. Could this be because the sluices are too small on these locks? Or is Duncan's brickwork leaking? After all, we were all on a very steep learning curve in those days.
There was a time when Frank took us to a village pub, and we ended up playing darts with the locals. It was Duncan's throw. We needed a bull to win. "I can't get this," said Duncan. Annie, who hadn't ever played darts before, said, "I'll get it for you!" Duncan handed her the darts. She got it dead centre first throw. She stood, riveted to the oche, an expression of total shock on her face.
"Shut your mouth, and sit down!" Duncan told her. "Make them think you're really that good!"
We used to camp in the garden of the New Inn at Colt Hill. This is where the MOB-H tag came from. (See Millett's Mutterings BCN Summer 2002).
I awoke early one morning to hear our lorry-driver friend Jon's raucous laughter outside. I poked my head through the tent flap. He was relieving himself against a tree.
"Hey, Tone! You've got to come and see this!" he called.
I'd seen it before, but I went to look anyway. As he peed, a duck was standing below with its beak open, making happy glugging noises! Jon was right. It was funny.
I've never eaten duck since.
I have memories of being transferred from Colt Hill to Curzon Bridge in an old RF London Transport Green Line single-decker bus. Driven by Frank, it was an interesting journey!
"Why is this called Tunnel Hill Road?" Annie's workmate,
Jan, wanted to know, one morning.
"Because it goes over Tunnel Hill", Frank explained as he
wrestled with the old bus's steering.
"But why is it called Tunnel Hill?"
"Cos, it's a hill.... over a tunnel!"
"But why did they build a tunnel under the hill?"
"So they could call this Tunnel Hill Road, stupid!" Frank told
"Oh," she said.
Back to 2001 AD. Eventually we reached King John's Castle in our boat. It was a beautiful, sunny September day. We walked to the pub in Greywell. It was such a peaceful afternoon.
In the bar they had the American News programme on the television. It was September 11th, 2001 - The contrast between the awful events being repeated over and over again on the screen and the stunning beauty of the canal outside was too much to bear.
On the following morning, moored by the castle, I awoke, hoping it was all a nightmare. Of course it wasn't. I sat on the back of our boat trying to make sense of it all in the sunshine. People were walking past with their dogs, wishing me a cheery 'Good morning!'. Didn't they know what had happened?, I wondered.
Then it hit me. They were right. Life must go on.
On our way back, at Mytchett, we learned that Nick and Irene were thinking of giving up David Dare's trip-boats at the end of the season. We applied for the job, and got it.
Tony & Jackie Haynes on their boat Dreamcatcher
So, here I am back again, a MOB-H qualified boatmaster, no less! Getting paid (just!) to travel the same canal I helped to rebuild, and giving an enthusiastic commentary to our many trippers as I do so.
I feel privileged to be here in this job, and I'm certainly proud of what we all achieved in those early years of restoration. I have a feeling, though, that the next task is to keep what we've got.
Back pumping, access, and maintenance are the vital new causes in the face of diminishing funding. The Basingstoke IS one of the most beautiful canals in the country. But we can't become complacent. It could so easily fall back into another phase of neglect, and the canal-bed is a potential valuable development asset. We need to remain vigilant.
Alex Harmsworth saved the canal from the developers back in 1913. The fledgling SHCS did likewise in the late 60's. Could the same problem arise in the 21st century?
The Mytchett Road Gang was chucking stones into the cut. I went over to them, and took their photograph.
"What's that for?" they wanted to know.
"Just in case something gets
damaged," I told them.
"We've had kids chuck stones at boats, and untie boats from their moorings here".
"It wasn't us!"
"Then why are you here at the canal centre at this time in
"Cos we like boats".
"Have you been on one?"
"Would you like a trip?"
We took them for an evening ride on Merlin along the canal that passes through their manor. They loved it. They keep coming back. They're polite, and they're interested. They're not bad kids. Could these be the SHCS members, or even the MOB-H, of the future? I do hope so. We're getting old!
The Milestones Museum in Basingstoke has been open for about a year and is definitely worth a visit if you are interested in the history of Basingstoke and its surroundings. The only snag from our point of view is a complete lack
of reference to the Canal. The Society has lodged an objection, and been offered the opportunity to stage a temporary display some time, but members may like to add their comments and press for a permanent display.
Dear Ms Richards,
Surrey & Hampshire Canal Society membership
I am writing to let you know that I have decided not to renew my membership next year, and will cancel my standing order.
I joined the Society many years ago with the aim of supporting restoration of the Basingstoke Canal for navigation, and was happy to see that objective achieved. Whilst I appreciate the need for continued funds to keep the canal maintained, and navigable, I have decided to rationalise my various society memberships, and feel that the SHCS is no longer one of my priorities.
For the record, I believe that the Basingstoke Canal, along with all other navigable waterways, should be transferred to a single navigation and maintenance authority to safeguard future navigation. I also feel that the recent correspondence regarding possible schemes to link the canal with other navigations to promote cruising links highlights a potential new direction for the Society, though whether this is best promoted through SHCS or through the local IWA branch is moot.
I wish you and the society all continuing success.
Yours sincerely Bob Brock
HELP MAKE A PIPE DREAM COME TRUE
You are invited as members to buy a length of pipe, which will pay for the latest back pumping scheme at St John's; see the enclosed green leaflet for all the details. Also enclosed for you to sell to your friends are some raffle tickets at only £1 each with the funds also going to the back pumping account. The draw will take place on 22nd September at the Fox and Hounds event.
Denise Smith promoting the scheme at the Odiham Rally
Ticket stubs and money (cheques to S & H Canal Society) should be returned by 18th September to Denise Smith, 48 Maple Close, Avondale, Ash Vale, Surrey. GU12 5JZ.
If you can sell more tickets or require more leaflets contact Denise on 01252-517779.
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Date for next copy 31st October 2002
Published by the Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society Ltd., a non-profit distributing company limited by guarantee, registered as a Charity. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Society. Executive members of the Committee are shown in bold type and Directors of the Society
have an asterisk (*) after their name.
Editorial Team: Editor:
Roger Cansdale* 79 Gally Hill Road, Church Crookham, Hants GU52 6RU 01252-616964
Photos: Dieter Jebens* 60 Middle Bourne Lane, Farnham, Surrey GU10 3NJ 01252-715230
President: The Earl of Onslow
Chairman: Peter Redway* 1 Redway Cottages, St John's Lye, Woking, Surrey GU21 1SL 01483-721710
Vice-Chairman: Dieter Jebens* 60 Middle Bourne Lane, Farnham, Surrey GU10 3NJ 01252-715230
Hon. Secretary: Philip Riley* Wincombe Cottage, Broad Oak, Odiham, Hants. RG291AH 01256-702109
Hon. Treasurer: Jonathan Wade* 30 Hanover Gardens, Cove, Farnborough, Hants GU14 9DT 01252-524690
Membership Secretary: Lesley Richards 9 Denning Close, Fleet, Hants GU52 7SP 01252-684112
Working Party Information: Peter Redway* 1 Redway Cottages, St John's Lye, Woking, Surrey GU21 1SL 01483-721710
Trip Boat Manager: Ron McLaughlin 94 Guildford Road, Ash Vale, Aldershot, Hants GU12 6BT 01252-672189
Trip Boat Bookings: Marion Gough St Catherines, Hurdle Way, Compton Down, Winchester, Hants SO21 2AN 01962-713564
Sales Manager: Verna Smith* 63 Avondale, Ash Vale, Aldershot, Hants GU12 5NE 01252-517622
Mail Order Sales: Alec Gosling, 12 Mole Road, Hersham, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey KT12 4LV 01932-224950
Exhibitions Manager: David Junkison 4 Thames Meadow, West Molesey, Surrey KT6 1TQ 0208 941 0685
Website Manager: Arthur Dungate 39 Sian Close, Church Crookham, Fleet, Hants GU52 6BT 01252-622101
Talks Organiser: Arthur Dungate 39 Sian Close, Church Crookham, Fleet, Hants GU52 6BT 01252-622101
Press Officer: Dieter Jebens* 60 Middle Bourne Lane, Farnham, Surrey GU10 3NJ 01252-715230
Gift Aid manager: Graham Hornsey* 'Mallards', 94a Aldershot Road, Fleet, Hants GU51 3FT 01252-623591
200 Club organiser: Jim Johnstone 20 Hawkins Grove, Fleet, Hants GU51 5TX 01252-626749
Archivist: Jill Haworth Sheerwood, 501 Woodham Lane, Woking, Surrey GU21 5SR 01932-342081
Woking Organiser: Peter Coxhead 17 Abbey Close, Pyrford, Woking, Surrey GU22 8RY 01932-344564
Director: David Lloyd-Langston* 7 Fernhill Close, Upper Hale, Farnham, Surrey GU9 OJL 01252-723309
Director: Bob Malcolm* Little Willow, College Road, Ash, Aldershot, Hants GU12 5DA 01252-659876
Canal Society Internet Website: www.basingstoke-canal.org.uk
Printed by Commercial Press Ltd, Farnham
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