Nov 142013

1. Last attempt to Basingstoke. Pondtail BridgePRESS RELEASE

By Roger Cansdale, Society Press Officer and Editor, Basingstoke Canal News.

The last boat to reach Basingstoke by canal was in 1910. Under the provisions of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act of 1888, an abandonment order could be applied for if a line had been unused for three years, so in 1913, William Carter, the owner of the Basingstoke Canal began to get worried. He asked Alec Harmsworth (right), who operated a carrying business on the canal, to try to take a boat to Basingstoke.

2. Last attempt. Legging in Greywell Tunnel


3. Last attempt. Near Penney BridgeHarmsworth agreed and the narrowboat Basingstoke, laden with a token load of 5 tons of moulding sand for the agricultural engineers Wallis & Steevens, set off from Ash Vale at 6am on 16th November 1913. The voyage started well and they had no trouble passing through Greywell Tunnel (left) by about midday. However, things then rapidly became more difficult due to shortage of water. They were forced to stop at Penney Bridge in Up Nately (right) and install stop planks to allow the level to rise before proceeding. This process continued, with the boat being laboriously towed by teams of men and horses (lower left and right), until the outskirts of Old Basing were reached on 10th December. There the attempt finally ground to a halt with the Basingstoke high and dry (bottom left).

4. Last attempt. Swing Bridge at Hatch5. Last attempt. Near Mapledurwell However, the threat of abandonment disappeared for other legal reasons and after Christmas, enough rain had fallen to allow the boat to turn round and return to Ash Vale in early January. The Basingstoke was scrapped in 1932, but its metal frames were used for the building of another barge Brookwood, whose remains are still sunk in Great Bottom Flash at Ash Vale. Alec Harmsworth bought the Basingstoke Canal in 1923 and ran it until he died in 1947.

6. Last attempt. Old BasingThis epic voyage forms part of a new display about the canal that the Basingstoke Canal Society is hoping to install soon at the Milestones Museum in Basingstoke.


Issued by:  Roger Cansdale 01252 678608,

video icon 20x20 See a contemporary film of the ill-fated 1913 journey


After Alec Harmsworth died, his sons eventually decided to put the Basingstoke Canal up for auction in 1949. It was privately purchased and was run by the New Basingstoke Canal Company. However, the canal generated very little income and became increasingly derelict.

The Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society was founded in 1966 to campaign for the canal to be taken into public ownership and restored to a navigable standard. This campaign was successful and the canal was acquired by the Surrey and Hampshire County Councils in the early 1970s. Following its acquisition, the Society entered into a partnership with the County Councils to restore the derelict canal.

The Society organised volunteer working parties which undertook a wide range of tasks. These included dredging 12 miles of canal in Hampshire, rebuilding 28 locks in Surrey, rebuilding bridges and weirs and clearing the towpath and offside banks. The work was completed in 1991 and the canal re-opened from the River Wey Navigation in Surrey to Greywell in Hampshire that year.

Once the first couple of miles had been dredged at Odiham, the Society decided to buy a passenger boat. The “John Pinkerton” made its first trip in May 1978 and has been giving pleasure to thousands of people ever since. The purchase of a new boat, “John Pinkerton II” was made possible by a bequest left to the Society by one of its members, Alan Flight and it began operating at Easter this year.

The Society decided to re-name itself as the Basingstoke Canal Society this year to clarify its interests. Its original name was the result of a desire to avoid confusion with the New Basingstoke Canal Company that it was in conflict with in the 1960s over the Company’s intention to close the canal. Happily, the Society is on much better terms with the current owners, the Surrey and Hampshire County Councils, and both share a common aim for the future of the canal as a navigation and much appreciated local amenity.