The Canal Society has maintained an association with the Waterway Recovery Group (WRG) over many years, and various WRG groups have regularly visited the Canal to undertake various enhancement works for us. Here, Society committee member Jeff Hill tells us about this year’s WRG workcamp, which was based near the top of the Deepcut flight.
The Waterways Recovery Group annual visit to the Basingstoke Canal lasted six days in July/August and was a great success, thanks to finding enough bull-nose blue bricks.
Eighteen volunteers arrived in Surrey on Saturday 27th July and, led by Chris Blaxland and co-leader Colin Hobbs, got down to work on the Sunday. Frantic preparations had taken place during the previous week to deliver plant and materials to the site and to provide facilities. The loos by the workshop at lock 28 had been cleaned and mended by the BCA and the volunteers were grateful.
The group stayed at Mayford Village Hall which had suffered a fire late last year and although the main hall was serviceable, the kitchen was due to be demolished as part of the reconstruction. Fortunately, planning permission was needed and so the kitchen was still there – the first time we have been pleased that the wheels of local government grind so slowly. The main problem was with the availability of showers (there are none at the hall). It had been arranged to use the facilities at Woking Leisure Centre but their boiler chose that week to break down. The Canal Centre was tried but was found wanting. Frimley Lodge Park provided the winning solution so the work party were at least approachable in that sense.
The work was mainly at lock 27. They installed sheet piling to extend the wing wall on the upper towpath side (left). They excavated a suspicious depression by the upper lock gate on the off-side and exposed a slightly sunken but intact quadrant. The hole that they dug filled with water when the lock was full, showing a leak either in the paddle box or more likely in the lock wall. The hole was filled with clay on the lock side and back-filled.
Another depressed quadrant was exposed and cheered up on the off-side at lock 26 although it will fill with water when it rains and could bury itself again.
At lock 25, the lock gates, paddle gear and railings were painted and the banks of the bridge abutment were cleared. This exposed a rather puzzling set of steps which were in good order at the top but disappeared down the slope beneath some more makeshift steps. Speculation suggested that rather than leading to Tutankhamun’s tomb, they got covered at restoration when the ramp down from Curzon Bridge was established. Any further intelligence would be welcome.
Back at lock 27, the last major task was to build a quadrant for the lower off-side gate and a retaining wall to prevent the quadrant sliding down the slope (left). The wall looks very good especially the coping stones which were manufactured on site. The bull-nose blue bricks were needed for the quadrant (right) and careful planning ensured that they were sparingly used. It doesn’t quite match the one on the towpath side but who looks at them at the same time?
The work party left a neat hole in the ground behind the piling so that there would be access for the channel iron pieces which hold the sheet piles together to be welded at a later date, but an enthusiastic volunteer then filled in the hole so no one know where the weld is needed.
In addition to all this work, the group gave up 4 volunteers on the Thursday to help the Society members to bring the dredger Belfast Girl up from Bridge Barn to lock 12 at Brookwood, where a wayward visiting boat had persuaded a balance beam to part company with its gate. Belfast Girl fixed the problem in 10 minutes although it took all day to get there on the hottest day of the year.
The Society must record our heartfelt thanks to all the working group for the excellent work that they did. They were hardworking and cheerful and we all hope that they enjoyed the trip on the John Pinkerton that they had on the Monday despite the quite atrocious weather and the multiple groundings. We hope to see them again next year.
Thanks should also go to the members of the Society workparty, led by Jeff and Kevin Redway, who made all the arrangements for the WRG team, ensuring that all the required plant, tools and materials were ready on site beforehand, and were taken away afterwards. Thanks too to Verna Smith for organising the team’s accommodation and sorting out the shower situation.