Read the story of how the Canal & River Trust came to be
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We have vacancies across all of our waterways and in the offices, museums and attractions that support them. We're one of the UK's biggest charities and we take pride in everything we do
If you're thinking of getting in touch then please take a moment to look through these pages as we probably have the answer on our website
Planning & design
All you need to know about planning and design on our canals and rivers
Find a winter mooring
Find a cosy section of canal to hunker down in this winter
10 reasons to take up canoeing
It's a great way to get fit and explore our waterways at the same time
Share the Space
Take a look at our common sense guide to sharing the towpath
Find a place to fish
From reservoirs to club-managed canals and river stretches - find your nearest place to fish
Get your free guide
Download your free guide today and start exploring the waterway nature near you
Download your free guides
You've nine free days out guides to choose from - where will you go first?
Find a walk near you
Are you ready to ramble? Find a waterside stroll or a satisfying hike along our beautiful canals and rivers
Take a look at our upcoming events here.
Find your favourite waterway
With over 95 canals, rivers, reservoirs, docks and navigations, find out more about your favourite waterway
Something for everyone
Help us make a difference and have fun along the way. Find your perfect volunteer role today
Join our team
Could you join your local Towpath Taskforce team and help us to keep our canals looking lovely?
Desmond Family Canoe Trail
If you're aged 16-25 and would like to get involved with this exciting project, please get in touch
Could you be a volunteer lock keeper?
Find out what's involved with this popular volunteering opportunity
We love and care for your canals and rivers, because everyone deserves a place to escape.
In 1992, as part of the BW Architectural Heritage Survey, I walked the Oxford Canal from Hawkesbury to Oxford and inspected all its historic structures.
At the time, there was a waterway office at Marston Doles and someone there showed me a calf-bound, roughly A5 sized Chain Book that dated from around 1842 and was signed by the canal engineer Frederick Wood. It was basically a survey of the Oxford Canal, with every two pages covering a mile and listing all the weirs, locks, bridges, wharves, toll offices and so on, with details about them. I made a lot of notes from it, stuck them in my rucksack and set off along the canal.
It took me about three weeks to complete my survey and then I moved on to some other waterway. Not long afterwards, the Marston Doles office closed and the original Chain Book vanished. I’ve never seen it since, but recently I got hold of a photocopy from someone at the Warwickshire Industrial Archaeology Society and I’ve scanned it for safekeeping.
Looking through the Chain Book again is fascinating. People had scribbled notes in it ranging in date from the 1840s to the 1970s – it was a real slice of everyday working history. It records that the Oxford Canal Company owned stone quarries, lime kilns, osier beds, pubs and wharves. Giving their names or numbers, it lists all the different types of bridge – turnpike, parish road, occupation, towing path, drawbridge and notes when each was built, rebuilt or demolished, right up to the late 1970s. It reveals that in 1842, 9,900 boats crossed the Oxford summit and 20,059 boats passed through Hillmorton, no doubt benefitting from the newly built paired locks, which cost ‘upwards of £1400 each’ and were ‘completed and opened to the Trade on 25 August 1840’.
The Hillmorton Locks were ‘built upon running quick sand, which occasioned much difficulty in their erection’ and ‘all the Lower Gates are of Cast Iron’. Several of these gates survive to this day and must be the oldest operational gates owned by the Trust. Full size wooden patterns for these iron gates survived in a workshop at Hillmorton until the late 1980s and I tried to find a home for them, without much success as I recollect now.
Documents like the Oxford Canal Chain Book are invaluable for uncovering the hidden history of our waterways and it is good that copies still exist. But one question remains; what happened to the original book?
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.