I started work with the Trust as a heritage adviser in January 2015. It seems like only yesterday when I stepped inside my first lock chamber at Fradley Junction during the 2014-15 stoppage season. I can say the job of protecting and conserving our waterways heritage has been challenging and largely rewarding
The canal historic environment is like no other that I have worked on. The heritage principles remain the same but the practical elements differ. Unlike a stately home or a row of Georgian cottages our locks and bridges may be listed, scheduled, part of wildlife protection sites, be a habitat to protected species such as bats, in a harsh aquatic environment and part of a transport network that is still in use. All of these elements add a new layer of complexities to any project:
‘Is listed building consent in place? Is planning permission required? Is flood defence consent in place? Has mitigation been established for the protected bat species on site? Has the Environment Agency and Natural England been consulted?....’ The list goes on and heritage is a link in a wider proposal to protect our historic and natural environment for our visitors.
In certain scenarios the heritage best practice you find in a textbook isn’t always appropriate. As an example, sometimes using traditional lime mortar during the milder drier ‘lime season’, in the spring and summer months, is not always possible.
A summer stoppage and closure of important networks during peak boating season may not be desirable from an operational standpoint. Because of this, our highly skilled construction teams use a stronger and quicker setting lime in the less than ideal and challenging winter climate.
Compromise is important but as a heritage adviser the long term survival and continued use of our heritage assets is vital and I can look back on the various works I have been involved in with a sense of pride and know I have made a positive impact in protecting our heritage.
Based in Fazeley the role has given me the opportunity to travel from Leeds to Milton Keynes and Stoke on Trent to Stoke Bruerne. Traveling across our waterways network in this way allows you to fully appreciate the scope, scale and variety of our canals.
As I move on to pastures new with the Museum of Science and Industry at Manchester I am taking the leap forward chronologically from canals to railways working on the redevelopment of the world’s oldest surviving passenger railway terminus.
I look back at my time with the Canal & River Trust and think fondly of the many colleagues I have met and the years of experience I have had the benefit of working with and learning from. There are various places on the waterway where I have worked on repairs to our heritage assets that I will always remember and pop back to check on the many bridges and locks I helped repair.
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