Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Goog bye to all that
It's time to give Gecko a blood transfusion so we will be in Braunston for a couple of days. Then we leave the GU for the Oxford Canal so not many more pieces about the GJCC.
Water Music
When the Grand Junction Canal Act was passed in 1793 it authorised the Company to build a canal for the transport of goods. Boats were not the only thing the GJCC was authorised to transport by canal - the Act permitted them to channel water to London. This was to come from the Rivers Colne and Brent and from a reservoir in Middlesex. In 1811 the Grand Junction Water Co. was formed to improve the quality of water available in London.This was unsuccessful as the water was judged to be of poor quality and supply was inadequate so GJCC built a pumping station near Kew Bridge in Brentford to extract water from the River Thames. From the middle of the river, not far from Chelsea Hospital the water was pumped six or seven miles to Campden Hill reservoir near Notting Hill This was accomplished by two Boulton and Watt beam engines. The water was also pumped into the 200ft high water tower to provide pressure for local consumers. Filtration was carried out in beds behind the building pictured. These have succumbed to redevelopment as can be seen in the background but the pumping station is now the Kew Bridge Steam Museum where they regularly demonstrate various steam engines.

The 90 inch model has been restored

- the 100 inch has not.

The GJCCwas not solely concerned with maintaining the six million gallon reservoir - it also catered for the man in the street as this drinking fountain in the churchyard on Brentford High Street illustrates.

Just along the road from the Steam Museum is the London Music Museum.

This is not the music museum - it used to be.
Now it is housed in a new building looking like a branch of B&Q.
Somehow when all the keyboard and mechanical instruments were crammed into this little church it seemed more cosy than the new spacious surroundings. Demonstrations are given regularly on a selection of the instruments, inducing the Mighty Wurlitzer, which is fascinating.

I have been asked(?) by she who must be obeyed to add that whilst the new building is less attractive externally, the absence of damp and the new facilities inside the warehouse provide a far superior experience.

When SWMBO gets her own blog I shall be happy.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Centre of the Patch
Weedon Bec is fairly near the centre of England, being about equidistant from the East and West coasts. We feel very much in the centre of something with the A5 one side of us, the West coast main line the other side and the M1 only 100 yards away. To the afficianados of patchwork this could also be the centre of their world. For here is an an amazing shop/gallery where you can buy everything you need to immerse yourself in patchwork production (including courses on how to do it) - The Bramble Patch. Today they were exhibiting entries in some compeition but I was more interested in the strawberries and cream on offer in the cafe. True to form I missed out on the culinary delights (all say aaah!) and feasted instead on the artistic ones. A selection of which are here for everybody who did not have strawberries and
cream today.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

What a Creep!
Unusually for us, we stopped overnight between Fenny Stratford and Cosgrove.
The last of the locks down from the Tring Summit is a tiny let down. Due to a surveying error there was a difference of about a foot to be adjusted here. Crossing the canal at this point is accomplished by a swing bridge. Charming as it is this is not the only reason we like stopping in Fenny Stratford. We try to get at least one day at Bletchley Park. There is always something new to see and so much that an annual visit is necessary. The entrance charge covers all visits made in twelve months which is a great incentive to return. We managed a day and a half this week. Our other reason for stopping here is to visit Gordon, Beckie and their two lovely boys Alex and Matthew . These are educated at home and are the most polite and well balanced children we have met for a very long time.
Or first overnight stop on leaving Fenny was at Giffard Park in order to visit the Rohan outlet store. We like these clothes which are particularly good for travelling but the Company's approach has changed considerably since buying my first jacket in 1976. Now the range is changed in response to fashion rather than developments in performance. However, if you are not concerned whether you are wearing this year's colour or not the outlet store does provide the opportunity to buy items at more reasonable prices.
Our second stop was in Wolverton. When we passed through in 2006 the railway coachworks had just been demolished. Originally set up to repair locomotives, the works soon started making their own locos. In 1862 locomotive production was concentrated on Crewe and Wolverton became the LNWR carriage works, building the royal trains of 1903 and 1961 amongst other more mundane rolling stock. During WWII the factory assembled Horsa gliders for the D-Day airborne assault on Pegasus Bridge.
It was pleasing to see that some of the old buildings have survived and are being redeveloped sympathetically.

The towpath has been considerably improved and equipped with mooring rings at useful interval which is quite a change nowadays when many redevelopments pay lip-service to the boaters with inadequate or no mooring facilities. It is not uncommon for new residential developments to instigate a mooring ban. It would be useful if these new canalside dwellers were aware that without the boats the canal would soon become the "stinking ditch" feared by many ignorant of its beauty and benefits 200 years ago. It is a shame that there is already dog c**p along the new towpath.
Cosgrove is only a short run from Wolverton but we enjoy stopping here and visiting Robin and Carole on their narrowboat Inanda. We moored opposite them so that our route involved the fascinating cattle creep under the canal.
This picture is for George and Lesley who are fond of these things.

Robin and Carole have recently acquired a cottage and so Inanda is now up for sale. So if you are looking for a 55ft live-aboard narrowboat with a village mooring then this should be a good bet. (Robin was an engineer at Mercedes for 17 years)
A Call to Arms - part 2
When the canals of England were built they usually crossed land of various ownership. Some land-owners were amenable, or even enthusiastic. Often they were the promoters of canals themselves. Some, however, were reluctant to accommodate "this stinking ditch" The solution was to present a Bill to Parliament detailing the proposed route and its benefits to all who lived nearby. These did not always get a clear passage through the legislature - many land-owners were MPs or Peers and would press for the most favourable deal. (so no change there, then)
The Grand Junction Canal Company had to present a new bill to parliament every time they proposed a change to the route . The original Act in 1793 authorised the building of the main line from Braunston to Brentford with the following arms :
Daventry - not built. But local authority is now planning to build a canal basin and locks which may not be connected to the canal system !
Northampton - to link with the River Nene
Old Stratford - to the turnpike. This was amended before construction in 1801 to extend it to Buckingham to placate the Marquis of Buckingham
Watford - not build
Further arms were authorised by the Act of 1794:
Aylesbury - The Marquis of Buckingham supported several transport schemes including the proposal to extend the Aylesbury Arm to Abingdon on the Thames and thus shorten the run to London by 23 miles. Another plan was to link the arm to the S. Oxford canal at Hampton Gay It was probably his plan for a horse tramway from Pitstone to Aylesbury, however, which finally persuaded the GJCC to start the canal in 1811. The Company had been reluctant to build an arm which would drain water from the summit which was beset with problems of supply caused by the Wendover Arm. In fact the Marquis of Buckinham had even purchased the rails for his tramway and they were eventually used in the Wolverton Embankment. Construction of the Aylesbury canal was started at both ends and by 1813 the top seven locks were complete as was the basin to Red House lock (13). There is some doubt over whether the canal was completed in 1814 or 1815.
The arm is now very popular which is due in great part to the terrific welcome boaters receive from the Aylesbury Canal Society which operates the basin on a lease from BW.
Wendover see blog posting A Call to Arms -part 1
Paddington - authorised 1795, built 1801-5
St. Albans - not built
The last arm to be built (and one of the last canals build in England) was Slough in 1882 - see blog posting 25 July 2007
That is not the end of the story, however. There are now plans to build a new arm from Milton Keynes to Bedford, leaving the Grand Union at Campbell Park and passing through several lakes to join the Ouse. It will not be called an Arm though - for some reason it is to be designated the Bedford- Milton Keynes Waterway.
Uninvited Visitors
And still they keep coming......
This morning Mr Duck was walking alongside our boat squawking most vociferously so I went to remonstrate with him. He explained that Mrs Duck had swum between Gecko and the bank and could not get out: the aperture was too narrow to turn round and it tapered to the bows. After I eased the boat out from the bank and released the distraught lady, the couple came to leave what I think are messages of thanks on the roof.
(I am more proficient at spoken Duckese than with the written form)

Monday, 8 June 2009

A Call to Arms - part 1
If you are planning to build a canal from Birmingham to London where would you start?
How about Tring? It is about half way, after all.
When the Grand Junction Canal Company was granted authority to link the Oxford Canal at Braunston to the River Thames at Brentford in 1793 it had good reason to start in the middle. Water supply is always a major consideration on any canal which traverses hills rather than following the contours. Generally water prefers to travel down rather than up and so every time a lock is operated between 20,000 and 50,000 gallons of water move down from the summit. Unless you give it a push it will resolutely resist the temptation to climb the hill.
At the highest point of this southern portion of the canal, a substantial and consistent supply of water had to be established to feed the 58 broad locks down to Brentford and the 24 northward to Fenny Stratford.
High on the task list, therefore. was to persuade Sir John Dashwood in Wendover that the water from his Well Head which was flowing into the River Thame and thence to the Thames would prefer to go the other way to Bulbourne. In addition, the GJCC bought three mills at Halton, Weston Turville and Wendover in order to divert their streams to this new direction.
It was soon realised that making this water feed navigable would not require much additional work and so by 1797 the Wendover Arm was ready for use augmented by a reservoir at Weston Truville. As was often the case, the immediate effect on fuel and food prices was significant. One farmer took his bull to the first Smithfield Livestock Show in 1799 by canal from Wendover and won the £100 first prize. He attributed this to the beast not losing condition as it would have if it had waked there as was usual.
Sadly the Wendover Arm did not fare well either in its primary role as water feed or as transport route. From the outset the canal leaked and efforts to remedy this ultimately killed the transport role. Further reservoirs were built in Wilstone (1802, 1836, 1839), Marsworh (1806), Tringford (1816) and Startopsend (1817) but by 1841 the canal was losing 20 locks of water a day and the channel was repuddled. By 1855 this had risen to 25 locks/day and despite laying 2.5 inches of asphalt on the canal bed in 1858 the water loss kept increasing.
In fact by 1897 stop planks had to be installed at Little Tring as the Wendover Arm was draining water from the main line . It was closed to traffic in 1904 but is being valiantly restored by the Wendover Arm Trust

Although the gas works and boat builder have gone there is still a flour mill operating alongside the canal - but no longer using a windmill to grind the corn.

Heygates Flour Mill

Every year over the late May Bank Holiday the WAT hold a canal based festival to raise funds for the restoration work. Unfortunately in 2007 and 2008 rain stopped play but this year was a great success. (and I won a raffle prize)

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Visitors Welcome !
We have had a flurry of unexpected visitors over the last few days.
As we were sitting down to eat our tea on Sunday evening Margaret spied a familiar face on the towpath opposite. Jane and Dick from Hughenden Valley popped in on their way home from Quainton. We spent an enjoyable evening catching up on news and putting the world right. On Monday evening Frank (yes, the one from Trouble with France) arrived en route from Robin Hood's Bay to Kent. Not being up to date with the recent changes in our itinerary he struck the Grand Union somewhat north of our location but made good time from bridge 99 to Aylesbury. Unfortunately he looked too shifty for anyone to let him into the basin and he had to hail us from across the canal. As he was in his camper van he was able to stay overnight in the basin car park before resuming his journey. We used his visit as an excuse to go out for a curry.
On our way up to Marsworth on Wednesday I received a phone call informing me that I had won a prize in the Wendover Arm raffle. Nothing very great but we arranged to take delivery in Leighton Buzzard. By the time we arrived in Leighton Buzzard we had another visitor - Andrew with his lurcher, Speedy,returning from Huntingdonshire to Bucks. Whilst we were sitting on the towpath in the sun with Andrew the prize delivery arrived and it turned out to be better than we had expected.
And on Saturday we are expecting a visit from the World Famoous Author who has just published another book - Hunting the Golden Lion. (£7.99 from Queen Anne's Fan) or any really good book shop.