Foxton Locks is a landmark location on England's waterways, noted not only for its famous flight of locks but also as the site of the Foxton Inclined Plane - a pioneering boat lift opened at the start of the 20th century to speed the flow of traffic.
The sweeping views of farmers' fields add to the appeal of this tranquil rural location. The sandy towpath leads visitors alongside green fields of grazing sheep and cattle to the top of the staircase locks. Here you'll witness a more bustling scene as curious passers-by gather to watch the colourful boats make their halting progress up the flight of locks.
The Foxton Canal Museum occupies the site of the boat lift boiler-house, and down at the bottom of the locks, a tearoom and shop provide welcome refreshment.
The boat lift
July 1900 saw the opening of the Foxton Inclined Plane Boat Lift - commissioned to replace the 10 aging locks which took impatient boaters a total of 45 minutes to navigate. Ascending the new lift took only 12 minutes from start to finish. The plane was the brainchild of Gordon Cale Thomas. It raised and lowered boats on a steep slope in two large water-filled tanks. For the first time, it was also possible for wide-beam vessels to pass through Foxton - a crucial factor in the canal company's attempt to compete with the railways.
However, unwidened locks at nearby Watford continued to limit the volume of traffic coming through Foxton, and sadly, financial pressures led to the closure of this engineering feat after only ten years of operation. Despite this, Thomas' design inspired a number of larger boat lifts built elsewhere in Europe from the 1960s onwards.
But even without the boat lift, Foxton is a particularly popular destination for boaters and sight-seers alike. A comprehensive programme of visitor improvements is underway, led by the Foxton Locks Partnership and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Foxton Inclined Plane Trust is working towards restoration of the lift.
- Hear the navvy’s introduction to Foxton Locks
- Hear young Tilly’s tale as she gets her horse ready for a day’s work
- Hear about Derek the lock keeper’s work at Foxton Locks
- Listen to boat woman Lily’s story
- Learn about how engineer Gordon Thomas designed the inclined plane boat lift
- Hear about Foxton Locks from the museum manager, Mike