When you're talking about canals, foreign invasions may not immediately spring to mind – that is unless you live near the Kennet & Avon Canal and know about Stop Line Blue.
In 1940 this canal was a major defence line against an imminent invasion of German paratroopers. Every intersection and crossing point was fortified with a variety of obstacles manned by the Home Guard to hold up advancing tanks and troops. Now if that reminds you of a well-known TV programme you are in the right place!
Some seventy years later the remains of these defences are part of our canal heritage. This summer a couple of sites on the K&A have been in the news. One is a listed canalside pillbox that has just been restored at Rotherstone in the middle of Devizes. Not something that happens very often. Thanks to the efforts of local enthusiast John Girvan, who engineered some grant funding, we have been able to turn what was a bit of an eyesore into a real feature of interest. In the future it's going to be used by schools to help tell the story of Devizes in the Second World War.
Anti-tank rails at Oakhill Lock
The other site is at the listed Oakhill Lock a few miles east of Hungerford where we have been installing a new by-pass pipe to improve water management on the canal. The accommodation bridge at the tail of the lock was defended in 1940 by anti-tank rails – basically a barrier of vertical ironwork dropped into concrete slots in the ground in front of the bridge. When it was quiet the rails were removed and the slots capped over so that the bridge could be used. You do wonder how difficult it would have been for the enemy to have lifted the rails out themselves…
The rails have gone but somewhat to our amazement the concrete slots 1.2 metres deep are remarkably intact – not bad for something that was hastily installed in an emergency over seventy years ago. Unfortunately part of the installation had to be removed as it was right in the way of the new by-pass pipe, but this did provide an opportunity to do an archaeological investigation.
When visitors stop at Lock 68 in future there will be an interpretation panel explaining this isn’t just a lump of concrete on the ground, it’s heritage!
David Viner, Heritage Adviser for Kennet & Avon and South Wales & Severn
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 this author