New life for a forgotten piece of history, the humble rope roller.
At a steady walking pace a horse can move about fifty times as much weight in a boat as it could if it were pulling a cart, and possibly a hundred times its own body weight.
On the canal the floating load moves with minimal friction, and the strength of the horse is linked directly to the boat by a towrope with little wasted energy. This efficiency inspired the development of the canal system in the 18th century and continued to power this transportation on water for over 150 years.
But that towrope was so strong and taut that it could grind away the strongest stone as it passed through locks and bridges. Rope marks from these ropes snarling and snagging on bricks and stonework is still evident all over the canal network and is testament to a time before engines powered the boats.
To protect the precious bridges and locks from this damage, Canal Companies came up with a variety of methods to protect the stones. Some iron rubbing strips are still insitu.
Rope rollers were an ingenious method of easing the ropes around obstacles, and the remains of these can still be seen around the canal network.
At Elland Bridge, which was so badly and irrepairably damaged in the Boxing Day floods of 2015, the remains of two cast iron rope rollers were retrieved before the demolition took place.
In January this year, a rusting section of one roller and two top fixing brackets were delivered to H Downs in Huddersfield. H Downs, Iron Founders and Pattern Makers, is still a family run business and cast items as diverse as gearing for David Brown, garden benches and even life-sized deer! Nigel Downs and his team were asked to fill in the missing parts and construct 2 new cast iron rollers with fixing brackets based as far as they could gather, from the original design. No mean feat as the remains were pretty much rusted away and certainly seized up so there was no roller action anymore. It seems that the roller had seized up many years before becoming redundant, as the ropes had continued to drag on the metal until the roller had worn right through.
The wooden patterns for the new rollers have now been made and are ready for casting. We have added Canal & River Trust wording to show these are new rollers of 2017 but they match as far as possible the old rollers that worked so hard since 1811!
The new rollers will be installed on the bridge soon and whilst the road is now open, the Grand Opening of the completed bridge, with the Calder and Hebble Navigation open once more for boats, will take place on Sunday 2nd April.
The work carried out by the heritage team is extremely varied, covering all sorts of structures and a wide variety of projects. Not one week is the same and we keep learning all the time, meeting some fascinating people and visiting stunning places along the way. We are hoping that through our blogs we can share some of our passion for the amazing industrial heritage of the inland waterways.See more blogs from Heritage team