In a new addition, further work here will see poetry by Jo Bell carved into the lock gate by the artist Peter Coates to celebrate the birth year of the Canal & River Trust. This art project is part of an exciting partnership between the Canal & River Trust and Arts Council England which aims to attract more visitors to Britain's historic waterways.
This winter, the Canal & River Trust is spending £50m on conservation and maintenance works across 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales, replacing 104 lock gates and undertaking other essential repairs. Along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, four other lock gate replacements and two repairs will be taking place meaning that in the last three years more than half of the locks on this canal have been replaced or repaired.
This lock, which was constructed between 1794-98 and was designed by renowned canal pioneer Benjamin Outram, has seen sculptor Peter Coates carve lines by poet Jo Bell into the lock beam to create an artwork that continues the tradition of craftsmanship on the canals.
Long-standing link between art and the waterways
Arts development manager Tim Eastop explains the project's significance to the Canal & River Trust: “There is a longstanding link between arts and the waterways - indeed, the canal locks we use today are based on Leonardo da Vinci's design for a lock at San Marco in Milan in 1497. Art in all its forms has a fantastic capacity to surprise, delight and challenge and we are exploring a whole range of projects which we hope will encourage people to visit and support the waterways. We hope that this project, called ‘Locklines' makes people smile and take a moment to stop and think about the wonderful canals that are on their doorsteps.”
Lock gate making and fitting is an extremely skilled and traditional trade and one that remains essential to the waterways. Lock gates are constructed with tremendous strength as they have to control huge water pressures, take the hard usage they get from the thousands of boats which use them each year and survive for a long time underwater and at the mercy of the elements. In order to be waterproof they also need to be built very precisely, fitting tightly to the masonry of the lock walls and to each other.
£50million each winter on lock repairs
Vince Moran, the Canal & River Trust operations director, said: “Repairing, maintaining and caring for the canal and river infrastructure underpins the cause of the Trust. The winter stoppage programme is essential to enable the canal and river network to be used by boaters, canoeists, cyclists, anglers and walkers. We spend around £50m every winter on lock gate repairs and replacements, brick work repairs to lock chambers as well as embankment maintenance, essential works on reservoirs an many other activities.
“We have 25,000 different assets that we maintain and care for every year, which involves a wide range of expertise across many disciplines including civil engineering, operational specialists, heritage, environmental specialists and water management.”
As different canals were originally built by individual pre-Victorian entrepreneurs, each one varies from the other and there is no standard design. Therefore, every individual lock gate is unique to its canal and has to be hand crafted to achieve a water-tight fit in its chamber.
May Gurney is sponsoring this year's winter stoppage programme. Eddie Quinn, framework manager for the Canal & River Trust at May Gurney stated: “We are incredibly proud to play our part in the Trust's essential work to preserve the canals and rivers of England and Wales. Few people realise that many canal locks, buildings and structures are listed monuments and that the waterway network is one of the finest living references to Britain's industrial revolution.”
A series of open days are happening across the country showcasing this repair work, with two in the Yorkshire and Pennine regions: