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News article created on 12 September 2012

Water wheel that powered Industrial Revolution given top transport award

Claverton Pumping Station, near Bath, which opened in 1813 as part of the pioneering canal route between London and Bristol, has been honoured with a Red Wheel award from the Transport Trust.

The value of the freight route on the Kennet & Avon Canal cannot be overstated. It was the motorway of its day. Vince Moran, operations director at the Canal & River Trust

The Red Wheel programme, which is a transport equivalent of the English Heritage’s blue plaque scheme, recognises Britain's greatest transport heritage sites.

The Pumping Station was designed by one of the innovators of the Industrial Revolution, engineer John Rennie (1761-1821), to supply water to the Kennet & Avon Canal which acted as a freight route between the two major trading cities.

The principal method of supplying water for canals was by drawing off from streams or rivers, but where a natural supply was unavailable an alternative method was needed. To solve this problem on the Kennet & Avon, Rennie built two pumping stations to supply water from sources at lower levels. At Crofton he used a coal fired steam engine to pump water from Wilton reservoir, at Claverton he used a large water wheel on the site of a former grist mill to pump water from the mill pond supplied from the River Avon.

Claverton Pumping Station, a Grade II listed building, is owned by the Canal & River Trust and managed in conjunction with Kennet & Avon Canal volunteers, who carry out all the maintenance and repair work. Today, separate electric pumps provide a regular supply of water to the canal at Claverton, but the historic pumping mechanism driven by a pair of mill wheels still works and is capable of supplementing the supply if required.

Vince Moran, operations director at the Canal & River Trust, which is responsible for the 2,000 miles of waterways in England and Wales, said: “The Red Wheel plaque recognises John Rennie’s engineering masterstroke and the dedication and foresight of today’s volunteers who have made sure the station continues to operate.

“The value of the freight route on the Kennet & Avon Canal cannot be overstated. It was the motorway of its day, vital to the trade between the west country and London and for delivering coal to Bath, Bristol and Wiltshire from the Somerset coalfields. Claverton was central to keeping the canal in water on this route. We are delighted it has been recognised with this honour.”

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