Reporting from Seven Locks on the Wilts & Berks
Camp 12 - Wilts & Berks Canal 30th July - 6th August
This was, in essence, the second week of a two-week camp for us on Locks 3 and 4 of the Seven Locks flight, as BITM ran one the week before. On that camp, we had 25 volunteers on the first week-end and between 12 and 14 during the week, and a tremendous amount was achieved ready for the start of Camp 12. Due to the cancellation of the Mon & Brec Camp due to run simultaneously with ours, we finished up with 22 for this week. Panic - had we enough work, could we fit them all in on site, not to mention in the accommodation? As it turned out, apart from being a bit cosy in the Foxham Reading Rooms it worked very well, and we managed to get more work done than we had dreamed possible.
The teams were divided up, and swapped around to some extent between Locks 3 and 4 (which fortunately are quite close together) doing different types of work. Apart from the wing walls at either end, Lock 3 has largely been completed over the last couple of years. Lock 4. on the other hand, had had little work done on it for some years before the BITM camp last week, and was very overgrown and silted up. So there was a lot of vegetation clearance from the brickwork and digging out some pretty messy s—t from the lock chamber involved.
Apart from Wednesday, when he skived off for a few hours to look after his boat. Jeremy took charge of the Lock 4 team, leaving Luke and myself to sort out the work on Lock 3. By lunchtime on Monday. the Lock 4 group, consisting mainly of Jeremy, David Harris, Helga, Becka, Nigel and David Hudson (with some help from Andrew, Arnie and Daniel for a few hours on Sunday) had cleared the vegetation, re vealing the poor state of the brickwork on this lock. It has obviously suffered from some movement on the off side, and will have to be taken down eventually almost to the invert. We had the pump running and repaired the leak in the dam at the top end. Clearing the silt also started on the Sunday, and on Monday we moved our hired 7-tonne digger up to the bottom of the lock, where Jeremy proceeded to remove the silt just above the dam there, so that we could pump more water out. He then moved the digger along the lock chamber to start removing some of the infill.
Our Dauntsey dumper arrived. Using a scaffolding pole, we determined that there was about 1 metre of silt and clay and bricks to be cleared out of the lock. we were able to lower the digger bucket into the lock chamber, so the human diggers could fill it with rubble and clay for removal. The team was augmented on Tuesday. with the addition of Taz and Sophie, and the clearance work continued.
In Jeremy's absence on the Wednesday, I took over the digger and had to dig an extra sump below the lock to help the water which had collected over-night to be pumped away. We quickly found that as we dug away more silt, the digger bucket could no longer be lowered for enough of the human diggers to reach to fill it. so we had to rethink our ideas: I moved the digger down to the tail of the lock, and dug away some of the towpath side by the lower lock gate entrance, which allowed us to reach down to the invert. We were then able to pump out the excess water with the Honda pump, and the machine bucket was able to remove dumper loads of the slimy stuff. The team were then able to get down into the invert in their wellies and waders - apart from Becka who waded in regardless in her leather boots, so it quickly became impossible to distinguish where boot and sock ended and bare leg began!
On Thursday. a fair amount of water had collected again overnight, which was effectively removed by the Honda pump. with the lift and force pump keeping the water level down, and removing the silt. The team cleared to the end of the gate recesses.
First thing on Friday - before she got plastered with muck again - I gave Becka her first training session on the 7-tonne digger.. and I hope that she will take this further, either on another camp or the training weekend next year. The team then pushed on a further 12ft into the lock chamber, before we had to stop work to clean up.
Meanwhile on Lock 3, a different type of work was getting underway. We started on the Sunday with our local work party members Alan and Michael first putting another 6 courses on the towpath wing wall, and then in the afternoon under the `supervision' of Ron-the-brick, setting out the curved offside wall and getting the first 4 courses on so both walls were well started for camp members to continue on over the week. John, Tess and Keith (Krusty) backfilled behind the concrete wall on the towpath wall up to the existing level. A big team consisting of Mario, John G., Amie, Becka, James Butler, Daniel, David Hudson and Andrew moved clay into the offside wall, and also poured concrete into the hollow concrete block wall. The same team later moved 80 hollow concrete blocks down onto the worksite ready for use, together with 500 bricks. The last job of the day was to put a load of concrete into the towpath wall between the bricks and the blocks, before departing to Wootton Bassett showers, returning to the hall for a superb roast beef dinner cooked by Di.
On Monday, Keith, Rob and Taz completed a further 3 courses of brickwork on the offside wing wall, whilst John G and Daniel cleaned the old brickwork on the offside ready for bricklaying by the exit from the lock chamber. John and Tess H cleaned the old brickwork on the towpath side, and reinstated about 8 courses. James, Sophie and Amie cleaned old bricks ready for re-laying. David Hudson went off with Luke to do a number of jobs, including buying a new pair of green wellies after his old work shoes had died the death the day before, and he actually managed to keep them clean until after afternoon tea-break. Seven of us were involved in making concrete after lunch and placed it in the towpath wall, with Amie spreading the concrete as it went in and playing with the vibrator. Andrew and Mario were the barrow-boys, with myself, Helga and James feeding Jumbo (our big mixer). Everybody came off site plastered from both locks and went off to W.B. to get clean again - in fact they arrived back at the hall so clean that Di didn't believe they'd actually been working - and we enjoyed a great spag bol.
On Tuesday, Amie, Daniel, Andrew, John G and Mario started puddling clay behind the hollow concrete block wall, whilst Rob and Krusty continued to bricklay, John and Tess started laying part of the old brick wall, and Luke kept the brickies supplied with mortar. We took delivery of another 1.5 tonnes of cement and a 16-tonne load of ballast. Ray Alldridge was also moving clay and materials up to backfill behind the towpath lock chamber wall. Another hard day, so we were glad to get back and relax with a BBQ in the evening.
On Wednesday, Luke was in charge of Lock 3 while I was deputising for Jeremy on Lock 4, and bricklaying continued on both walls - Rob, Krusty and Helga on new bricks, and John and Tess on the old bricks. The younger contingent were introduced to the intricacies of laying concrete hollow blocks, and filling them with concrete. Ray continued backfilling behind the lock chamber wall.
After tea, myself, Luke, Di and Jeremy had to go off to a branch meeting, so the rest went off to Swindon to the cinema.
Ray used our smaller 3-tonne digger to move clay to behind the blockwork on Thursday, with Daniel and John G softening it with water and puddling it in, and Amie, Andrew and Mario moved clay to behind the offside concrete blockwork wall. A big effort was made on both facing walls to bring the brick-work up as high as possible.
Thursday was skittles evening at the Trotting Horse at Bushton, and Nigel excelled himself, with Amie close behind, until we started on the rounds of using opposite hand, one leg in the air, backwards through the legs, etc.
On Friday, Rob continued bricklaying on the curved wall until lunchtime, whilst everybody else was involved in concrete mixing and filling the towpath wall between the brickwork and blockwork.
We had discovered the previous evening that today was Rob's birthday, the big 60, so (not having had time to bake one) Di rushed out and bought a birthday cake, and everyone signed a card, including Rob's dogs, and surprised him at lunchtime.
After lunch, we filled the offside wall as well. We finished construction work about 3pm in order to clean all the tools and clear and tidy the site. After our showers, we cleaned all the vehicles ready for packing up the following day, and we were treated to an excellent roast dinner and fresh strawberry trifle to celebrate the end of an extremely successful camp.
Several volunteers said they would come back on any camp where Di was cooking, because they enjoyed her puddings and cakes so much!
I would like to thank everybody for their fantastic efforts in making this week so successful, especially Jeremy, who looked after the Lock 4 team so well, and to Amie, who cheerfully tackled any task offered, and for the way she got the others working well with her.
Reprinted from Navvies No 213