Wilts & Berks Canal 24th-27th January, 2002
Seven Locks flight on the Wilts & Berks Canal
WRG BITM and the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust: Progress at Bowd's Lane, Wiltshire
Foxham & Lyneham Branch of the Wilts & Berks Canal Trust organised a long weekend from 2427 January, to include a BITM visit on 26-27, with the intention of raising a concrete wall behind the towpath chamber brick face wall at lock 3 and clearing lock 4 of its floral cover on the flight of Seven Locks. The wall was begun during a WRG camp last July from about 1 metre above the invert and finished to coping, 2.5 metres above, by local branch members. Both paddle chambers on lock 3 have also been rebuilt.
We had a slow start on Thursday, concrete not pouring until about 10:30, as first our dumper had to be filled with ballast, 2.5 tonne plus, which is stockpiled in the farmyard of local farmer (and landowner of locks 2-5) Janet Nicolls, using one of her tractors for loading, then driven 200 metres by road, along 150 metres of towpath up to our concrete mixer, with bags of cement loaded on the way. Here the fun started !
After shovelling ballast straight from the dumper into the drum, adding 2 bags of cement plus water, mixing about half a tonne at a time, concrete was poured onto a chute and pushed along into the void between brick and shuttering. We repeated this five or six times per dumper load, averaging four dumper loads per day for four days. (Five loads on Friday and Sunday, despite the tractor breaking down on Friday afternoon requiring the dumper to be loaded by shovel until we were allowed to use a nice new tractor and only two loads on Saturday as it drizzled all morning, building up to heavy rain by afternoon, so, soaked through, we retired to our hall at Brinkworth for lunch and stayed there. Every radiator and hot spot was draped with wet clothing, boots and gloves.).
Periodically the mixer was heaved and levered along the chamber edge (it's 20 metres long) as the concrete level rose. With each passing of our dumper, combined with drizzle and rain, the towpath was transformed into twin trenches of runny mud and the work site into a slippery morass (sounds familiar?). We had picnics here too!
Meanwhile, further on at lock four, with the arrival of BITM members en-masse (peaking at twenty one), scrub bashing, clearance and bonfires (after many attempts under rain and the arrival of 'pyrotech' Ray from Swindon), progress was made to a point where the chamber could be seen and its condition assessed for rebuilding during the WRG camp planned for July.
More of the structure remains than we had at lock three (just!), though much of the lock chamber may need to be demolished. The paddle chambers, however, are almost intact. Tony, BITM Chairman, spent Saturday morning, with an assistant, digging in the mud to find a firm base for footings to extend the upper wing walls. "Well I can only get wet once".
Despite the rain and storms prior to and during the weekend, the soft, muddy ground and full water courses (including the canal), we achieved a very successful work programme, mixing about 50 tonne of concrete using over 4.5 tonne of cement (filling a space of almost 20 cubic metres) in 4 days with an average of seven volunteers per day, including local branch chairman and weekend BITM work party leader Rachael, local works organiser Luke, professional bricklayer Ron, old hand Cliff & BITM extra duty volunteers Ian, Deb, Dave & myself.
In addition, with the arrival of BITM Group on Saturday, the exposure and clearance of lock four in preparation for the summer camp in July.
After the success of this weekend, we have now arranged an Easter programme from 29 March to 1 April to begin pouring concrete behind the opposite chamber wall, continue raising its brick face and complete the upper wing walls plus an extra summer camp, organised by the Foxham & Lyneham Branch through WRG, running from 2 to 9 June to begin rebuilding the lower wing walls from the gate recesses. We will also finish any brickwork on sections already begun.
We need volunteers to complete these ambitious schedules. Please contact Rachael Banyard on 01249 892289 if you can join us.
For three days over the following two weekends, local members have completed concreting the towpath chamber wall, mixing and pouring a further 30 tonne. Setting coping and back filling will complete this side of the lock to the lower gate recess.
Reprinted from Navvies No 192