A head for heritage: Meet John Webb
John Webb just loves the waterways and particularly getting his hands on old structures. It could be said he has a bit of a thing about cranes. During his 17 years of volunteering in the Bath area he has been instrumental in bringing derelict canal heritage back to life.
I spent my entire working life in the construction industry. I learnt to be a bricklayer at Technical College and progressed through quantity surveying, site and project management and latterly as an expert witness and arbitrator on construction disputes both in this country and around the world.
All of this has left me with a love of tackling practical tasks, feeling material in my hands and seeing a job progress to completion. No two jobs are ever the same.
My first involvement at Dundas was in 2003 when I took the lead in the restoration of the old toll house. It then had no roof or windows and was in a very sad state.
Apart from the slate roof covering and the off-site manufacture of the windows and shutters, all the work was undertaken by volunteers. I certainly improved my masonry skills on it. The building is now used as a Welcome Station.
Our efforts were rewarded with a Red Wheel plaque from the Transport Trust.
Rebuilding, resurfacing, renovating
The Trust funded the resurfacing of the wharf area to meet requirements. Throughout the toll house renovation, we worked closely with firstly British Waterways and then Trust heritage advisors.
My ‘thing’ with cranes started back in 2002 when I became project leader on the re-build of the timber wharf-side crane at Burbage Wharf. It is the last surviving example of these cranes, which were once common along the Kennet & Avon Canal. It was a bit of a monster with a 10m long jib and required about 4.5 tonnes of green oak.
We rebuilt the crane at Claverton Pumping Station, just along the canal from Dundas.
We also had to carry out extensive foundation re-construction to stabilise the retained 600mm dia. timber post on which the crane ‘hangs’. We completed the work in 2010. While the crane can slew, due to current safety regulations, it can only deal with token loads.
At Dundas we have another wharf-side crane, this one made in cast iron. It was built by Acramans of Bristol in or about 1812 and is the last surviving example of its cranes. The firm went out of business in 1859.
One of its uses was to lift the gauging stones used to calculate the tolls levied on the boats. We are currently stripping the paint back to the bare metal and have started applying the high-performance paint specified by the Trust’s heritage team.
Cast iron commitment
Over the years I have worked with the Bath Towpath Taskforce, helping with routine maintenance such as cutting back vegetation and repainting locks and swing bridges between Hanham and Dundas.
I have been involved with the hard landscaping at the river/canal junction in Bath, strengthening the foundations at Folly Bridge, reconstructing the lengthman’s ‘Hovel’ at Bathampton, repairing and replacing seats along the canal and replacing Bath stone copings at Dundas and Bathampton.
I'm nearly 84 and I still go to the gym. I view my volunteering days as additional workouts.John Webb
I’ve been a boater since the late 1960’s, though sadly had to sell our boat last year since advancing years were making it difficult for my wife and I to handle it safely.
I love everything to do with canals and volunteering and am an honorary vice president of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust. These activities allow me to put something back into the waterways that have given me so much boating pleasure.
I love working in the fresh air and with interesting people who bring different skills and companionship.
Boaters and towpath users often show an interest in our work and tell us how glad they are that we are helping with the upkeep of the canal. It makes us feel appreciated.
Last date edited: 16 April 2019