star (2K)
The Last Attempt to get to Basingstoke
by Tony Harmsworth


As is well known, after the failure of the Nately Brick and Tile Company in 1902, the only movements of freight at the western end of the Canal were bankrupt stock bricks and some disused machinery being boated from Nately to Basingstoke where they were transhipped to rail. Also, bankrupt stock bricks were moved down to Ash Wharf and Frimley Wharf for use by local builders.

There were still occasional freights of up to 15 tons of moulding sand to Basingstoke Wharf for Wallis & Stevens, the agricultural engineers, up until 1910. The last was 10 tons of sand from the pit adjacent to Mytchett, which arrived in Basingstoke in October 1910.

Due to the high costs of maintenance and persistent leakage, stop planks were put in at Brick Kiln Bridge, Up Nately, in November 1910, and the section from there to Basingstoke Wharf was allowed to dry up.



Woking Borough Council had included in their Borough Act of 1910 some clauses which allowed them to rebuild Canal bridges and to try to claim the cost back on tolls from barges using the Canal. The Canalís owner, Mr Carter, appealed against this decision and this culminated in a high profile appeal in 1913.

There were different legal opinions about the status of the Canal. The Canal Companyís barrister, Kingís Council Mr Martelli, felt that the Canal was private freehold property, because when the original company had gone into liquidation in 1866, the liquidator had sold it to its first private owner in 1871 without the benefit of an enabling Act. Mr Martelli felt that therefore the statute of limitations had applied and hence the Canal was now private freehold property.

If the appeal went against the Canal Company, it was likely that the Canal would be still subject to the 1888 Railway and Canal Traffic Act, which stated that if a canal had not been navigated for three years, by application of the Board of Trade, the canal could be closed and the land upon which it ran could be handed back to the adjoining landowners.

The appeal was due to be heard in October/November 1913 and Mr Carter, the Canalís owner, asked A J Harmsworth, then the only trader on the Canal, to try to get a boat through to Basingstoke to prove that it was still navigable, and preferably with a cargo on board.

Wallis & Stevens were approached and agreed to take a small quantity of moulding sand if it could be delivered to Basingstoke Wharf. The narrowboat Basingstoke was quickly painted up and prepared, and about 5 tons of sand was loaded aboard at the Mytchett pit.

Amongst much publicity they left Ash Vale boathouse at 6am on 16 November 1913 and reached Nately Brickfield at 1pm.



A relaxed scene at Ash Lock shortly before the gates were opened for the start of the 20-mile trip which took 3 months.

At Ash Lock (8K) 


In preparation for this trip, Canal labourers had walked through the dry section from Brick Kiln Bridge, Up Nately, towards Basing, puddling any obvious cracks and trimming out the Canal bed and towpath. On the previous day, stop planks had been installed at Penney Bridge and they started to flood the intervening section.


  under Poulter's Bridge (11K)

The going is still easy as the narrowboat Basingstoke passes under Poulter's Bridge, Crookham.


The 'Basingstoke' is believed to have been built at Appledore in North Devon and was owned by the Woking, Aldershot and Basingstoke Canal Navigation Company in the 1880s.

The Nately Brick and Tile Company bought the boat in about 1898 to carry bricks to Ash Wharf and to Basingstoke and other wharves along the canal.

When the brickworks closed in 1906-7, it was bought by Mr. A.J. Harmsworth to carry sand, round timber and coal, mostly as a lightening boat.

After the First World War it was used regularly transporting lightened coal from barges at Weybridge up to Woking gas works on day work.

In 1933 it was taken to Ash Vale, and its iron frames were removed and used in the construction of the barge 'Brookwood' which was launched in l934. The remains were left in Great Bottom Flash.

They are still there today.

The horse pulling valiantly.


  pushing at swing bridge (11K)

A reluctant swing bridge below the Whitewater Aqueduct gets a shove at both ends to make it move.



Poling into Greywell Tunnel attracts village onlookers.

into the tunnel (10K) 

  through the reeds (11K)

West of the tunnel. Mr Harmsworth and steerer look anxiously ahead as Basingstoke forces a passage through the reeds.



By the time that the Basingstoke arrived at Brick Kiln Bridge at about 1.30pm, the stop planks there had been removed and they immediately began to move the boat forward to Penny Bridge.


The crew on this particular trip varied from time to time, with much help supplied by Canal labourers and local people, but mainly it consisted of A J Harmsworth attending from time to time, with his brothers Fred and William and his son-in-law Alf Hyde remaining with the boat for most of the attempt.

  at Little Tunnel Bridge (6K)

Stop planks were then installed at the Little Tunnel and attempts were made over the following two days to refill the section back to Up Nately.



However, it was leaking quite badly in this section and it was not until around midday on the 19th that they were able to remove the stop planks at Penney Bridge and quickly move the boat up to Little Tunnel.

Stop planks were then installed in the vicinity of the Frog Lane swing bridge and the next section was filled, but great difficult was experienced in filling these sections and stop planks were reinstalled at Brick Kiln Bridge, as the amount of water that was being used was beginning to lower the main pound back through Greywell Tunnel towards Odiham.



Horse and men strain to haul Basingstoke towards Mapledurwell on the partially filled canal.

horse and men pulling (8K) 


Water was allowed to flow over the top stop plank at Brick Kiln Bridge to run into the disused section and there was much puddling and corking with long boots and waders to try to get sufficient water into the Canal to enable Basingstoke to float forwards to Frog Lane swing bridge. This was eventually achieved and they carried on in this manner round behind the Hatch Pub and so all the way to Old Basing, which they reached on about 10 December 1913.



However, the result of the appeal had been heard on 28 November, when the solicitors for the Canal owners wrote to Mr A J Harmsworth saying that Mr Mossop, the Clerk of Woking Borough Council, had been "placed in the position of Napoleon at Waterloo" and that costs had also been awarded to the Canal owners. The journey with the Basingstoke lost much of its significance, because the outcome of the appeal meant that the Canal was indeed private freehold property and therefore not subject to the 1888 Railway and Canal Traffic Act.


  approaching Basing (14K)

It was decided to try to get the boat to Basing Wharf and this was eventually achieved, being where the Basingstoke was left while the crew came home to Ash Vale for Christmas.



However, after their Christmas break, they went back to Basing and due to the fact that the Canal was now wet, although not holding very much water, the clay was beginning to swell up in the bottom of the Canal and it was found much easier to keep enough water in the Canal for the boat to proceed onwards.

at Basing (10K) 

  Broadwater (8K)

It was turned at the wide water behind Basing House and brought back to Basing Wharf, where the sand was unloaded and carted to Wallis & Stevens at Basingstoke.



The narrowboat Basingstoke never reached Basingstoke Wharf and this journey in the ensuing years has become the stuff of legends, with plays being written about it and some very highly coloured accounts appearing in print at various times.

Alec Harmsworth (5K) 


This was largely brought about by the fact that the Daily Mirror photographers accompanied the boat on various days. Many of the photographs that were taken appeared in the paper at the time and have since become well known. They doubtless produced much useful publicity.



The Basingstoke returned to Ash Vale in early January 1914 and quickly settled back into its usual task of acting as a lightening boat for barges arriving from the Thames with 60 - 70 tons of cargo, some of which had to be offloaded to allow them to make the journey up the River Wey and the Basingstoke Canal to Woking.



The Basingstoke was scrapped in 1932 when the new barge Basingstoke was built at Ash Vale. The metal frames were subsequently used for the building of the barge Brookwood in 1935, whose remains are still sunk in Great Bottom Flash to this day.


[From BC News 187, Autumn 2000]


Last updated October 2000