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)

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