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Canal cottages

In the heyday of the canals, when commercial cargo was a common sight up and down the waterway network, a considerable number of workers were required to keep our trunk routes operating efficiently. All of these people needed somewhere to live, and consequently, the lock keeper’s cottage evolved.

Lock Cottage, Ystradgynlais

Some of the most popular canals boasted a small army of staff including lengthsmen, responsible for simple maintenance, lock keepers, to ensure the smooth running of locks, and, most importantly, toll collectors.

Canal architecture is above all functional, and this is evident in the design of the traditional lock cottage. Two up, two down and constructed from local materials, the cottages still exude a rustic charm – perhaps due to their enviable locations. Canal cottages are often strategically sited at the top of lock flights, and consequently enjoy picture postcard views.

Canal architects would occasionally add stylistic touches to workers' cottages. Some boasted bay windows which made it easier for the lock keeper to keep an eye on canal traffic – the same logic which prompted the traditional design of the toll house. However, there are doubts as to whether visibility or simple economy led to the interesting circular cottages which dot the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal.

Kingfisher in flight with small fish in its beak

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Last Edited: 17 August 2023

photo of a location on the canals
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