The Inland Waterways Protection Society Ltd 

Campaigning    Restoration    Preservation    Development 

Newsletter "174" August 2011

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Diggle Summit Boat Gathering Marple Festival
Chairman's Report New Developments
BW Statistics Valuing Volunteer Time
IWPS walks on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Vision for Marple
Heron Hunting by Linda Goulden Reports and Miscellanea from Malcolm Bower
The Battle of Bridge 42 at Whaley Bridge Wharf Colliery - Whaley Bridge
The Brimscombe Half Penny Token Replica Tramway Wagons
Photo archive - Staffordshire and Worcester Canal Far-flung Bugsworth
Skew Bridges - by Dave Goodwin  


Fenders, ropes, boat cruises, day boat hire - Phone/Fax 01663 747808 
The IWPS is not responsible for the content of external websites


Need some expert advice? Contact: Paul Johnson
Tel: 01524 400677, Mobile: 07767 747868


A meeting of the Gardener Forum took place at Bugsworth over the weekend 11/12 June when some 28 boats, all Gardener engine powered, arrived at the Basins. They were accompanied by numerous vehicles including a Rolls Royce and several trucks loaded with examples of the famous engine manufacturers products.


17TH – 18TH September 2011

Our neighbouring canal society will be organising a number of events during 2011 to celebrate the Narrow Canal’s bi-centenary. The events will culminate with a spectacular Festival Day at ‘Diggle Tip’ on Sunday 18th September, featuring, over that week-end, a Boat Gathering on the adjacent summit pound.

British Waterways (Manchester & Pennine) will be at the festival with their public trip boat offering trips in and out of Standedge Tunnel from the Diggle end on the Festival Sunday. BW have also carefully considered the water supply position and are allowing up to 20 boats to moor on the Diggle summit pound. Boats will ascend (and descend) the flights at Diggle and Marsden under controlled conditions, in the days prior to and after the event, helped by volunteers from the Canal Society.

For further information and Entry Form


22nd September at 7.30 p.m.
Independent Evangelical Church
Queen Street (Opp. Regent Cinema)


Ian and David (assisted by Don Baines) will recount some of their experiences over many years working with volunteers, fights with officialdom and apathy which contributed to not only the saving of both the Peak Forest and Huddersfield Canals but the whole of the national canal system.


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Bugsworth Basin Report

By Ian Edgar MBE  Chairman & Hon Site manager

First, we will start with some ‘catch-up’ information.


After much to-ing and fro-ing between British Waterways, our Graphic Artist and others concerned with what should have been a simple job we have now submitted the full planning application and this has been acknowledged by High Peak Borough Council. Wording and size has had to be agreed between various departments of British Waterways which has all added to the time required to get to the Planning Application stage. Whilst I had originally hoped this new Welcome Board would have been on the bridge by Easter, and then, following delays, by the summer, it does appear we shall not have it there until the end of September. That’s a pity but it will be a good addition to our publicity for Bugsworth Basin.


Bev Clark has now completed the working drawings for mounting the valves near to the old Crusher Yard and these have been informally approved by our Inspector of Ancient Monuments. He did not want any amendments to our proposals so we shall now submit a formal application for Scheduled Monument Consent. When that consent has been received we can proceed but as the winter will by then be almost upon us it might be wiser to leave that job until the spring next year as blast cleaning cannot be successfully done with rain or damp in the air. Fortunately the valves themselves are hopefully safely hidden away and should come to no harm until next spring.


We had hoped to schedule this for October 2011 but due to all the procedures we have to undertake this is not going to happen. We will have to de-water the whole Basin which cannot be done during the boating season. That means we will have to have an 8-week stoppage during the period October 2012 to February 2013 and British Waterways are statutorily bound to give a long period of notice to boaters. Whilst it is extremely disappointing there is now no other possible programming for this major task. At the time of writing we have had a site visit from our Inspector of Ancient Monuments. He has agreed our methods and specifications but needs to consult colleagues on some minor points. On receipt of that information we can lodge a formal Application for Scheduled Monument Consent.

We have a provisional quote of c.£40,000 for these major works based on 2011 costs but British Waterways, who we consult on all such issues, have suggested an additional clay bund at the foot of the wall to prevent scouring which has hastened the decline and collapse of this length of wash wall. This may well add another £10,000 to the total cost when the contractor re-quotes next year also taking in to account his additional costs.

As we will be working to a very strict stoppage timetable this work could not be done by volunteers. It will take four wallers eight autumn/winter weeks with short days and possibly inclement weather to finish the job. That means that the IWPS has to appoint a contractor who is now lined up for the work next year.

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And now to some new developments:


Thanks to many hours of hard work, tons of paperwork and heaps of knowledge gleaned from many sources, Don Baines has now advanced our procedures to such an extent that British Waterways are so confident of our abilities they are ready to accept the IWPS as a Principal Contractor on BW property. This means that we can manage the site and contractors engaged by the Society to do major works (like the wash wall rebuild mentioned earlier) and so avoid the on-costs which BW have no option but to calculate. We can get more value for money by inputting our skills in to the project. Many meetings and informal discussions have taken place especially with Mike Friend of the Shropshire Union Canal Society which is also so approved. The big difference between the two societies is that the SUCS are working on a derelict non-navigable section of waterway (The Montgomery Canal) whereas the IWPS will be working on a very popular destination on the navigable national system with all the extra obligations that entails.

Without Don's commitment and skills engaged in getting to this stage I fear we would not be able to progress such wide ranging improvements to Bugsworth Basin. The whole Society should be very grateful for his efforts and expertise. Thanks to him and to those who have assisted us (especially Mike Friend) and everybody at BW who have assisted and helped us in achieving this new status. I am very pleased we have progressed so far.

We shall keep members informed on this new regime and qualification as we progress to major repairs.


Whilst the IWPS can fund relatively minor repair works which are not feasible for volunteers to undertake we have to seek outside funding for major tasks such as the wall rebuild mentioned earlier. We are working with British Waterways to write funding applications which relate to our Charity Status, and which, sometimes, give us a greater opportunity for success. This is a very complex issue which takes a lot of time but which, when successful gives a great deal of satisfaction. We are still looking for a Funding Manager so if you feel this is something you would like to do for the IWPS please get in touch with me.


A keen eyed Izzy Turner has pointed out an error in the last ‘174’ where I quoted a BW figure for boat licence income reduced by 42%. As Izzy pointed out there are now more boats on the system, licence evasion has been reduced nationwide and the licence fee has not been reduced anywhere!

What should have been written was that the Defra grant to BW has been reduced by 42% since 2004. That error has been caused by sloppy note keeping on my part! Apologies!

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Whilst we are on the subject of interesting statistics BW have now published the Annual Report from which we take some figures as reported in the BW House Magazine.

  • Government Grant down by 14% this last financial year.

  • Published surplus before tax for 2010/11 was £5.3m, a significant improvement on the £18.3m deficit in 2009/10. (When BW becomes a Charity next year Tax will not be payable so BW will be keeping all they earn from other activities like property and investments. We hope this trend continues which will mean more funding for maintenance throughout the system. – IE)

  • Droitwich Canals reopened (After many long years of voluntary work, council support and involvement etc. A great success. One of our IWPS Walks next year will be on the Droitwich which we last walked when it was derelict. IE)

  • Direct expenditure on BW waterways which covers repairs, maintenance, customer service and regeneration projects, together with related costs from support teams, such as technical, safety, water, environment and heritage, amounted to £128.2m and included:
    £65.4m on core waterways maintenance and customer operations (Despite this spend the whole system still requires a great deal of remedial maintenance of which all our readers will be aware – IE)
    £22.4m on major infrastructure works
    £18.3m on third party funded improvement projects (In my experience BW are very good at this –IE)
    £4.3m on dredging.

There is increased popularity and support for waterways:

  • 67% growth in volunteering: over 24,000 days, 700 individual volunteers, including, for the first time, 50 volunteer lock keepers.

  • For the seventh year running more than 90% of the population rated canals as an important part of the nation’s heritage.

  • 12.7 million visitors in 2010

  • 35,241 boats licensed (up from 34,944). (That’s a difference of 297 boats. It would be interesting to know how many of the increase is due to previously unlicensed boats being caught in the net, how many new boats came on the system and how many never move from their moorings. Whatever the answer the number is impressive and if they were all moving at once we would have canal gridlock!


All of us, including myself, can see and pontificate on where British Waterways could cut costs, apply Private Sector Management Skills to a Public Corporation, adopt energetic and robust cost audits etc. but we are not in the hot seat and not in possession of all the facts and obligations. However, seldom do we see those areas where we can see savings to be made actually come in to the news. At the Spring 2011 User Group Meeting we were told Manchester & Pennine Waterways would make cost savings by:

  • Reducing spending on major repairs, where it is safe to do so, for the next three years. The most pressing repair projects will be prioritised. Funding for day-to-day maintenance will continue as a priority.

  • Freeze on recruitment and pay and offices will be consolidated.

  • Consultation ongoing with the trades unions and staff on plans to reduce the office-based payroll by £3.5m with a possible reduction of round 65 posts

  • Operational efficiencies including further outsourcing of vegetation works and a review of bank staff allowances.

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At the request of British Waterways I, as Site Manager, submit a monthly report of work done but more importantly, the actual hours spent attending to IWPS Restoration and Management business relating to Bugsworth Basin. This is valued (but not paid!) at three different rates: Unskilled at £50 per day (Litter picking, painting, vegetation clearance). Skilled at £150 per day (Stone masonry, tree felling using a chainsaw, archaeology recording). Professional at £350 per day (H&S Management, Dealing with English Heritage and Local Authorities, legal advice etc.). This work has to be directly related to improvements at the Basin. Working in the shop, although work for the Peak Forest Canal Co. helps to keep the IWPS afloat, cannot be taken in to account. However, our meetings with BW, English Heritage, the Local Authorities etc. can be listed as can tours and lectures because this activity furthers the image of Bugsworth Basin with the public, that brings more visitors, that increases heritage value etc. etc.

The Bugsworth Basin Volunteers are between 10 and 12 in number and their work is recorded. For the month of July 2011 there were 166 hours (24 days) of unskilled work, 57 hours (9 days) of skilled work and 68 hours (10 days) of professional work. The days are rounded so part days of seven hours are taken in to consideration. The value of our work therefore was £6050 for July alone. The professional work is mostly Don’s H&S Documentation and my General Management activity.

Whilst none of our volunteers receive remuneration or expenses their work, support and enthusiasm is valued and quoted to support the level of commitment to the cause of waterways. That support, when addressed by these figures, is without doubt. We fully support this logging and urge BW to use the figures in anyway they can.


The Waterways Trust will merge its operations with the New Waterways Charity (NWC) created from the present British Waterways. This will enable the Waterways Trust and the new NWC to pool their considerable strengths and resources in creating a unique new national charity to engage with supporters, partners and funders. By joining forces the organisations will bring together over 2,000 miles of historic canals, rivers and docks, three important waterways museums, the National Waterways Collection and national Waterways archives. The merger will ensure the NWC will be able to draw on an enormous pool of experience and expertise in disciplines ranging from engineering and conservation, to marketing, fundraising, volunteering and education.

It is hoped that the new spirit of expanding volunteer activity within the whole of the waterways community will continue when the two organisations become one entity. We do not see the point of them remaining separate. At a recent conference with Defra and the Waterways Trust the Ellesmere Port Boat Museum was discussed as a good example of this. Previously under a manager the Museum was dysfunctional – now with volunteers it is far more successful and visitor numbers have increased. Although running a Museum in these hard financial times is by no mans easy we were told much has improved. We wish everybody well in this new merger.


The appointment of Ruth Ruderham as the first head of fundraising for the New Waterways Charity (NWC) that is being set up to manage the rivers and canals formerly in the domain of British Waterways is another step forward towards its expected launch in 2012.

With more than a decade of fundraising experience, she comes to the new waterways charity from Christian Aid, where she helped them to grow income beyond £100 million for the first time in their history. She has also previously worked at Friends of the Earth and Crisis, and in 2005 was named Professional Fundraiser of the Year.

Ruth said: ‘I am delighted to join British Waterways at this critical stage in the history of waterways and it is an incredible privilege to be the first fundraiser the new charity will ever employ. The plans that British Waterways have already developed are really exciting and I can’t wait to start recruiting supporters for this unique and important cause’

We wish Ruth Ruderham well in her new role. We suspect there will be a pretty severe learning curve for those people transferring from BW to the NWC and that Ruth Ruderham will, with her undoubted track record, see those changes through. Having a somewhat limited experience of fundraising, and knowing how difficult that task can be, especially in the present financial climate, we are very pleased to know that the NWC will start off with the very best. Finance will determine whether the new NWC will sink or swim and on the outcome will depend the whole system as we know it today. No doubt Ruth Ruderham will cost the NWC a hefty salary and we have no quarrel with that. If she is the best person for this important job then the NWC will pay for the best but there will still be those who complain.

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Following the loss of our grant from the East Midlands Regional Development Agency for the construction of our new Visitor Centre costing around £300,000 we now hear that one of the major reconstruction jobs in Buxton has also been left out in the cold. The multi-million pound restoration of the Crescent has also received a setback by the loss of £5m for which application had been made to the new Regional Growth Fund. Whilst the Bugsworth Basin scheme is tiny compared with The Crescent in Buxton the sense of disappointment must have been the same for both our projects. The Crescent is one of the finest in the country and can be compared with those in Bath for architectural importance. Both schemes have been long in their preparation and fundraising and no doubt we will both go forward to seek alternative funds. Whilst we are both chasing the same pot of money we wish those behind The Crescent all the best in their endeavours. Having toured the derelict interior of the former hotels this building is really fascinating and is on the English Heritage At Risk Register.


On the 6th August 2011 many of our usual group of hardy walkers assembled at Kirkstall on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to walk in to the centre of the city and take in just a small section of the River Aire. Wet weather threatened but not deterred we started off in fine spirits.

Having boated this section some years ago I had forgotten how rural and green the L&L is almost in to the city. Our organisers Donald Smith & Barbara Walker, assisted by Dave Blackburn with notes provided by Gerald Leach, were able to give us a lot of information on what we could see starting with what was a very impressive Kirkstall brewery and which is now student accommodation. Having noted a small group of non-canal enthusiasts alongside the nearby railway line it turned out that a steam train was due on route to Cumbria. Cries of ‘steam train’ were heard so all the males in our party raced to the line for an unexpected photo-opportunity. On our walks there is usually something unexpected to add interest and this walk was no different.

Starting Point at the former Kirkstall Brewery Site of the former Kirkstall Power Station coal pulveriser plant

Leeds has certainly changed since I was last there. New high rise buildings along side the canal, for the most part appealing, are mixed with older restored canal heritage to make an agreeable mix especially now that the powers that be have allowed retention and restoration of the Italian like towers near to the canal. Generally I was impressed with the way the canal was maintained although we saw just one hire boat moving. We also saw the site of the former Power Station, the unloading branch now forming an attractive marina surrounded by woodland which totally disguised the intense activity which was once there. This was followed by a short depressing area of derelict industrial buildings or cleared sites where the development of Leeds waterfront not yet having reached that far.

Inventive warning sign The last remaining wooden wool processing plant

After passing the first lock on the L&L we proceeded alongside the River Aire for lunch which was taken at various pubs and cafes in the city during which time we saw our unexpected bonus (if you can call it that) of hundreds of motor scooters parading through the city. Lunch and local real ale having been consumed we continued along the River Aire to Clarence Dock and the Royal Armouries. This is an area of regeneration with still a lot to be done especially adjacent to the Royal Armouries where the abandoned Sea Cadets HQ looks very sad and semi-derelict. Surely this could be transformed in to a wonderful facility for river based activity.

IWPS Wanderers - 26 in number Junction with the River Aire
Housing developments feature along the canal and river fronts Clarence Dock and the Royal Armouries

All in all a very enjoyable walk which Donald was at pains to point out was a walk postponed from last November when he had to take in to consideration the shorter days. Many thanks to Donald and Barbara for organising a very enjoyable day.


On a clear day on the 29th of July Sarah and I were invited to join Verne and Jan Brown on their boat for a journey which we had long wanted to do – from Hancocks Bridge right in to the Albert Dock in Liverpool. Having been brought up in Liverpool and worked the Liverpool Docks in my early business life this was indeed the fulfilment of a long ambition. In my youth I saw boats actually working on the canal but to actually cruise this section so many years later was absolutely fantastic. Although we had an IWPS walk on the L&L from Litherland Lift Bridge to the Albert Dock in June 2007, the section between Stanley Dock and the former Princes Half Tide Dock was denied to us because it is on private land. Only the navigation has the right of way. Now that all the tremendous engineering works have been completed this is a voyage which canal boaters MUST make. It is absolutely fantastic and it’s all FREE! British Waterways staff met our five boats at Hancocks Bridge, turned the bridge, and then met us at all the other bridges on the way and finally we arrived at the top of Stanley Locks where we all had lunch. Then down the locks in to Stanley Dock with the massive Tobacco Warehouse towering above us and finally through another lock at the former Princes Dock to drop the level so we can navigate past the famous Liverpool Waterfront. Then finally down another shallow lock in to the Albert Dock Complex. As a long time Liverpool resident I was surprised how much greenery there was on the approach to Stanley Dock. Not what I had remembered. Towards the city centre there is a lot of industrial dereliction but there are also some very imaginative residential schemes actually facing the canal and not turning their back on it. Everywhere there is open access and we did not see any instance of anti social behaviour or anything untoward.

To all our boating members I urge you to make this trip. British Waterways arrangements are superb and to add to the enjoyment our guides and BW workers had the typical scouse humour!

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The Marple Civic Society is extremely active throughout the town and is championing the cause of the Lower Peak Forest Canal (with Marple Locks), the Upper Peak Forest Canal as far as Brick Bridge and the Macclesfield Canal as far as Goyt Mill. The canal is at the heart of Marple and this vision is an excellent step forward for improvement.


  • Reinstate the old canal arm (formerly in to Hollins Mill) in to the Memorial Park

  • Hollins House – Convert part of the building into a Community Hall/Museum.

  • Disabled toilets to increase accessibility.

  • Bandstand in the Memorial Park

  • Monument to Samuel Oldknow

  • Purchase Gatekeepers Cottage in Brabyns Park – for a Visitor Information Centre

  • Marple Aqueduct – Clear woodland and create a viewing/picnic area at river level


  • Signage on the approach to Marple for boaters.

  • Play area behind Ecclesbridge Estate – improve the play area.

  • Goyt Mill: Improve/renovate external elevations, create residential units, additional moorings and a marina.


  • Toll House – Visitor Centre/Information centre/Museum

  • Opportunities for further canal/wharf based schemes depending on outcome of extended consultation with British Waterways. BW plans for residential units on the Wharf have met almost universal local opposition. BW and their architects are still in consultation with the Civic Society and other bodies but in the present financial situation plans for this development have probably been postponed.


  • Restoration of or at least improve the limekilns with interpretation

  • Leaflet for Guided Walk – Bottoms Hall to All Saint’s Church

  • Signposting and Information Boards

We understand the Vision has the support of Stockport Council. It is a wonderful plan – some would say fanciful in some of its elements – and we hope it comes to fruition. Everybody is aware of the financial constraints at the moment and the lack of funding. This project, even in part, will need a great deal of finance and, in some parts, substantial ongoing long-term maintenance, staffing and financial commitments on the part of both the public and private (voluntary) sectors. Partnership is the only way this project will be achieved and the Civic Society have built up a good rapport with those who will have to get on board. It will also require a heavy commitment on the part of British Waterways although we understand BW are already planning the ‘opening up’ of the Aqueduct by the clearance of trees etc. down to the river with third party funding. The aqueduct itself needs substantial repairs as can be seen by damage to the stonework caused by vegetation, frost/thaw or just old age. If any funding is to be made available then priority must be given to the Aqueduct for without that Marple will lose its heart, there will be no incentive to maintain the locks, and boats within the town will be restricted to the navigable sections of the Macclesfield and Upper Peak Forest Canals. The whole of the Lower Peak and Ashton Canals will suffer and decline. We wish the Civic Society well but let us hope that priorities are maintained. Half a loaf is better than no bread.

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Heron Hunting

 Out of grey silence, gawky legs
jazz-danced along the parapet.

Blue, now, in the duckling evening,
heron strikes a terrible discord.

Linda Goulden

Illustration from RSPB website

Reports and Miscellanea from Malcolm Bower

Northern Canals Association Early Spring Meeting, Sunday March 6th 2011

The first NCA meeting of 2011 was held at Cromford with The Friends of Cromford Canal as hosts, and Patrick Morris of FoCC began by welcoming visitors. The opening speaker was Robin Evans, CE of BW, who reiterated some items from his address to the BW Annual Meeting in December with some recent developments and implications. This latter was mainly that by going into a charity BW will retain ownership of its property portfolio and that the new body will be responsible for the EA navigations in 2015 once legal and funding issues are resolved. He covered the achievements over the past 10 years, such as the restorations and the huge amount of maintenance costing £1billion, including the backlog and £66m of dredging. Typical of costly items required by legislation was the need to treat dredgings from the R Lee near the Olympic site at Hartlepool prior to disposal.

Meanwhile BW has tried to become more self-funding, but the real grant from Defra has reduced substantially by 42% since 2004. Third party funding from local authorities has been good but is expected to drop off shortly. Another burden is the £70m pension deficit. He repeated that the new charitable organization will require a change in attitude by both BW and the voluntary organizations, and it will not have to be seen as a boating charity. It would allow them various economic benefits such as for borrowing and they could go for all types of funding.

Michael Handford commented that during last year’s election he had asked of the parties what their plans were regarding the waterways and he told the Conservatives that their ideas were “half baked”. They came back with a plan that amounts to the present Big Society/Trust scheme. David Stevenson asked what was to become of The Waterways Trust which manages the waterways museums among other duties. Robin Evans said that discussions are already under way and he expects the two bodies will eventually be merged, especially as BW already provides TWT with about £800K pa funding.

Clive Henderson, IWA Chairman, said they were in general agreement on the move to a trust and it would realise Robert Aikman’s vision of a waterways conservancy. It would open doors to new ways of running the waterways and he did not see that bringing more people into the volunteer movement would compete with IWA. Geraint Coles (Derbys CC & Chesterfield CT) said the new organisation, generally referred to as the New Waterways Charity (NWC), would be ideal for controlling the training and use of volunteers. He has raised this previously but this now provides a better arrangement for raising funds and showing competency for undertaking these tasks. The way that the National Trust and preserved railway trusts manage volunteers is an ideal example. He advocates an IW Initiative for Skills for the training of all types of skills, with 10 groups, each with their own training courses. With the likelihood of a depressed economic future, a more formalised scheme where young volunteers could acquire paper qualifications to show experience in various tasks would benefit waterway projects by bringing in “new blood” – a need we have long recognised.

After the buffet break, the various groups reported on progress. At Sleaford the new swing bridge in the town is open, and they commented it was pleasing to see that local festivals that began as just for boating have now widened to be arranged by other bodies. On the Chesterfield the 2012 Staveley Festival will highlight the work by CCT and WRG who are building and digging a new length, to complement the new bridges and roads in the new M1 access development. Our hosts FoCC were hoping for an extra length to become available with opencast work near to the A610 tunnel and for a trip boat to be run (again) from Cromford to Lea Wood. They are meanwhile still pursuing the projected reinstatement of lengths of canal at Smotherfly and Codnor. Ian Edgar said IWPS would be rebuilding 125 metres of the wash wall in the ‘Wide’ at Bugsworth this autumn, and acting as a contractor for BW for the first time.

On the Manchester, Bolton & Bury, a length of towpath has been restored in Salford, but a meeting is imminent regarding the uncertain future of the canal near the Prestolee junction. The outcome of a planning application regards a supermarket at the canal head in Kendal is awaited, and I reported on the Lock 4 sidepond restoration and completion of Ramsdell Hall restoration & painting (applause!) on the Macclesfield. On the Ashby Canal, the new extension is opened and they are pushing for another 150m to be restored, to be done mainly by volunteers. SCARS, the Sankey Canal Restoration Society, said that a new swingbridge has been put in at Widnes, and that Warrington and Widnes are considering restoring a section of the canal.

The “Save Our Waterways” representative advocated getting onto local councils for better representation of the waterways locally. His enquiries of shop-keepers close to a waterway had shown that butchers reckoned canal cruisers provided 50% of their summer trade. At Hollinwood the Portland Basin is now almost full, and the new bridge for the Metro is to be extended by having a footbridge at a higher level. There is to be a new section with trees at Cotgrave on the Grantham and a ranger system is being set up. The trip boat is running on the top section beyond Woolsthorpe which is now being maintained. Along the T&M in Stoke the Burslem branch restoration is now a local company and trust, and a SoT Waterway Partnership is being set up to tackle various projects. The Caldon & Uttoxeter CT is involved in a master plan, looking at accommodating the restoration of the canal and railway in the Churnet valley, the canal from Froghall to Uttoxeter and the railway from Stoke to Alton Towers. The Erewash people are restoring 2 cottages and re-decking a swingbridge for which they are responsible.

The meeting then concluded except for a visit to the Leawood Pumping station where water used to be drawn up from the Derwent onto the Cromford Canal. The next meeting will be the Early Summer one and hosted by the Hollinwood Branch in Manchester.

Northern Canals Association Early Summer Meeting, Sunday April 17th 2011

You might wonder why the NCA have 3 meetings per year, especially on successive months. Simple really; it improves the chance of getting groups together and to hear reports on the various restorations around the region. The next meeting will be in October and a joint one in Stoke with the Southern Canals Association. However this meeting was held at the Flowery Field Centre at Hyde and the hosts were the Hollinwood Canal Society. Such is the interest in the evolving arrangements for the New Waterways Charity that there were talks on volunteering, that initiated by BW and that within the navigation trusts already operating.

Visitors were welcomed by Martin Clark of the HCS and he led an interesting local walk later in the day. The first speaker was Ed Moss, the National Volunteering Manager, British Waterways, talking on BW and volunteering in the future. Ed had last spoken to us in October 2008 shortly after his appointment, but he has had 2½ years to get in the saddle and had the envisaged timescale much compressed. Although he had pretty much a blank sheet to start with, it has not been easy as he needed to study previous volunteering and its present state, together with BW’s & the public’s perception. There was much data presented and a summary of efforts already made. Most encouraging was to hear of the success of the Waterways Action Squad (WAS) for 16/25 year olds where the tasks were relatively short-term and seen as fun to do. Despite the economic climate, they have managed to get financial sponsorship for many tasks.

There was a survey within BW in 2010 into the staff attitude to volunteering, which showed a mixed understanding of the possible role of volunteers, the support required and the experience available. Their monitoring of effort shows that an average of 20k man-days (at £50/day, worth £1M) was put in over each of the last 3 years. It is realised that besides the physical work done by WRG and dedicated groups, there is a diversity of volunteer roles on offer, such as planning. Studies show many are interested but not all are active, and there is a need to provide people possibly for the short term as most are not interested in long-term projects. This suggests a national network is needed, sorting work into types of tasks as these need to be managed better and match skills with tasks. In the queries Ed said that BW will not be seen as replacing staff, and they will not be a training body, but will respond to needs by buying in training as and when needed. Another point Ed made was that the new younger set of volunteers tends to communicate by Twitter and Facebook, so for us all this will be a challenge but an important one.

Clive Matthews, General Manager of the Avon Navigation Trust, spoke next on his navigation, of 27 miles and 17 locks. He has been GM for the past 2 years since it was formed by merging the Lower and Upper Avon Navigation Trusts to become the longest charitable navigation in the country; prior to that he had been a local waterways volunteer for 27 years. The Lower Avon was run by volunteers and never closed, whereas the Upper Avon was run by professionals after taking 5 years to be restored. The Trust works closely with the Environment Agency on weirs etc, and has 600+ members with volunteers and a professional team of 10 employees to run the waterway. Income is 50% licenses, 15% short-term licenses, 30% selling their services and the rest in rents etc. Expenses are roughly 30% admin., 40% works and 20% minor works. They have partnerships with the EA, BW and Stratford Council, with the Visitor Centre and Boat providing information.

Roy Chandler, Chairman of Essex Waterways, spoke on running the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation, a river navigation of 14 miles and 13 locks and with a towpath throughout. There is income from many sources but the downfall of the previous company was due to poor management when trying to diversify. Assets were sold and in 2005 IWA/Essex waterways Ltd took on managing the waterway with the objective of keeping the navigation open. Their major source of income is moorings, which they have now increased, along with the storage of boats, and there are about 500 visiting boats/yachts per year. Angling is let, there is much canoeing and an unusual income is from growing willows for making cricket bats. Another oddity is getting Tesco to pay for retrieving trolleys from the waterway, which will help to pay for the 14 miles of towpath to be kept mown.

The navigation is operated by 3 staff and a team of volunteers. They have managed with grants averaging at £53k/year but these are now drying up. For partners they are supported well by the local authorities. It is seen as being quite successful and with a bright future. Like other waterway bodies he hoped a disaster like a breach or flooding would not befall them.

The rest of the meeting was given over to the various bodies reporting on their work. The Sleaford NT has moved work from the town to improving moorings at the Witham end, and on the Pocklington canal there are to be 2 new landing stages. Two canals that are to put water into sections are the Lichfield Canal – a first section for them, to open on June 17 – and the Lancaster Trust have a project group formed to plan a 660 yard length near Kendal. The Caldon & Uttoxeter have WPs pointing bridges with BW, and the Melton & Oakham will have work starting soon on a new towpath bridge at the GU junction above Mountsorrel, which should allow a short branch to be navigated along the River Wreake. Ian Edgar said a number of rallies were being held at Bugsworth this year before work was to start this autumn to repair wash walls in the ‘Wide’. On the Rochdale Canal BW hope to improve water retention at the lock gates. The Chesterfield CT will build Staveley Town Lock this summer and restoration near Renishaw by volunteers is progressing well – CCT is now over 1200 strong.

It is customary at the end of the meeting proper in the afternoon for the visitors to make a local trip to view the host organiser’s work or items of interest, and on this occasion Martin Clark took us from Flowery Field through Audenshaw to Fairfield. We parked in Droylsden near the site of the recently demolished Robertson’s jam/marmalade factory and set out along the towpath for Fairfield top lock of the flight down the Ashton into Manchester. Martin led us along a slight diversion into a surprisingly peaceful oasis, a Moravian settlement established over 200 years ago. It is mostly void of traffic, with its own rows of terraced cottages, schools, chapel and even a cemetery. I am told there are visits available to the area and that this is one of three such settlements in the country. I recall that Len Hutton the Yorks batsman was raised at the one at Pudsey.

After this pleasant interlude, we were surprised to find ourselves only a few hundred yards from Fairfield Junction, where the new marina has been constructed and is said to be full, although some berths were vacant due no doubt to their owners enjoying the warm sunny weather. The HNC newsletter says that the marina is named Droylsden Marina and that building work on the surrounding Droylsden Wharf development is on hold, waiting until the economic climate improves. Moorers have the choice of route to take, either the drop into Manchester, the 2½ miles to Dukinfield and on to climb the Huddersfield Narrow, on the level on the Peak Forest to Marple and up to Bugsworth and the Macc, or a long wait for the Branch to be built for a cruise north to Failsworth. We rounded off our walk by viewing the work nearby on the Manchester Road Bridge where the Metrolink tram route will cross the route of the Hollinwood Canal and the road is being re-graded and re-aligned to give adequate clearance. The HNC can now say their restoration from the Ashton has begun.

Footnote: A query for any of you familiar with East Manchester. On my recent travels along the A627 to Dukinfield and from Flowery Field to Audenshaw, I have noticed the road changes from Victoria Road to King Street as it crosses on a bridge over the railway between Hyde and Guide Bridge and there are two mini-roundabouts at either end of the bridge. The bridge is odd in that the brick parapets are painted white and the bridge is actually identified on the A-Z of Manchester as “White Bridge”. Why? Is it a reminder of the days of smog, when drivers could perhaps hardly see the bridge because of the smoke from passing trains?

Clarke’s Bridges.

We get a number of queries about the canal, which we pass around the ranks until we succeed or draw a blank. One such went around Tim Dawson, Tim Boddington, myself, Graham Cousins, Ian Edgar and Peter Whitehead of IWPS whose interests extend along the Peak Forest Canal well along the bottom level. Someone had asked about the building of the bridges on the PFC and the Macc, in particular the bridges bearing the name “Clarke”. Was there a connection?

First of all Captain Clarkes Bridge at Hyde is not given in my Nicholson’s Guide, but in fact it is number 7 and a roving bridge. Number 6 is also a roving bridge and the enquirer comments that this taking of the towpath away from property was possibly to stop pilfering. He said the Clarkes of Hyde Hall were a family of considerable wealth and power with sugar estates in Jamaica as well as lands in Cheshire He wondered if there was a connection with the Kerridge bridge (number 29), which has “Clarke” spelt exactly the same and is also a roving bridge.

Although we cannot be certain, the Kerridge Clarke was also an enterprising character. In John Earle’s book “Old Macclesfield”, there is reference to a Joseph Clarke who was a highwayman living at Kerridge End in the 1700s. It is quite probable that Clarke Lane is named after him, as this is a winding road that wanders from Tytherington to Kerridge around the fields – hence the right-angled bend where it changes to Oak Lane, I was told. Whereas bridge 7 on the PF was built in the 1790s, Clarke Lane bridge 29 on the Macc was built in the late 1820s. Both canals are roughly north-to-south, but the PF bridge changes from east to west and the Macc bridge goes from west to east.

The enquirer’s query was related to his research into the LNWR Crewe manufactured hoists that were a feature of wharfs along most canals. Funny where these queries lead you!

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The Battle of Bridge 42 at Whaley Bridge

The northeast elevation of Bridge 42 over Buxton Road, Whaley Bridge 24 June 2011

Bridge 42 is a cast-iron railway bridge that crosses Buxton Road a short distance beyond Whaley Bridge Canal Basin. It was built by the London and North Western Railway Company in 1863 and, although it is presently rusty and looks neglected, this impressive structure is protected by Grade II listed building status.

Network Rail wants to demolish it and replace it with a stronger bridge in order that the railway line can carry more frequent and heavier traffic from the limestone quarries of the High Peak.

This raises an important question applicable to all listed buildings and ancient monuments. This bridge is presently afforded legal protection that prevents its demolition but what is the point of its listed status if it can be demolished at any time when its existence is deemed to be an inconvenience to someone?

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Wharf Colliery, Whaley Bridge
By Peter J Whitehead

Wharf Colliery was situated on the northern side of a loop in the river Goyt and to the west of the London and North Western Railway line, to which it was not connected. There was a bridge across the river, which was possibly used for the disposal of mine waste. This colliery was worked by L & E Hall, the last owner being Levi Joseph Hall J.P. It was still open in 1935 but its date of closure is uncertain. It seems that Wharf Colliery was not extant in c.1845 and the shafts were sunk in a field called Wath owned by John William Jodrell and occupied by Richard Robinson.

The name, Wharf Colliery, is something of a misnomer as it was situated about 550 yards distant from the wharf at the head of the Whaley Bridge Branch Canal. However, its name does at least suggest that some of its output was transported by boat on the Peak Forest Canal.

To the south east of Wharf Colliery, on the opposite side of the river Goyt and the London & North Western Railway line, there was an unidentified colliery situated alongside the Cromford and High Peak Railway. There was no connection with the LNWR but there might have been a rudimentary loading facility with the Cromford and High Peak Railway. Because of its proximity to Wharf Colliery it is likely that this colliery was part of the same complex and under the same ownership.

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The Brimscombe Halfpenny Token issued by the Thames and Severn Canal Company

This copper token is 1.1 inches in diameter and it was issued in 1795. Unusually, but not uniquely, the value is not given on the token. The obverse shows the starboard bow view of a Severn Trow with the legend, ‘THAMES AND SEVERN CANAL’ and the year ‘MDCCXCV’. The reverse shows the Coates Portal of Sapperton Tunnel and the edge is inscribed, ‘PAYABLE AT BRIMSCOMBE PORT’. Coates Portal is at the south-eastern end of the tunnel. These tokens were issued by the canal company to pay wages to the workmen.

Brimscombe Port is situated in the Frome Valley in the twin villages of Thrupp and Brimscombe, just outside Stroud, Gloucestershire. The primary purpose of this port was for the transhipment of goods from Severn trows, which had travelled from the river Severn along the Stroudwater Navigation, to Thames barges that carried the goods onwards towards London.

Sapperton Tunnel is near Cirencester, Gloucestershire, and when it was opened on Monday, 20 April 1789 it was the longest tunnel in the country at 3,817 yards. It took five years to construct and it has no towpath, boats being propelled by ‘legging’. It held the title of longest tunnel until 1811 when Standedge Tunnel on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal opened, this being 5,456 yards long.

Much of the canal, including Sapperton Tunnel, was abandoned in 1927 and subsequent roof falls in the tunnel made it no longer navigable throughout its entire length. However, boat trips into the tunnel have taken place from the Coates Portal, the length still navigable being about 1,000 feet.

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Replica Tramway Wagons

The Midland Railway Centre at Butterley, Derbyshire, has this replica of the type of wagons used on the Little Eaton Gangway.

Like the only remaining example of a Peak Forest Tramway wagon, No. 174, the last example of a Little Eaton Gangway wagon is also kept in the National Railway Museum in York.

Photo: Tina Corden

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Photo Archive - Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal

Compton Bridge on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, early 20th century.  This bridge is situated in the village of Compton, which adjoins the canal two miles west of Wolverhampton. Immediately beyond the bridge, the canal rises through Compton Lock before making its way the short distance to Aldersley Junction (Birmingham Canal) and then Autherley Junction (Shropshire Union Canal).

Hyde Bridge looking north east, early 20th century.
This bridge is on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal in Kinver, Staffordshire. Immediately beyond the bridge the canal rises through Hyde Lock.

Kinver Light Railway alongside the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, early 20th century.
The village of Kinver lies on the west bank of the River Stour in Staffordshire, about 11 miles south of Wolverhampton and four miles WSW of Stourbridge.
The railway was built by the British Electric Traction Company, with a gauge of 3 feet 6 inches, and it opened in 1901. The line was about 4-miles long and its route was in a south-westerly direction from Amblecote to Kinver. It was single track with passing places and it mainly ran through open countryside or at the roadside.
Both the track and tramcars deteriorated during the Great War (1914-18) and afterwards it was affected by competition from buses and motor cars. Consequently, the Kinver Light Railway was closed in early 1930 by the then operator, the Dudley, Stourbridge & District Electric Traction Company.

Dunsley Tunnel looking eastwards, early 20th century.
This 25-yard long tunnel, with a rough-hewn bore, is on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal near the village of Kinver, Staffordshire. It is situated between Hyde Lock and Stewponey Lock, the latter being a short distance from Stourton Junction (for the Stourbridge Canal).

The Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal at Tettenhall near Wolverhampton, early 20th century.
This view is looking northwards towards Aldersley Junction (for the Birmingham Canal) and Autherley Junction (for the Shropshire Union Canal).

The Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal at Tettenhall near Wolverhampton, early 20th century.
This view is looking southwards towards Compton.

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Far-flung Bugsworth

Seen in Mongolia


These two photos attached to the email (below right) arrived from IWPS Member and volunteer Steve Barrett who with wife Lynn had been on a trip to the Mongolian Wilderness - perhaps one of our readers can take up Steve's challenge - Editor

Hi Don

Thought that you might like these. It might not be the furthest travelled bit of Buggy memorabilia but I bet that it's amongst the most remote. The pics were taken in the middle of the Mongolian wilderness, where we have just been for three weeks visiting Lynn's daughter and her family. Jennie lived with us for a while at Buggy so we gave her the towel as a reminder of the place. It's now permanently in her ger in the countryside. I'd forgotten that we'd given it to her so it was something of a surprise to see it there.

Perhaps a new competition, furthest flung Buggy mention?



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Skew Bridges - their design and construction

The following articles on the Techniques and Engineering Principles by which Skew Bridges are constructed were written by Dave Goodwin and under his editorship were first published in the Old Union Canals Society magazine, Union, a few years ago. They are an excellent interpretation of the subject and compliment an article featured in the April 2006 issue of 174 which described the construction of the Bollington skew bridges on the Macclesfield Canal.

Don Baines



Having an inquiring mind - well that's my excuse - the instant I realised that many more canal bridges - than you first think have a "skew" element to their construction, I became hooked on their complexity. Few roads cross the canal at exactly 90° and even with farmer's accommodation bridges site conditions may dictate that the 'crossing' be taken at a slight angle. Add to this fact that even the simplest bridge usually has a curving face, which leans back as it gets up to parapet level, and the question arises how did the bricklayers cope with all this subtle complication?

THE PROBLEMS OF STONE The difficulties multiply if you consider those skewed Macclesfield turnover bridges - large stone blocks, no two facing blocks the same... but were they cut to shape in the quarry, or dressed in situ? Working out the details necessary to produce each stone as a 'jig-saw' piece beforehand would need a top mathematician, were 'Mason's Marks' needed so that work could be traced back if it didn't fit? Far easier (but not so intellectually neat), would be to mate each with it's neighbour on site. So, what went on ?

OUR HERITAGE I had been following the 'Heritage' pieces in B.W's monthly Staff Newspaper by Nigel Crowe at Hillmorton. When an article appeared in the August issue noting a course on basic masonry repairs I wrote to him, posing my questions. Answer - the marks were generally made by 'Banker Masons' who prepared the stone, but did not place it, this was done by 'Fixer Masons'. Final dressing WAS usually done on site. This was a practical solution, but I still had a difficulty.

PETER NICHOLSON 1840 In the dim and distant past I had paid real money for a rare 1840 book by Peter Nicholson - 'The Guide to Railway Masonry’ - 'Containing a complete treatise on the oblique arch... with spiral joints' (skewed construction to you and I). This old volume, said to be one of only four copies extant, showed Nicholson to be a mathematician par excellence, testing my own powers of understanding even though I was raised on the engineering problems encountered in setting out patterns for sheet metalwork. This contained testimonials at the back which said things like - "It is perfectly possible to dress the arch stones at the quarry before bringing them to the intended spot directly' ... 'The workmen found no difficulty in dressing or setting out the stones correctly after the principle was explained to them'. "So as to need no paring after they were set'. Because I had found it so hard to follow, because it was not a 'grass roots', practical method, but more of a thesis for architects and designers - I still only half believed these glowing recommendations (presumably he was out to sell his book, after all!) - and I thought there would be many a workman preferring to make short cuts.

MATHS vs COMMON USAGE Just as there seems to be a wide gap between things being invented (& patented), and their later appearance in common use, the truth seemed to be that there was a reluctance to adopt the complex maths approach, with many Masons preferring more practical ways. By the time Nicholson's principles were more widely understood, newer materials left all-brick or stone constructions behind. These old engineers deserve to be remembered however, and given credit for their pioneering efforts. But, we are leaping ahead with the story...

FIRST PRINCIPLES Any bridge gains its strength from the way each arch course 'leans' against its neighbour. If the loads on the structure are transferred along a 'line of thrust' within the arch form, all is well. If, for whatever reason, the 'line of thrust' moves too close to the upper or lower faces of the archwork (because of subsidence, overloading etc.), the arch can fall down, or even burst up! Either way is disastrous. Skew bridges have an inherent extra problem in that if they are built simply as a 90° bridge, with left and right extensions to the abutments, this leaves two triangular parts of the arch which have little to 'lean' on opposite. Building skew bridges with straight or parallel courses leaves these areas very weak. Cracks will develop in the exposed parts unless something is done to correct it. An early remedy was to turn the courses in the offending areas so that they lay square to the road above. This kept the line of thrust square with the bedding joints, and prevented the courses ‘sliding’ over each other. These things were easier to achieve in brick construction.

A MODERN PAPER Nigel included in his reply a modern paper by Martin Hammond, most helpful since it followed skew constructions from the time of 'canal mania' to the hey-day of the railway era. When London & Birmingham Railway engineers came to build skew bridges in stone, they adopted more sophisticated methods to pre-determine the various angles needed for all the facing blocks, but it involved scale model making, rather than calculation.

L.T.C ROLT BIOGRAPHY In his biography of George and Robert Stephenson, Rolt says that arches with complete sets of full spiral courses were unknown before the L & B built them (in 1834-1838). Each course was formed like the threads of a large screw, the "thread" angle and diameter formed by the angles of intersection of road and railway, and arch profile respectively. ‘A wooden model of each skew bridge was made, and the measurements for the worked stones and courses determined from these. On the site, the centrings for the arches (the wooden formwork to support the growing structure) was covered with a sheeting on which the lines for the courses were marked out’.

BRIDGE 74 This was the practice adopted recently when re-building Bridge74 near Kibworth Top Lock. Wooden formwork, held by scaffolding, topped by plywood sheets was forced into contact with the old arch from below. The full extent of the brick facing - and each course of the old arch - marked on as the old structure was taken down. With the last bricks taken off and the old arch gone, only the "ghost" image of the marked-out formwork remained. The new arch and facing brickwork could be faithfully reproduced by following the tell-tale marks. This is however more of a practical copying exercise, less of a fresh setting-out or scaling-up from a working plan. The use of models too was a less than academic or mathematical approach. With bricks the myriad mortar joints could take up the curves and twists needed. With stone things had to be just so, and it was more costly in labour to produce the blocks. For this reason sometimes the builders favoured facings or edgings in stone, using brick for the main parts.

OTHER LITERATURE Martin Hammond traced the progress through literature on the subject - George Watson Buck's 'Practical & Theoretical Essay on Oblique Bridges' (1839, second edition 1857), ‘The Rudiments of Masonry and Stone Cutting’ by Edward Dobson. He does not mention 'my' book, the second edition of which appeared in 1840, and while we are focussing on relative dates it seems odd that Rolt’s comments were made in reference to the L & B Railway, when enthusiasts will realise that the Macclesfield Canal was completed in 1831.

NICHOLSON QUOTES Peter Nicholson realised that 'In making working drawings of developments to the full size, so much room is required to lay them down that it is often difficult to find a place which will contain them. The advantages therefore of common calculation are obvious'. With his geometrical solutions, he enclosed a set of trig. tables. He had already written a previous work - as yet untraced by me - called 'A Treatise on Stone Cutting', which, as one might expect, was a more practical account relying on rudimentary setting-out on site. Whether practical or mathematical methods were used however, templates were produced which the stone masons could use. As Hammond points out 'An error of a degree over a span of 10 metres can produce a misalignment of 175mm.(7" in 32'10") - hence the need for the trig. tables to gauge things with greater accuracy (to five figures).

MODERN QUOTES Hammond again says - 'When the centring had been set up, the lines of the faces of the edge were marked on it by dropping a plumb-line at intervals along a line stretched over it. The line of every fourth course of brickwork was then marked between them, using a flexible square and straightedge which could bend to the arc of the arch. Brickwork then started, carried up evenly from each springing course by course and ring by ring so as not to distort by uneven loading... when the arch was complete, it remained to build up the spandrels, parapets and piers'. (All this is Bridge 74 methods taken to their logical conclusion).

Templates and Tools


Fascinating Structures and Puzzles.  Martin Hammond makes his most telling comment about modern practices at the end of his paper (BBS-Information 57, pages 4-15 of July 1991) : "No engineer to whom I have spoken seems to know how to calculate a masonry arch. Local Authority building inspectors fight shy of them, requiring that calculations be submitted for each design or the bulk of the load be carried in a beam built in above the arch. The methods described herein (i.e. the points I had been following), must have been in use in Roman times and earlier, in the last 70 years they have become a lost art with the cessation of railway construction... railway politics have resulted in the abandonment of many lines'. Examples were then given of skewed structures built by Edward Parry, Midland Railway engineer from 1869, in later years he was in charge of Great Central construction between 1893 - '99 through Leicester.

EDWARD PARRY ‘His lines were noted for their elegant, well-proportioned simplicity, and for their fine durable construction which made their dismantling the more difficult. The Great Central was built to the Continental loading gauge and for high speed running, for it was intended as a link with the proposed Channel Tunnel, to form a route from Manchester to Paris'. (This is a point well made in the past by Malcolm Bower; around 1900 note!)... 'With all the current arguments about high-speed Channel Tunnel links, I think it is shameful that fine engineering was thrown away. Parts of it are still in use for industrial and suburban traffic, and as a preserved railway near Loughborough, but the Great Central is a faint shadow of what its promoters and builders intended'.


If the foregoing was too heavily 'railway' for your taste, there are plenty of examples around the canal system to cut your teeth on! Sadly the best skew bridges on the Leicester Line (at Yelvertoft Br.19, and Smeeton Br.69) have both been rebuilt in concrete in modern times. Railway skews at Watford and at Wigston 'cheat' by building offset brick block abutments, spanning them with a straight girder box-section. But the '1899' bridge at the Bottom Lift Arm at Foxton Junction retained the old arch when it was rebuilt - that is set at a slight angle, as is Bridge 72 at Saddington Tunnel south portal. The giveaway in these cases is the dog-toothed arrangement of bricks in the edge of the arch, necessary to allow for the slight angle difference.

ELSEWHERE - THE SHROPPIE & THE MACC. I am afraid you will have to journey further afield for other better examples, but the Shroppie has lots of structures employing stone 'springer' blocks on which to set proper spiral courses. These can start just above water-level at the abutment, and, depending on the proportions of the bridge, spiral up and across to exit at the opposite arch-crown, near to the keystone! Those Macclesfield bridges are superb in every way. The example at Leek Old Road. (Br.44) is the
most-skewed, yes, I have measured them all.

WEATHERING If you have no real interest in the detail technology, then the ‘melted cheese’ appearance of some bridge stones might appeal. The reason for this, I am told, is that some types of stone are more easily attacked if they are not set in the bridge in the same aspect as they came from the quarry. In other words it does no good to cut certain types from its ancient level bed, and try to distribute them all around an arch, since most of them will then be sitting at a very different angle and be prone to greater frost and rain damage. There are subtle changes of colour too, a pink or a green tinge depending whether the ('grit'?) stones came from the Mow Cop or Kerridge ends of the canal. One can compare the north/south differences, the best 'melted cheese' is on the straight section of canal in the vicinity of Congleton, around the Buxton Road Bridge 68.

DERELICT CANALS Perversely, derelict canals seem exceptionally well-endowed with skewed masterpieces, although you will have to abandon the boat to find the most special examples at Forton (Shrewsbury & Newport), find this halfway between Norbury and Newport; & Wappenshall Junction (on the Shroppie Tub-boat Canals near Telford) , one for the enthusiasts only!

HEREFORD AND GLOUCESTER CANAL Best of all, and I do mean BEST, is to be found near the village of Monkhide on the old Hereford and Gloucester Canal. Peter Nicholson indicates 'eskews' of 50° and more being achieved (by 1840), but the H & G engineer Stephen Ballard must take the gold medal. David Bick, the author of the book on the H & G, credits Ballard with drawing up a plan as early as 1839 for a 60° skewed bridge.

TECHNICAL VIRTUOSITY Such are the proportions of the Monkhide structure, that it must be the 'skewiest' in the country. Stop grooves, installed square across the canal beneath, have all the left hand abutment behind one on one side of the grooves, all the right abutment in front on the other side! Whether Ballard consulted Nicholson (or the other authors mentioned) we can only guess. But, his dedication to the skew principle cannot be doubted. Bick says :'This little gem of civil engineering was nothing more than Ballard indulging in a display of technical virtuosity. Certainly this element must have presided to some extent, and the inner satisfaction that it gave him would not have been lessened by its situation, unknown and unappreciated except by bargemen and country folk in this secluded backwater of Herefordshire... although construction appears to have gone smoothly enough, misgivings arose when the time came to remove the centring'.

STEPHEN BALLARD QUOTED "There were so many props we could not let down the arch regularly, only a part at a time, this caused cracks which much alarmed me, and I stayed with it as long as I could see and felt very anxious about it'. Next day (a Sunday), he went again to the spot still very concerned and on the Monday 'Went to direct the men how to balance it, lightened one part and loaded the other'. More cracks appeared on removal of further centring; but eventually he seemed satisfied with the outcome. In 1843 Ballard wrote 'Skew Bridge continues to stand well'. As Bick says - 'It remains as sound as ever (today), and minor displacements under the arch are as old as the bridge itself. Waterways Recovery Group have been responsible for clearing undergrowth from this section, so that the full glory of this structure can be appreciated.

Skew Bridge, Monkhide

Built by Stephen Ballard in 1843 to take a minor no through road over the Hereford to Gloucester Canal. Rather than simply build it at right angles to the canal he went to all the trouble with stability etc in building the most skew canal bridge in Britain. Why? Because he could.

I found this superb photograph by Bob Embleton during a web search and thank him for permitting us to reproduce it here to illustrate Dave’s account on skew bridges. - Editor

SUMMING UP My own feelings are difficult to express. Having affection for people is understandable, but clearly these old engineers had an equal affection for things too, and I am not ashamed to say that I can equate with that!

A Letter from JOHN RUSSELL...

'I found your articles on skew bridges fascinating. In my book on the Kennet & Avon canal I was careful not to say that Rennie was the first engineer to build skew bridges, merely that he may have experimented with the design of these first on the K&A (in 1796).

Rodney Hardwick has pointed out that there are skew bridges on the Grand Union (Br. 41 near Bugbrooke & Br. 25 between Stowe Hill & Weedon are both brick skew bridges), and we know that boats were trading on the canal in 1797 (before Blisworth Tunnel was opened in 1805). So, was it Barnes or Rennie who first took the plunge and risked their bridges collapsing in a heap in the canal below?

Probably they both came up with the idea at around the same time, or did they meet and discuss the idea; we shall never know for certain, or until time travel is invented and we can go back and ask them. What is clear is that brick skew bridges are a darn sight easier to build than stone ones, and Rennie was the first engineer to construct them using the latter material.'

Sadly, John Russell (IWA Northampton) died subsequent to sending this letter - Ed

PROBABLE PROGRESSION From John's accompanying notes, C.T.G Boucher (Rennie’s biographer) states that neither Brindley or Outram built skewed structures, and that the earliest that can be traced is a brick arch at Great Bedwyn on Rennie’s K&A. (Mill Bridge, Boucher calls this 'an incomplete example of the application of the (skew) principle' dating from 1796). John himself in his book refers to Mill Bridge as ‘a mess’ - ‘a compromise and not a proper skew arch at all’. 'There is a larger skew bridge next to Burbage Wharf ... a better version'. Then, ‘halfway between locks 62 & 65 there is a purpose built skew bridge with four separate rings of half-brick thickness, each following a different line providing a laminated arch of great strength’. This bridge was only a farm access - probably built by Rennie at a later date as an experiment in building a proper skew arch (in brick).

STRAIGHT/ SKEW, BRICK/ STONE From the correspondence which has come in response to my original articles in the centre pages of issues U142 & U143, we should distinguish between bridges that are simply built on a skewed plan -(1)- those with parallel courses to the arch (2) - those where some attempt has been made to 'cheat' by including short runs at an intermediate angle, and (3) - those with full winding or spiral courses. This progression carries through with stone structures where (4) - stone "springer" blocks are used in an otherwise brick structure, (5) - stone bridges with parallel arch blocks, and (6) fully winding stone courses.

This progression can be seen in relation to Rennie, who went on to build two stone bridges on the Rochdale in 1797. Gorrell's Bridge (of large parallel block construction) was demolished many years ago to make way for an approach embankment. March Barn Bridge (still extant) is referred to by Boucher - 'has a perfect skew arch with winding courses' but is labelled 'a try out' by him since it is the only one of many set on a skewed plan to be given the full spiral treatment. The structures mentioned individually seem to represent a logical progression as ideas improved, and as John says ‘all pre-date those (bridges) of the railway age’.


PROBLEM BRIDGES I have mentioned that Britain has a bridge problem before - in that 40 ton continental-standard lorries are about to attack them. About half of the arched structures in the country are in brick or stone, 20% of these are owned by the railways, 5% by British Waterways. Recent surveys produced these figures, many bridges undergoing repairs or complete rebuilds. Because of this it is timely to note how they were assessed in the past, and indeed the mechanism by which they fail!

ASSESSMENT The old way of assessing their strength was developed during WW2 by the Army. If tanks caused damage, it was the guide by which the military addressed claims for compensation by the local authorities. Their engineers measured arch span and height, then looked for signs of age and weakness - flattening of the arch profile, weathering of stones/ mortar, condition of the infill over the deck etc. Then they took an educated guess as to the effectiveness of the structure based on their observations!

DESTRUCTION Perversely, bridges tested to destruction revealed more recently that they could take up to eight times the maximum load arrived at by the method above! So, just how many will have to be attended to, and what the final cost will be is still to be totted up, but the words ‘string’, ‘long’ and ‘piece of’ come to mind. Arguments still rage over the part played in a bridge's stability by the parapet walls, and the effect of dynamic loads applied as a heavy lorry passes over...

TESTING In Foxton Locks & the Grand Junction Canal Co. I described how canal manager T.W.Millner used to test bridges, by measuring the deflection as a steam-roller was driven across. Another of his letters gives an insight as to the moment when an old stone bridge came close to destruction.

BUCKINGHAM ARM 'Bridge No-14 Mount Mill. I inspected this stone accommodation bridge yesterday and found several of the arch stones chipped on the face, and District Labourer Meakins stated that he was under the bridge on Wednesday when Mr. F. Burrow's of Deanshanger Thrashing Engine and trailer passed over, when some small pieces of arch stones fell into the canal and on the towpath and the structure moved under the load so much so that the engine driver noticed it too. The engine passed back on Saturday after doing some thrashing for Mr. Verey. The weight of the engine is 7 tons and the trailer or box is 2½ tons. This was a well built all stone accommodation bridge, but I am doubtful as to its strength as I know as a fact its foundations are honeycombed with leakage holes so I do not consider it strong enough for heavy motor traffic. I understand engines only go over during such times as thrashing is done'.

ILLUSTRATION BELOW The illustration below shows what was happening. Basically, the structure cracks, and three main 'hinges' develop as the arch is depressed in one area and rises elsewhere. With the Buckingham scenario, some movement of the abutments also seems likely. If they are capable of settlement, or worse still get pushed apart, the whole arch would descend to a greater or lesser degree. Whatever the details, the driver was lucky on those occasions. At the very least, his passage probably produced a 'Mexican Wave,' in the stonework, judging by the reference to the chipped stones. Deflection of an arch by as little as 3/8" had caused Millner to order a rebuild in other locations.

UPPER DRAWING shows a bridge arch model made from a set of wooden blocks. They represent large sections of a real structure. Note the blocks are separate and free to move. A stable condition exists with the blocks jacking against each other on a centre-line.

LOWER DRAWING One has to imagine the abutments on either side are immoveable. The block faces are curved, and touch along a 'line of action'. Loading the model with a finger will make the arch distort in a 'Mexican Wave'. In the drawings this has been exaggerated to demonstrate the principle of a collapse...

... Loading the left hand side shows the arch form distorting, dropping on the left, about to burst up on the right! The 'line of action' has moved away from the centre line but the arch profile takes the load - just! When the line of action moves outside the bridge profile, a total collapse results.

OTHER EXAMPLES There are some nice photographs in the standard canal books of bridges being tested using several steamrollers threading their way through crowds of onlookers! There are plenty of examples where deformed arches can be seen around the canal system. The centre of a brick arch may drop slightly, which can show up by the parapet (and/or drip course) straightening, or even dipping from the gentle curve of its original shape. Some of the odder profiles may have been underpinned by the addition of old railway lines in an attempt to keep the structure together, though this reduces the headroom for boats, and sometimes walkers on the towpath!

These articles by Dave Goodwin arrived via Malcolm Bower who added the following comment:

Although David says that Bridge 44, Leek Old Road at Sutton, is the best skew bridge on the Macclesfield Canal, I believe that Bridge 26, Sugar Lane just north of the Clarence Mill at Bollington, is as good. We should devise a quick and easy way to assess the skewness of a bridge, a ready means for walkers to agree on the "deformity" of these remarkable structures. Perhaps it could be the number of courses in the arch that the course of stone from the corner on the other side emerges, if you follow me. Difficult, as this would depend upon the width of the bridge. Any ideas anyone?

If anyone else has any comments we would like to hear them - please send them to the editor - address on the inner cover - or by email to and I will pass them on to Dave or, perhaps, they could form the part of another article in 174.
Don Baines - Editor 174

Even before I had finished compiling 174, I had sent Malcolm’s comment to Dave and, just a few days later, received another set of notes explaining how he did the measurements which I have now added below - Ed

Measuring Skew Bridges: To compare the construction angle of skew bridges, I used a standard Engineer’s 2ft folding steel rule, on which was marked a line of chords.

To operate: I laid one limb along a mortar course at waist height beneath the arch, the other limb into the bridge face, keeping it horizontal.

The rule was marked with a pair of datum points, into which one could insert the points of a pair of dividers.

That measurement could then be transferred to the marked non-linear scale which indicated the angle in degrees.

Sadly, Dave adds, I see I did not note my findings in my cruising guide and cannot now locate my notes to recover the figures.

Fiddling about with a straight edge and protractor could produce similar results, but is harder to operate and therefore could be less accurate?

Determining the skewness by counting courses and the way they sit is difficult since that varies, dependent on the overall proportions of each structure.

Hope you can make sense of the above and that it helps explain details fully.

Dave Goodwin. June 2011

The Baines view

Being a technophobe I would probably turn to a more up to date piece of equipment to do the measurements.

I have a lightweight laser level, easily carried about in its case and which I am sure I could adapt to do the job.

The pivoting laser mounting base is calibrated in degrees around its periphery and, so, if I set it up with the laser just illuminating along the face of the bridge under the arch with the angle pointer set to 0 degrees and then turn the mounting until the body of the level is parallel to the face of bridge I will be able to read the skew angle directly of the scale.

As they say in a certain comparison site advert “Simple”

Must take my kit down to Bugsworth and try it out on the skew bridge over the middle basin arm.  I’ve also dug out my aging 2ft steel rule from the garage and calibrated it in the manner described by Dave in his article. Now to see how the two methods compare.

I suppose you surveyors out there will ask, “why not use a theodolite?” Well, I haven’t got one and don’t know how to use one anyway. Anything to add anyone? Don

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