Conserving engineering ingenuity on Grantham Canal

In February 2020 restoration coordinator, Katie Woodroffe, visited Woolsthorpe Flight on Grantham Canal to learn more about the impressive Grantham Canal Heritage Initiative Project.

Grantham Canal first opened in 1797 to assist in the transportation of coal from Nottingham to Grantham. It was the first ever English canal that relied entirely on reservoirs for its water supply. The man to whom we owe the design and engineering is William Jessop –­­­ a name you may not have heard before.

Nonetheless, it was a hugely prosperous canal. In its final years it was used to transport human waste, known as ‘nightsoil’, to farms in the Vale of Belvoir to be used as fertiliser. However, the canal couldn’t compete with the development of the Grantham to Nottingham railway in 1850, and in 1929 the waterway was finally closed to boats.

View from inside lock 14 View from inside lock 14

It’s a canal that runs through some stunning countryside. I was lucky enough to visit on a cold, crisp but beautifully clear winter’s day. I was there to see the restoration project currently taking place, supported by the Grantham Canal Heritage Initiative (GCHI). The GCHI is led by the Canal & River Trust, working in partnership with Grantham Canal Society, Waterway Recovery Group and the local authorities of the areas that the canal runs through.

Nearing completion

I met up with Karen Rice, project manager for the Canal & River Trust, who gave me a good overview of the restoration of Locks 12-15, part of the Woolsthorpe Flight. Lock 15 was completed in 2018. It’s expected that Lock 14 will be completed very soon and the restoration carefully considers conserving the original features of the lock.

The most recent phase of the work has been made possible thanks to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, who awarded £830,800 over the five-year duration of the project (2015-2020). Other contributors are the Canal & River Trust (£663,000) and Grantham Canal Society (£95,000). We are also grateful for generous support from FCC Communities Foundation, Grantham Canal Partnership, Donald Forrester Trust, Michael Worth on behalf of Waynflete Charitable Trust and the family of Alan Applewhite.

The gates of Lock 15 were made at our workshop at Stanley Ferry The gates of Lock 15 were made at our workshop at Stanley Ferry

Volunteer power

From the project’s first days in 2015 right up until the present day, volunteers have poured thousands of hours of hard work into it. What I find so amazing about the restoration of Lock 15 is that it was built entirely by volunteers. The dedication and commitment shown by the Grantham Canal Society volunteers, along with practical support from the Waterway Recovery Group volunteer teams, is nothing short of remarkable. More than 22,000 bricks and 4,500 concrete blocks were laid, held together by 400 cubic metres of ready-mixed concrete.

Training and upskilling of volunteers has been just as important as restoring the canal to a navigable waterway. The project offers several valuable training opportunities, attracting volunteers of all ages and backgrounds. They can take part in training weekends on topics from bricklaying to event organisation, and there are often cakes involved too!

One of the training objectives of the project is ‘to develop training and participation that can enable the participant to gain transferable, recognised work skills’. We’re achieving this through a programme of practical skills training courses for large numbers of volunteers. Not only does this ensure value for volunteers, but it also helps us to work towards the sustainable maintenance of the canal in future.

Volunteers hard at work on lock 14 Volunteers hard at work on lock 14

Benefits for nature

The outreach work that surrounds this restoration project is of model quality, with a team of volunteers dedicated to involving the community in bringing this canal back to life. Not only does the team focus on educating people about the importance of conserving heritage, but part of their work also entails highlighting the canal’s value to nature.

There are several sections of land surrounding the canal that are designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). These areas are hotspots for local wildlife, showcasing the biodiversity of this piece of quintessential English countryside. During my visit I was lucky enough to see a beautiful buzzard soaring overhead – a great indicator of the health of these habitats.

Just a small part of the stunning countryside surroundings Just a small part of the stunning countryside surroundings

Want to join in?

The Grantham Canal Society are always looking for volunteers to lend a hand, and the work will hopefully soon continue on to Lock 13. You don’t have to be able to do manual labour, as they also need assistance with marketing, campaigns, fundraising, outreach events, grass cutting and tea making!

If you’re interested in getting involved and spending time with these passionate teams, please visit the Grantham Canal Society website for more information.

Last date edited: 16 November 2020