Wilts & Berks Canal 12th - 19th August, 2000
Only four old-timers (no
offence meant, Luke) arrived at Foxham at the start of the camp, together with
five bright shiny new navvies, including one from Germany, to learn how to build
a bascule (lift) bridge for a local Foxham farmer. Katy did a quick round of
inspection of the new arrivals, finishing with tail wagging furiously, which was
a good start. Phil joined us on Sunday evening after putting in the finishing
touches at Over.
The local volunteers, under
Luke Walker’s supervision, actually started the construction two or three
months earlier. A cofferdam had been made at either end of the bridge, and the
U-shaped invert, with concrete backfill and brickwork top, had been completed.
The first task on the camp
was to start on digging the trenches for the wing walls. To a large extent, a
start could be made using the digger bucket, but each had to be shaped using
hand tools, i.e. mattocks and shovels, which with heavy Wiltshire clay was no
easy task. However, everyone (which included two or three local volunteers
nearly every day of the camp) set to with surprisingly few grumbles, and the
newcomers quickly discovered muscles which they didn’t know were part of their
The first two concrete
deliveries were ordered for Tuesday, and by then we were well ready with the
blinding layers in the first two trenches, the re-bar was set in place, followed
quickly in subsequent pours by the ‘kickers’.
By Tuesday or Wednesday, the shuttering, some of which had been donated from the H & G site at Over, was erected for three of the wing walls; by the end of Thursday the concrete inside the shuttering was almost up to height - after much creaking and groaning when the concrete was poured into the narrow space, which scared Luke to death - and a pour on Friday would have seen all three walls finished, and the shuttering could have been removed by the end of the camp.
However, “the best laid
schemes of mice and navvies..:’ as they say, and after a sunny dry start to
the week, the weather gradually deteriorated. Wednesday and Thursday saw some
very heavy showers, sending everyone scurrying into the van and kit-trailer, and
Katy turned tail and fled all the way back to the accommodation, where Di (the
cook) was well showered by the vigorous shaking of a wet dog.
It was amazing how when the
worst showers came, Luke and Ben always seemed to be out collecting something in
the LandRover - there were dire threats that Ben would have to be thrown in
before the end of the week.... Friday was the worst of all - at least on
Wednesday and Thursday we had still managed to find gaps in the weather for
further concrete pours, but Friday was horrendous - the final pour had to be
cancelled, and everyone had to pack up work at lunchtime. To some people’s
satisfaction, Ben finally got a soaking, but it was very disappointing, as the
volunteers could have got more of a sense of achievement by seeing three
completed wing walls.
Luke and I were still
delighted at the amount that was achieved, and saved weeks of work - at one
concrete pour per week - by the local volunteers. The trench was dug for the
fourth wing wall, and the blinding, base and kickers in, so hopefully all four
walls will shortly be in place. We are still waiting for the final design for
the actual bridge, but with the base finished, this should be a minor
consideration! Tom, one of our new navvies, was a recent civil engineering
graduate, and his knowledge proved useful. For an inexperienced bunch of
navvies, all showed good understanding of what was needed at each stage. We also
got a few hundred yards of towpath cleared and the cuttings burnt, and the plan
is to dredge the section within the next 12 months (it is partially in water).
The Foxham Inn at least
trebled their normal clientele over the week (as tends to happen in country pubs
where we have camps), where Gem (Bath Ales) was quite acceptable, with good old
6X to fall back on. We had several swimming/shower runs to Chippenham, plus a
visit to a two screen cinema -the party being divided between those who hadn’t
yet seen ‘Chicken Run’, and those who had and watched the alternative! On
the Friday afternoon after we’d had to stop work, we all trooped off to
Gloucester to the National Waterways Museum, where one could spend several hours
seeing everything. They had an arrangement whereby Over navvies had a
concession, but agreed to make an exception for us also, particularly as some of
us had made some contribution to THAT SITE!
It is nice to know that WRG’s efforts are appreciated.
My thanks to everyone who
worked so hard to make the camp a success, and to all the local volunteers who
put in extra days to work with us. Thank you also to Di for keeping us well fed
- her cakes particularly disappeared remarkably fast!
On a final point, we’ve had
quite a lot of newcomers on the three camps I’ve led this year (Stover,
Sleaford and Foxham), and all have said that they enjoyed themselves and would
like to come on another camp. If any of you are reading this, I hope you do so -
you were all excellent, and WRG needs people like you! Remember, every camp is
different, not only in location and people but in the work involved. You might
even learn skills you didn’t know you were capable of, and it looks good on a
Reprinted from Navvies No 183