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CHORLEYWOOD CANAL (or RIVER CHESS UPPER NAVIGATION)


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This recently reappeared in my timeline.

 

Does anyone have any more information?

 

 

CHORLEYWOOD CANAL (or RIVER CHESS UPPER NAVIGATION)

The Chorleywood Canal is not often mentioned in canal books and this is
something of a shame as its builders were among the most inventive in British waterways history.

1800 With the Grand Junction Canal open, the businessmen of Chorleywood, Amersham and Chesham decided their towns should also be connected to the inland waterways network. The River Chess ran through their area and would provide the perfect route.

1801 The Chorley Canal gained its act of Parliament and work began. The biggest problem for the constructors was how to
overcome the great climb up to Chesham. At first a mighty staircase of 20 locks was planned but because of water shortages this had to be abandoned until a better idea could be found. Meanwhile, the lower
sections from Chorleywood to Amersham were completed and opened. The small village of Chorleywood on the Grand Junction Canal soon became a major wharf. Goods carried included grain, vegetables and trees which
were taken from the area for replanting in London's parks.

1802 Amersham Tunnel was completed. It was 900 yards long with a
towpath on both sides.

1803 A plan to overcome the mighty level at Chesham was
finally put forward. William Jessop had been called in and he had decided
the easiest method would be a unique boat chute. This would be ¼ of a
mile in length and would drop the canal over 50 feet. Boats would float
into a dock at the top and then slide down the chute using the flow of
water to regulate speed. Water in the chute would be kept shallow to
prevent too much water usage.

1804 The Chorleywood Canal was completed, taking exactly 4 years to
the day to construct. There was a great celebration with
thousands of people turning up to see the boat chute in operation.

For the first few years the canal was a moderate success though most
traffic was centred around the Grand Junction Canal wharfs. The boat
chute was not popular with boat crews. Coming down was not too bad
though boaters wives often complained about broken crockery. Going up
was much harder, horses found it incredibly difficult to pull boats up
the chute, especially after rain when the towpath was muddy.

1809 After 5 years in operation the Chorleywood Canal company
finally decided it had to get rid of the boat chute. In its last year
only 10 boats went up the chute to the terminus. Although over 30 per week
were still coming down, the decision was made to replace it with a lock
flight.

1810 Chesham Chute was replaced by a flight of locks. Although these
took much longer than the chute to descend, they were far more popular
with boat crews. It also helped trade on the hill. Because boats could
now stop as they came down, a pub was opened beside lock 10.

1819 The company decided to install gas lighting in Amersham Tunnel
to allow boats to use it during the night.

1825 Following a number of very dry summers the Chesham Lock Flight
was suffering badly from water shortages. The company installed a small
fleet of narrowboats which were employed to carry water back up the
flight to help replenish the summit level. Each boat could suck water
from the bottom of the flight using a hand operated pump and then take
the water up through the 20 locks to the summit level. There were 5
boats in total, they went up and down the flight all day carrying
water from the bottom to the top. Each boat could hold half a lock
of water per journey.

1845 Like all canals, the Chorleywood was hit hard when railways
arrived. Even their route was affected by the building of the new GNWR
line. The railway needed to cross the canal near the terminus in
Chorleywood but there was no easy way to do this as both modes of
transport were built on the same level. A canal/railway crossroads was
the first idea though this was dropped when the railway complained that
it might cause the tracks to get wet. In the end a set of locks on
either side of a short aqueduct were created. Boats entered the lock on
one side of the railway and were lifted up 20 feet onto the short
aqueduct across the line. On the far side another lock would bring them
back to canal level. One of the water boats from the Chesham Flight was
brought to the aqueduct to help with water supplies.

1850 Following the arrival of railways the Chorleywood Canal began
to make big losses. From this time on income dropped every year.

1900 By the turn of the century only a handful of boats per year
were climbing the long flight up to Chesham. Because of this the
company decided to close its water carrying fleet. They also removed
the gas lights in Amersham Tunnel, from this time on, all night passage
through the tunnel would have to be done in the dark.

1923 With less and less boats using the canal the company sold out
to GWNR who immediately closed down Chorleywood Aqueduct, severing the
upper reaches of the waterway from the Grand Junction Wharfs.

Over the following years the upper reaches of the canal became derelict
though the Chorleywood end remains in use today.

1993 A group of enthusiasts formed a restoration society with the aim
of fully restoring the upper reaches. They were named the Chorleywood
Upper Navigation Trust Society. Initially, this was a disaster and
few people seemed interested. Eventually though members swelled to huge
proportions and there are now more members in Chorleywood Upper Navigation Trust Society than virtually any other restoration scheme.

1994 As part of publicity the Chorleywood Upper Navigation Trust
Society announced a competition to design a logo for the trust. The
final design shows the trusts initials encircling a picture of the
Amersham Tunnel mouth. This can be seen along the former towpath on
sign posts which were erected, pointing to the head of navigation as
part of a designated walk known as the Chorleywood, Amersham & Chesham
Knock (a "knock" is a local word meaning walk or ramble).

1995 Concerns were put forward by British Naturism when it was found
that a number of possibly rare flowers had taken root along the towpath.
They announced an official visit to the site to view the flowers. If it was
decided that the flowers were rare, restoration of the towpath would
have be stopped. When the naturism inspector visited the site he found
the 2 flowers were of a sort thought to be extinct since 1923. However,
as he left the site he was confonted by a bull on the towpath. The
inspector ran back along the towpath and, sadly, trampled right through the
flowers.

Today the Chorleywood Canal is still not fully open but work is well
under way. A decision still needs to be made on whether or not to
reinstate the original boat chute or reopen the locks. It has been
suggested that both would be a good idea as some hire boat engines may
not be strong enough to climb up the chute against the current.

THE ROUTE...
Despite this waterway being mainly ignored as little more than an
insignificant arm of the Grand Union Canal, it has survived fairly
well. At Chorleywood it leaves the GUC at Chorleywood Junction. Here
there used to be numerous busy wharfs though the site is now used as
private moorings. Just a few yards to the west is the site of the
unique Chorleywood Aqueduct. Sadly nothing of this survives apart from
the two locks on either side of the former railway. When fully restored
the canal will cross the railway bed on the level. The two locks are to
be retained as part of a new visitor centre.

The line up to Amersham is mostly intact but dry in most places. The
towpath is in good condition and there are sign posts erected by the
Chorleywood Upper Navigation Trust Society who restored this length in
1994.

Amersham Tunnel is in good condition though it has been bricked up to
prevent children from venturing inside. Amersham Basin is at the
western end. Like other parts of the canal, the tunnel has some unique
features. As well as originally having gas lights it also has foot
holes built into the walls and the roof to make it easier for crews to
leg through. The towpath in the tunnel is still in good condition.

It is just one mile further west to the 20 lock Chesham Flight. All the
locks have survived though they are currently overgrown. When I visited
the site in 1995 I could see traces of the boat chute in the
undergrowth. This will surely one of the great waterway attractions
when (if) it is restored. Above the chute is a wide basin where the
water boats used to empty there tanks of water having climbed the lock
flight. At its peak, 20 water boats per day were in use replenishing
the summit level. The Chorleywood Upper Navigation Trust Society are
planning to reinstate the water boats when the locks are reopened. The
boats will have electric pumps installed for sucking the water out of
the bottom pound. The tanks on the new boats should be able to hold a
whole lock full of water, thus allowing twice as many boats to use the
flight.

Copyright © Peter Hardcastle

Edited by Loddon
  • Haha 2
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Members might also be interested in a little known waterway in Somerset - following in a South West tradition of naming navigations after their principal cargo (Somerset Coal Canal, Tamar Manure Navigation) the Cheap Street Fruit Conveyance Canal was built in the middle ages to allow fruit from the harvest festival at St John's church to be carried to the Market Place. The recent practice of traders placing hoardings over the canal has been criticised as restricting the headroom available for larger fruit such as pineapple, although others point out that the canal was only built for the Somerset cider apple and have suggested a higher license fee for these larger vessels. It is also noted that the tunnel at the eastern end of the canal is only large enough for a grapefruit. Efforts to convey bananas have ended in failure, at the time of construction this wasn't foreseen as the banana was only introduced in 1633 and St Aldhem commenced constructionof the canal in the late 7th century.

20210401_104443.jpg

20210401_104547.jpg

Edited by magpie patrick
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The Trumpington Literary Canal has similarly slipped almost unnoticed into history. It was constructed to link Peterhouse College with the Little Rose Inn on Trumpington Street, where the undergraduates spent most of their spare time. Books and manuscripts would travel along the canal from the college, to assist the students in writing their essays, which would then be returned by water to Peterhouse so that the young gents did not have to make unnecessary journeys away from the saloon bar.

   The introduction of "coffee table" books hastened the canal's downfall, as they were just too bulky to fit its restricted loading gauge. Soon, all the trade was transferred to bicycles, and the canal was left to slumber undisturbed, its only traffic being the occasional fast-food container. As the recent photo shows, its remains can still be clearly seen.

   

   

Trumpington.jpg

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The Cheap Street Fruit Conveyance Canal had traffic in one direction only - "ye olde Bradshaws" 1066 edition states that "ye traffic if conveyed with ye currant of ye ftream" although it appears that currants weren't a cargo at that time.... 

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9 minutes ago, magpie patrick said:

The Cheap Street Fruit Conveyance Canal had traffic in one direction only - "ye olde Bradshaws" 1066 edition states that "ye traffic if conveyed with ye currant of ye ftream" although it appears that currants weren't a cargo at that time.... 

Weren't they its raisin d'etre?

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6 minutes ago, David Mack said:

Tsk Tsk! Any old Petrean will take you to task for that!

...but anyone who isn't might not know what it is.

Are you of their number?

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25 minutes ago, Athy said:

...but anyone who isn't might not know what it is.

Are you of their number?

No, but I am of another establishment that suffers from the same issue.

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1 hour ago, magpie patrick said:

The Cheap Street Fruit Conveyance Canal had traffic in one direction only - "ye olde Bradshaws" 1066 edition states that "ye traffic if conveyed with ye currant of ye ftream" although it appears that currants weren't a cargo at that time.... 

So it wasn't a complex operation: quite an alimentary canal in fact. 

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2 hours ago, Athy said:

The Trumpington Literary Canal has similarly slipped almost unnoticed into history. It was constructed to link Peterhouse College with the Little Rose Inn on Trumpington Street, where the undergraduates spent most of their spare time. Books and manuscripts would travel along the canal from the college, to assist the students in writing their essays, which would then be returned by water to Peterhouse so that the young gents did not have to make unnecessary journeys away from the saloon bar.

 

In its heyday there really was no alternative. So using it was a matter of Hobson's Choice!

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Outstanding post, the Amersham Tunnel though is being re-opened by the HS2 'bunch'. and extended down to the Denham area to give one of the longest canal tunnels in the UK, this will reduce journey times twix Bulbourne and Denham by I day and improve coal supplies to the Bulls Bridge area. The River Chess is being converted to a new 'open sewer' as the existing treatment works are inadequate to cope with localised flooding.

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30 minutes ago, Derek R. said:

This thread must rate right up there with the projected canal from Dover to Calais.

They built that but they got the levels wrong do it ended up as a railway tunnel

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On 02/04/2021 at 18:10, matty40s said:

 

 

World wars have been started for less.

On 01/04/2021 at 20:24, Derek R. said:

I remember railway carriages with the slogan "Live in Metroland!" Or some such.

 

 

Very clever marketing. I have a couple books called Metroland.

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