Boaters' Update

Welcome to the third edition of 2016. Here you'll find news of the busiest lock on the network, a boat owners' survey, the Kiln in Newark and much, much more.

Kiln Lock on Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Brick Kiln Lock on Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, courtesy of davidcjones, Flickr

Welcome to the third edition of 2016. I had hoped by now that we’d be galloping rather than crawling towards spring. Despite the grey skies and dreary chill we’ve been warmed by boaters’ and the general publics’ generosity in helping piece back together the flood damaged waterways in the north.

At his time of year no introduction would be complete without a nod to Valentine’s. Read the article below about the reopening of the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port to see if it’s where you’ll choose to woo your Valentine. If not, there’re plenty of other ideas in the ‘Last week, this week’ section…

Continuing with the romantic theme, earlier this week we launched Love My Stretch, a new website inviting people to find their favourite stretch on a map and to share their waterway love story.

There’s also the opportunity to sponsor that stretch for a year or gift it to someone. It could be where that special someone popped the question, your favourite place to moor or just relax, boaters and waterway visitors across the country can now spread the love to their favourite stretch of canal or river this Valentine’s Day!

Elsewhere in this edition you’ll find:

If there’s something you’d like to share with the boating community via this update then please drop me a line.

Happy boating,


Last week, this week

Since the last edition you may have heard, or seen, that:

  • 2 Feb – We announced that if you’re planning to cruise the Shroppie this year then you’ll benefit from a £250,000 upgrade to three listed lock flights near Market Drayton.
  • 2 Feb - We launched a project on the Pocklington Canal to remove overgrowth and carry out tree works that will restore views of the popular canal.
  • 8 Feb – Earlier this week we asked if you could you help us breathe new life into the historic link between the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal and Stroudwater Navigation. Read more in the next edition of Boaters' Update.
  • 9 Feb – ‘Two Arms on Two Legs’. You read it correctly! Later this year you can join an event to run the Aylesbury Arm and Wendover Arm of the Grand Union, as part of a half marathon or 10k challenge.

Before the next edition is published you might like to know that:

  • 13 & 14 Feb – If you’re planning on popping the question this weekend then I doubt you can choose a more unique location than the bottom of a drained lock. Starting at Stoke Bruerne we're draining a section of the Grand Union next to The Canal Museum so that we can repair the ageing lock gates and restore some of the masonry inside the lock. It’s a free open weekend so come along, explore, and meet our expert team while you’re there!
  • 14 Feb – Your next choice of venue is on the Sheffield & Tinsley. We're replacing all of the gates on the lock flight at Tinsley. While it's drained we're inviting you to come along and take a tour around the bottom of the lock with our friendly maintenance team.
  • 14 Feb – How about a canal set in some of the most picturesque scenery? We’ve been working on a £2million restoration project on the Monmouthshire & Brecon and we’d love to see you at the Llangynidr open day.
  • 15 Feb – Come along to one of the northern waterways’ better known landmarks – the Bingley Three Rise Showcase. You'll get the chance to see our craftsmen repairing this famous canal landmark from a viewing platform at the top of the lock and talk to them about how we change the gates for new ones.
  • 21 Feb – If you’re based in the south then why not make your way to Sheffield Lock which is actually near Reading on the Kennet & Avon! We’re draining and repairing the lock walls and you’re welcome to come along and chat to the local team about how they look after these mammoth structures.

Of course, there are plenty of other activities around the network so please visit the events section of the website to find the perfect one for you.


And the busiest lock on the network is…

As we have done for the last 15 years, we’ve looked back at last year’s lockages (recorded use of the locks across the wonderful waterways). Our data comes from clever bits of monitoring kit that count each time a lock is used and beam the data back by the wonders of the Vodafone mobile network to our team who then skilfully crunch the numbers and tot up the totals.

Boats moored along Oxford CanalThe main conclusion from the latest issue of the report is that overall average recorded lock usage in 2015 decreased marginally, by 0.75% compared with 2014.

Four Waterways saw an increase in lockage (East Midlands, North West, South Wales & Severn, Kennet & Avon) whereas four showed a decrease (Central Shires, North East, North Wales & Borders, South East).

The remaining three (London, Manchester & Pennine, West Midlands) effectively showed no change. There are lots of factors at play which will influence how much the network is used – as boaters I’m sure you’ll all think of good reasons that mean some locks see lots of boating, and others are less well travelled.

Gathering all the data together, we estimate that total lock usage across all of our locks for 2015 is a staggering 3.69million – that’s a lot of effort with the windlass and a lot of gates to open and close too!  So, which had the most lockages and can claim to be the most popular on the system?

  • Hillmorton Lock 2 & 3, Oxford Canal – 9,101
  • New Marton Lock, Llangollen Canal – 8,779
  • Colwich Lock, Trent & Mersey Canal – 8,348
  • Cholmondeston Lock, Shropshire Union Canal – 7,850
  • Wardle Lock, Shropshire Union Canal – 7,282

If you want to find out how busy your local lock was please read the full report, including comparison with 2014 where data was available.


We want your views

Actually we want to hear from a third of boaters. As Mike Grimes, head of boating, mentioned in the last edition we’re conducting a survey of boat owners’ views to help inform our future work.

Black Black Prince in the PeakCarried out annually, we’ll be contacting one third of boaters each year so that we’ll have asked all boaters for their views in every three year cycle. It’s quite a wide ranging survey looking for opinions on things such as;

how you use our waterways and what your experience of them is like;
the services provided such as moorings and facilities;
the licence renewal process;
the ways you’d would like to receive information; and
your views on how well you feel we’re caring for the waterways. 
Using the feedback we’ll identify local examples of what is working well and what needs to be improved upon, so lessons can be learnt from best practice and improvements can be prioritised.

The online survey is accessed via a link in an email or letter (where we don’t hold email addresses) which will be sent to a third of boat licence holders in the coming week or so. 

So, please keep an eye on your inbox (or letterbox) and spam folder over the next few weeks and if you do receive a survey then please do let us know your thoughts.


National Waterways Museum reopens with a bang

The National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port is reopening for the 2016 season tomorrow (13 Feb) with a weekend packed full of performances, live music and film showings, plus all the usual museum activities.

Leverhulme Artist in Residence Francesca Millican-Slater will be debuting her performance created especially for the museum and local production company, Chalice Media, will be bringing history to life across the site by creating an all-encompassing, nineteenth century Living History experience focused at the original cottages in Porters Row. 

Inspired by stories of a historic canal walk by Wolverhampton workers to start a new life in Ellesmere Port, Francesca walked 90 miles along the Shropshire Union Canal from Birmingham to the museum.

With thanks to funding by The Leverhulme Trust, Francesca will be re-imagining that walk as she tells stories old and new, tracing the footsteps of the people that built, boated, lived, worked and walked the canal. Performances will take place at 12.00pm and 3.00pm on Saturday 13 February and 2.30pm on Sunday 14 February.  To reserve your free place please telephone 0151 373 4378.

Saturday evening will turn a little shady as the Chalice Media Cast and Crew reveal the darker side of inland waterway history when they recreate the Waterways Tavern on site.

There’ll be traditional music, singing, dancing, real ale and a no-holds-barred evening entertainment from 6.00pm. It’ll feature an all-new take on the gritty and vicious eighteenth-century melodrama ‘Maria Martin and The Murder in the Red Barn’.

Daytime activities on 13 and 14 February are family friendly but the evening entertainment is for over 18s only. If you live locally, in Ellesmere Port, then take along your proof of address for free entry. More details of the weekend can be found on our website


Concrete brewing history

The second to last article from our regional heritage advisors comes from Graham Mitchell who’s responsible for the East Midlands. In his contribution, Graham sings the praises of The Kiln in Newark.

“When you mention concrete to people, they don’t immediately think of heritage structures – particularly along the waterways. But those local to Newark-on-Trent will be familiar with the heritage structure I have chosen to talk about – the Grade II* listed Kiln Warehouse on Mather Road (built c1875).

“The Victorian era was a boom time for the malting industry, with an increased demand for malt in the later eighteenth century in turn leading to an increase in the size and scale of malt houses. The traditional method of obtaining malt from grain was carried out in these buildings by a process called ‘floor malting’, which saw the grain being steeped and germinated ready for delivery to the brewer.

“Specially designed structures were used for this process: the chief characteristics were a low floor to ceiling height, small window-like ventilation openings on germinating floors, and a taller drying kiln which featured a hipped or conical roof.

The Kiln“It was during this boom that The Kiln Warehouse, the first of two Trent side malt houses, was built. The Kiln, as its name is shortened to, was well located as a malt house - not only was Newark well positioned as a malting town (with a ready supply of raw materials available locally), but it was positioned on the banks of the mighty River Trent, which had been improved for navigation in 1782. Newark was a major malting centre of its time.

“The materials used to build the malt houses prior to the construction of The Kiln were mainly brick, although some were made of stone. In time a desire to increase the size of the structures necessitated the use of alternate materials, and therefore concrete and steel started to be used selectively for floor construction.

“The Kiln is believed to be one of the first, if not the first, mass concrete malting with its construction dating to approximately 1875 (we know this as there are invoices for cast iron columns for a structure from the appointed ironmongers, W N Nicholson & Son of Newark in existence – the marvels of recordkeeping!).

“This was certainly aided once again by the building’s proximity to the river, as river gravel was the recommended aggregate for early concrete construction, and there was no shortage of this material available, which also benefitted the navigation through dredging.

“It is believed that The Kiln was originally built for landowner John Henry Manners-Sutton of Kelham Hall (who is recorded as owning the site upon which The Kiln stands in 1864), and its first tenants were Harvey and Earp, malters. Historians suggest that James Hole and Company may have bought or taken on the leasehold of The Kiln at some point in the 1880s.

The Kiln ablaze“Sadly The Kiln lost its original hipped roofs in 1992, when it was subject to a fire – at the time it was being used a chocolate warehouse by Peel & Bowler. Restoration followed, and The Kiln became offices in c.1997. Our East Midlands waterway team is one of the current occupiers along with the UK office of the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, and the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

“Those of you familiar with Newark will know that The Kiln, which sits in a conservation area, is an impressive structure on the waterways. So next time you hear someone deriding concrete construction, spare a thought for The Kiln.”


Graffiti – your views

Following on from Graham’s heritage article above, the one featured in the last edition, by London and south east heritage advisor, Florence Salberter, inspired quite a few of you to get in touch with your thoughts.

Without doubling the length of this entire edition it’s impossible to reproduce them all (there is a link at the bottom of this article) but I thought it was worth giving a flavour of a few:

  • It is an eyesore and nothing else, mainly for the reason that it is a 'fad' which has lasted 30 years and shows no sign of going away… these people are not 'artists', they are artistically and intellectually stunted individuals perpetuating a form of pop-art which had its day probably the best part of 40 years ago in the States and then slavishly copied over here for the last three of those four decades… they should be chain-ganged and forced to remove every square inch of their 'handiwork'. With toothbrushes. Well, you did ask ;o)
  • Why not put up boards/hoardings in safe places in front of some the lovely brickwork and let the artists loose!  Then when the boards are full - take them down and put up some more.  That way the brickwork is preserved and the artists can do their stuff!!
  • Just looking at your debate about graffiti, from a bricklayer’s point of view they have just destroyed my work.
  • The Grand Union canal in Leamington Spa has a wonderful haiku by Basho, spray painted onto a bridge support. It's a few years old now and a bit faded - I'm tempted to pop out with a spray can and brighten it up!
  • I have never seen good graffiti anywhere on the waterways but it does serve a useful purpose – “don’t even think of mooring here!” Maybe I’m cynical, but one of my first canal experiences as a teenager was setting off on a hire boat from Hawkesbury Junction (I think) where the lovely iron towpath bridge carried huge white letters – ‘Hitler was right!’ That was in about 1972 and I hope it’s not still there…
  • Stop being so old fashioned... Gentrifying is the word... Move with the times and embrace the new... Do you really think the waterways will be here in 10,000 years’ time?

The comments above pretty much reflect the spectrum of views sent in. As ever I appreciate your views and welcome any more you’d like to share.

If this subject interests you then please do take the time to read all of the responses in full – they include at least one inventive form of punishment for those caught ‘mid-spray’.


Bits and Bobs

  • With a fair few locks drained for Open Days, and other restoration projects, please make sure you check the stoppage section of the website before setting off on your cruise. You might also want to check the weather
  • A boater got in touch last week to ask about the legality of flinging dog poo in to the canal. I’m told that some dog owners seem to think it’s OK. It’s actually a criminal offence. Byelaw 40 of the General Canal Byelaws state: “No person shall throw or discharge into or on any canal material of any kind.” The message is simple: please just bag it up and, like your litter, put it in a bin.
  • Did you know that, via our web licensing system, you can sign into your account (if you’ve created one), and print a set of paper plates? This is ideal if your boat has additional covers during the winter months as it means you can stick them on the cover windows and we’ll still be able to see your index number!
  • And finally, are you new to boating? Does the thought of steering and navigating through a lock fill you with dread? Not to worry, get along to this year’s Crick Boat Show and you’ll be able to take part in some boat handling taster sessions – best to book early as initial interest suggests that they’re likely to be popular!

Happy boating,



Last date edited: 12 February 2016

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The boaters' update

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