Over 2014/15 there were over 130 incidents of bridges being hit by vehicles, and in the last few months I have been involved in another three on the Grand Union Canal and the Aylesbury Arm alone.
Bridge 53, which crosses the village of Stoke Bruerne on the Grand Union canal had a large section of its parapet rebuilt in June this year. Bridge 2 on the Aylesbury Arm will need an extensive rebuild of both parapets - part of which was rebuilt not that many years ago. Finally bridge 121 in Horton on the Grand Union Canal had an end pier almost knocked off, likely to be from a van that reversed into it. All three are Grade II listed.
Whenever we can, we will salvage the existing bricks, cleaning them of their old mortar so we can reuse them to rebuild the damaged section, but we always need to source new bricks too. Sourcing bricks to match those made and used in the past is not straightforward and can require a lot of research.
We will look into reclaim and new, ideally hand-made bricks. Sizes, texture, density and of course colour variation can vary immensely. The bridge might have had several repairs made over the years and then we need to decide which bricks would be the most appropriate. The brickwork will have accumulated soot and lichen. However careful we are, every time we need to carry out some repairs we lose a little of that historic material, of that patina and texture gained over centuries.
Bridge 2 and bridge 121 are on the programme of work to be carried out shortly. The extent of works, new bricks type and mortar mixes have been agreed and the works discussed with the respective conservation officers.
Ongoing maintenance and repairs is part and parcel of looking after a historic network of canals and there is plenty to do with ongoing wear and tear. Such works are an additional unexpected burden on our resources both in terms of finance and time. Please slow down and take care while driving over these old bridges, they are part of our cultural heritage.
Heritage adviser, London & South-East
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