Naburn Locks: a hidden gem

Scattered around our waterways there are hidden gems; places that deserve more visitors and recognition. Naburn Locks, on the River Ouse six miles from York, is one such place.

If you get the chance to visit Naburn Locks and enjoy its history and peaceful scenery, you should certainly do so.

Here, in the 1750s, to improve navigation on this flood-prone river, two John Smiths (father and son) built a lock and weir combination that is the most impressive piece of engineering on any English navigation before 1760. It created an island which then had a watermill built upon it. In 1823 the Trustees of the Ouse Navigation built the fine-looking Greek Revival Banqueting House nearby.

Further work took place in Victorian times when a new larger lock was built alongside the original one. This was opened in 1888 by Prince Albert Victor (‘Eddy,’ to his friends) and at the same time two lock-keepers’ cottages and a range of offices and workshops were built.

The locks at Naburn are kitted out with impressive cast iron swing-bridges and shrouded paddle gearing. The bridges bear small shields with the City of York arms on them. But just as impressive in their own way are the workshops, one of which contains a huge blacksmith’s hearth complete with bellows. The second workshop contains overhead pulleys and shafts that once ran belt-driven lathes and saws, originally powered by a waterwheel or else by a long-vanished steam engine. In later years this was replaced by an auxiliary engine that is still in the loft space of the workshops. Wall-mounted iron cogs, wooden patterns and other waterway-related tools and artefacts complete the picture.

A continuing problem with Naburn is that it frequently floods (it lies a mere 2.5 metres above sea level). Over time this is damaging the historic buildings on the site and it is not clear yet what might be done to prevent this. But under normal conditions the Trust’s lock-keeper is happy to show visitors around, so if you get the chance to visit Naburn Locks and enjoy its history and peaceful scenery, you should certainly do so.

Last date edited: 13 February 2014

About this blog

Nigel Crowe

As national heritage manager, Nigel’s role is to lead the Canal & River Trust’s team of regional heritage advisers in England and Wales. He has over 25 years’ experience of working in the conservation, archaeology and interpretation of historic buildings and places. He is a member of the editorial board of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation. He has written numerous articles concerning heritage conservation and is the author of several longer published works, including the English Heritage Book of Canals.

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