Rails across Malta

Malta Railway:  Valletta Viaduct

Malta Railway: Valletta Viaduct

Malta Railway:  Floriana Viaduct

Malta Railway: Floriana Viaduct

The Malta Railway opened in 1883, and never made much money.  Its original metre-gauge line ran through Birkirkara to an inconvenient terminus, called Notabile, in a deep cutting outside the hill-town of Rabat.

The Malta Railway Company went bankrupt in 1890 and reopened two years later under the auspices of the Malta government which improved and in 1900 extended the line up to a station called Museum, nearer to the ancient capital city, Mdina.

In 1905 Malta Tramways Ltd opened its three routes to Birkirkara, Zebbug and Vittoriosa, two of which directly competed with the railway.

Both the railway and the tramways were British exports.

The olive green steam locomotives for the railway were built by Manning Wardle of Leeds, Black Hawthorne & Co of Gateshead and Beyer Peacock of Manchester.

The trams expired in 1929 and the railway closed two years later, both defeated by the relentless competition of Malta’s self-employed bus drivers.

The Valletta railway terminus was located next to the Royal Opera House:  the tracks were underground and emerged on to a viaduct which crossed a ditch that formed part of the city fortifications and entered another tunnel.  It then crossed another viaduct alongside the Porte des Bombes in Floriana.

The tunnels apparently remain in good condition, and have occasionally been opened to the public:  https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20121022/local/Railway-tunnel-part-of-Malta-s-heritage.442073.

Both viaducts were originally timber, at the insistence of the military authorities who wanted to destroy them quickly if necessary in an emergency.  Eventually they were rebuilt in stone and still exist.  They’re easy to locate, thanks to a meticulously obsessive video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8OlMnpZvtQ.  It helps to know what you’re looking for.

Several of the country station buildings survive.  Hamrun is a scout headquarters;  Birkirkara is a childcare centre;  Museum station is a celebrated restaurant: [https://www.facebook.com/pg/stazzjonrestaurantrabat/photos/?tab=album&album_id=218770048333827].

Little else remains.  The only surviving piece of railway rolling stock is a third-class carriage which has stood in the open for years at Birkirkara:  https://web.archive.org/web/20170408171035/http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20170407/local/watch-maltas-last-surviving-train-carriage-chugs-toward-restoration.644585.

An intriguing hint that there may be more can be found in a news article about the reappearance of four reversible seats from one of Malta’s trams, suggesting that a tram body survives at St Thomas’ Bay:  https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20170628/local/century-old-malta-tram-benches-found.651902

There are images of both the railway and the tramways at https://vassallohistory.wordpress.com/maltese-public-transport-since-1856-a-brief-history-of-the-public-transport-in-malta-the-omnibus-up-to-the-mid-1800s-the-only-means-of-human-transport-w.

It’s clear from an article in The Guardian that Valletta’s railway tunnels are only a tiny part of the fascinating underground beneath the city:  https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/feb/20/malta-secret-tunnels-inside-newly-discovered-underworld-valletta.

The first industrial estate

Rochdale Canal, Ancoats, Manchester

Rochdale Canal, Ancoats, Manchester

Ancoats was a rural village outside Manchester until the late eighteenth century when landowners, realising the imminent arrival of the Rochdale and Ashton Canals, parcelled up their property and sold it for development, both for mills and factories.

Some of the mills were huge by contemporary standards, steam-powered and served by canal wharfs which also provided the condensing water necessary for the engines.  Adam and George Murray’s Old Mill (1798) may have been the first eight-storey factory in the world.

The Murray brothers, along with their rivals James McConnel and John Kennedy, came from Kirkcudbrightshire, and used their expertise in building textile machinery to produce bigger and better equipment with which to spin cotton.

Ancoats’ population boomed from 11,039 in 1801 to 53,737 in 1861.  In 1821 one-fifth of the total population of Manchester lived in Ancoats.

Though some respectable housing was built among the industries and slums, there was no attempt to provide for a bourgeois population.  It was, by Jacqueline Roberts’ definition, “the first residential district of the modern world intended for occupation by one social class, the new urban working class”.

Title-deeds for such properties typically contained no restrictions on uses that would cause nuisance, and very few were provided with privies.   Bathrooms and running hot water were, of course, unknown.

Foreign writers were appalled.

Léon Faucher (1803-1854) who visited England in 1843, published Études sur l’Angleterre (1845), in which he wrote of “the breathing of vast machines, sending forth fire and smoke through their tall chimneys, and offering up to the heavens, as it were in token of homage, the sighs of that Labour which God has imposed upon man”.

It can’t have been fun to live in Ancoats, despite the well-meaning efforts of philanthropists, who provided the Ardwick & Ancoats Dispensary (1828), later Ancoats Hospital, ragged schools and night shelters.

The life-expectancy of a Manchester labourer in 1842 was seventeen years.

In 1889 Dr John Thresh reported a death rate of over 80 per thousand, and commented, “3,000 to 4,000 people [were] dying annually here in Manchester from remediable causes”.

This prompted the Manchester Labourers’ Dwellings Scheme of 1890, which led to the building of Victoria Square (Henry Spalding & Alfred W S Cross 1897), a five-storey block of one- and two-room walk-up flats with penny-in-the-slot gas meters, communal sinks and water-closets shared between two apartments and, in the turrets, laundries and drying rooms, Anita Street, originally Sanitary Street until the name was truncated to suit 1960s sensibilities, two-storey terraces of one-, two- and three-room flats, and George Leigh Street, which provided three-bedroom houses, intended for families with children of both sexes.

Only the better-off labourers could afford the rents.

Owners of back-to-back terraces were offered £15 per house to convert their premises to through houses, and by 1914 almost all of the city’s back-to-back houses had gone.

However, this was only a partial solution.  A 1928 social-study group inspection report remarked, “the reconditioned house of the eighties is not to be tolerated today”.  There were houses so dark that the gas-light had to be kept on all day, and such dampness that plaster would not hold wallpaper in place.

In the end, the only practical solution was to clear the housing wholesale.  Victoria Square, Anita Street and George Leigh Street have been adapted to modern standards and look attractive.  Some architecturally interesting buildings remain, and the canal-side locations are at last being developed for 21st-century work and living.

Gentrification is often derided, but it’s better than living in a slum.

Layers of Manchester’s history

Hanging Bridge, Manchester Cathedral Visitor Centre

Hanging Bridge, Manchester Cathedral Visitor Centre

Deep beneath the streets around Manchester Cathedral the tiny River Irk flows towards the River Irwell.

Some of the nearby buildings date only from the rebuilding after the 1996 IRA bomb attack.  Others were part of the post-war redevelopment that followed the Blitz.  Very little of the central Manchester streetscape dates back before the Victorians.

The Cathedral, itself heavily restored after the Blitz, is largely a Victorian building, enlarged after the diocese was established in 1847 and repeatedly embellished between the 1860s and 1933-34.

As the parish church it had been refounded in 1421 by Thomas de la Warre, Lord of the Manor, as the Collegiate Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George, a thank-offering for the victory at Agincourt in 1415.

Its predecessor dates back to 1215 and stood next to a fortified manor house that probably occupied the site of the present-day Chetham’s School of Music.

These archaeological layers of history are vividly apparent if you eat and drink at the Manchester Cathedral Visitor Centre, where the arches of the Hanging Ditch Bridge over the River Irk have been uncovered (though current building work makes them temporarily inaccessible):  http://www.manchestercathedralvisitorcentre.org/the-hanging-ditch-bridge.

Though the Roman Castlefield is more apparent as a modern tourist attraction, this is the heart of modern Manchester, dating back to the time in the late tenth century, when the more prosperous settlement was on the opposite bank of the Irwell and Manchester was a subsidiary manor within the hundred of Salford.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Manchester’s Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester’s Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

 

Manchester’s first free library

Chetham's Library, Manchester

Chetham’s Library, Manchester

Twenty-first century concerns about social inclusion and lamentations about the decline of local-authority amenities such as schools and libraries are nothing new.

Chetham’s School and Library was a seventeenth-century attempt to educate the underprivileged and give access to learning to members of the public.

Humphrey Chetham (1580-1653), a prosperous bachelor cotton-merchant and banker, made provision in his will to benefit the sons “of honest, industrious parents and not of wandering or idle beggars or roagues nor that any of the said boyes shal bee bastards nor such as are lame, infirme or diseased at the time of their ellection” by founding the school that still bears his name.

(In comparison, the older Manchester Grammar School, – which stood nearby until it moved out to Fallowfield in 1931 – was founded in 1515 by Hugh Oldham, Bishop of Exeter, “for boys who, having pregnant wit, have been for the most part brought up rudely and idly.”)

His trustees bought the decayed college buildings that had been built by Thomas de la Warre, Lord of the Manor, when he refounded and rebuilt the parish church, now the Cathedral, in 1421.

They spent £400 on buildings and £1,000 on the books which were to be available to the general public free of charge.

Naturally, the books stayed firmly chained to the shelves, and readers had to move to the location of the book they wanted, using oak stools with S-shaped hand holds that remain in the library.

Stepping into the Library, which is accessible to tourists or readers alike, is a journey back in time.

Though the catalogue is now digitised, the books are still arranged in presses, secured by wooden gates instead of chains, and are brought to readers by library staff.

The table where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels researched and wrote in 1845 is still beside the stained-glass window which, Engels later remarked, “ensures that the weather is always fine there”.

Nowadays the school is a specialised music school, open to boys and girls, and some of the medieval buildings are off-limits to the public for much of the time.

Visitors are made very welcome, and guided tours are available.  There’s no charge but donations are appreciated.  It’s advisable to make an appointment simply to be sure of a place:  http://library.chethams.com/about/visiting.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Manchester’s Heritage, please click here.

The 80-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 tour Manchester’s Heritage, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing.  To view sample pages click here.  Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

Another gap in the Promenade

Imperial Hotel, Douglas, Isle of Man:  demolition, August 31st 2018

Imperial Hotel, Douglas, Isle of Man: demolition, August 31st 2018

Photo:  John Binns

Just because a building doesn’t reach the criteria for listing and protecting as a historic structure doesn’t mean it isn’t worth saving.

Nearly a year ago I wrote about to the loss of the Tudno Castle Hotel, Llandudno, which, though listed Grade II, was completely demolished after an inadequate survey failed to show that a scheme to retain only the façade was in fact impractical:  http://www.mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk/?p=5311.

More recently, my Isle of Man friend John spotted the demise of the long-derelict Imperial Hotel on Douglas Promenade at the end of August 2018:  http://www.iomtoday.co.im/article.cfm?id=38524&headline=The%20end%20is%20nigh%20for%20Victorian%20hotel&sectionIs=news&searchyear=2018.

The Imperial dates from 1891, one of a number of imposing sea-front hotels by the Manx property-developer Alexander Gill (c1852-1919).  Others still remaining include the Hydro (1910) and the Empress Hotel.

The Imperial closed in 2006, and remained unused except as an occasional training site for police sniffer dogs.

Douglas Promenade is actually a series of promenades, built 1875-1890 to take advantage of the broad sweep of Douglas Bay by providing building land for the island’s growing tourist industry.

The whole extent of the Promenade is designated as a conservation area:  https://www.gov.im/media/633077/douglaspromsconsarea.pdf.

It’s a magnificent sight despite regrettable gaps where ungracious modern structures have replaced Victorian originals such as the Palace Pavilion & Opera House (1889 onwards, demolished 1965 and 1994), the Promenade Methodist Church (1876, demolished 1975) and the Villiers Hotel (1879, demolished 1995).

The late Gavin Stamp wrote about the insidious threats to the island’s built heritage when the Villiers Hotel was at risk in 1994:  https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/news/the-isle-of-mammon-is-ripping-out-its-soul-the-manx-governments-indifference-nay-hostility-to-1448732.html.

The Isle of Man’s parliament, Tynwald, has its own system of Registered Buildings, without the grading that applies in the UK.  Manx registrations began in 1983, and so far cover only 275 buildings, with another 250 under consideration.

Consideration of extending the list has not been energetic.  According to Wikipedia – there seems to be no online version of the official list – there were four registrations in 2014, one in 2015, four in 2017 and so far only two in 2018:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Registered_Buildings_of_the_Isle_of_Man.

An Alliance for Building Conservation (ABC) was formed in 2016 to co-ordinate campaigning to protect the island’s built heritage:  http://www.abc.org.im/index.php/abc-background-and-history.

One of the Alliance’s achievements has been a regular series of articles in the Isle of Man Examiner highlighting causes for conservationist concern.  A recent article reviews the glacial process of changing Manx attitudes to historical conservation:  http://www.iomtoday.co.im/article.cfm?id=40533.

Because it takes so long to list worthwhile Manx buildings, it’s no surprise that less distinguished places like the Imperial Hotel come to grief, yet their group value is invaluable, and when the gaps they leave are replaced by mediocre substitutes, or left empty, the effect diminishes the whole.

Though the Isle of Man is small in extent, it’s rich in history.

In many places in the UK and across the world the historic heritage is seen to be good for the local economy.

Unfortunately, in the Isle of Man investment and commercial development tend to be at odds with the good of the environment.

St Cecilia’s – starting a new chapter

St Cecilia's Parish Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield:  baptistery (2014)

St Cecilia’s Parish Church, Parson Cross, Sheffield: baptistery (2013)

Some years ago I made a nuisance of myself querying the determination of the Diocese of Sheffield to demolish the attractive 1939 parish church of St Cecilia, Parson Cross:

Last week I received a letter from the Church Commissioners (because I’d made a formal objection to the demolition in 2013) notifying me that St Cecilia’s has at last been closed and the daughter-church of St Bernard of Clairvaux is the parish church with effect from August 16th 2018.

St Bernard’s was completed, using recycled bricks from the demolished mansion at Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire, in 1954 as one of two mission churches in the vast Parson Cross parish.

The other church, Christ the King, Deerlands Avenue, was consecrated on the afternoon of the first Sheffield Blitz, December 12th 1940.  It closed in 1970 and was sold:  it became a Roman Catholic social club, St Patrick’s, and is now a showroom.

The notice of closure indicates that St Cecilia’s “shall be appropriate to use for residential purposes and for purposes ancillary thereto”, and “the contents of the old church building shall be disposed of as the Bishop shall direct”, in line with the Draft Pastoral Scheme about which I posted an article in 2016.

It’s probably the best possible outcome.

It saves the residents of Chaucer Close from the noise and mess of a brick-by-brick demolition.

It preserves an unobtrusive but attractive building on a housing estate that has few landmarks, having lost an outstanding but unlisted cinema in 2013.

I’ll be interested to see how this wide building, with a nave and two aisles, adapts to housing.

Bus nostalgia

Because they’re essentially peripatetic, preserved buses present differently both to enthusiasts and to the general public.

While railed vehicles – trains and trams and, paradoxically, trackless trolleybuses – congregate where there is track on which they can run, buses can go wherever there’s tarmac, and so are most often seen at rallies, running heritage services, or on private hire for weddings and birthdays.

There are bus museums, such as the admirable London Bus Museum at Brooklands, but they’re few and far between, though South Yorkshire has two within a mile of each other.

The Nottingham Area Bus Society maintains an evocative collection based at the Great Central Railway (Nottingham) centre at Ruddington, south of the city of Nottingham:  http://www.nottinghamareabussociety.co.uk.

Here they restore and maintain a rich variety of vehicles that ran in the East Midlands in the post-war period – Nottingham Corporation, Midland General, South Notts, Felix and, perhaps best-loved of all, Barton.

Thomas Henry Barton bought his first charabanc in 1908, and built an extensive network of stage-carriage services and a thriving private-hire business, first based in Beeston, and from 1934 at Chilwell.

In the early years the company was largely staffed by some of Barton’s five sons and five daughters.

By the late 1930s they were advertising ‘Road Cruises’ to Belgium, German and France.

T H Barton was an engineer, and his vehicles were distinctive.  He favoured Leyland chassis and Duple bodies, and had an eye for a second-hand bargain bus.  He never ever referred to “diesel” – only “oil” – engines.

He was also a great character.  At his funeral in 1946 his peaked bus-driver’s hat rested on his coffin, and he was carried to his grave on a brand-new bus chassis.

In the decades after Tom Barton’s death his company’s buses remained both modern and distinctive, in an elaborate red, cream and maroon livery with generous amounts of trim.

The Nottingham Area Bus Society looks after five of Barton’s fleet, dating between 1947 and 1976, keeping alive the moving street furniture that made the locality distinctive.

And the Barton name lives on through trentbarton, the local bus operator that took over the Barton fleet in 1989.

North of the Gap

Great Central Railway (Nottingham):  LMS 8F 2-8-0 8274

Great Central Railway (Nottingham): LMS 8F 2-8-0 8274

The Great Central Railway (Loughborough) has a long and fortunate history since it was formed as the Main Line Project Group in 1970.

Through many struggles against all manner of setbacks, volunteers have maintained and expanded their train services and recreated much of the infrastructure of the old Great Central.

It’s fair to say, without disparagement, that their colleagues at the Great Central Railway (Nottingham) have more challenges to face.

Their line, north of Loughborough, didn’t become available until the 1990s, by which time the buildings on the only original station, East Leake, had been demolished, though track remained because of British Gypsum and Ministry of Defence freight traffic.

Initial preservation work concentrated on creating a branch and terminus, Ruddington Fields, on the former MoD site, which became the Nottingham Transport Heritage Centre.  This is currently the centre of activity, with plenty for transport enthusiasts to enjoy.

Train services run out of Ruddington Fields on to the former main line, reverse at Fifty Steps Bridge and run down the old GCR to a stop-board about a mile from the other preserved Great Central Railway at Loughborough Central.

It’s refreshing to be able to travel on a stretch of the old Great Central, but for the moment it’s also a frustrating experience because of the Gap that was severed in the 1970s.

Though the bridge across the Midland Main Line has been reinstated, there’s still a canal bridge to refurbish and a 300-metre stretch of embankment to rebuild before the GCR (Loughborough)’s depot can be swept out of the way and trains can run uninterruptedly eighteen miles from Ruddington to Leicester:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvvO9GkjtK0.

Indeed, though it can’t be high on the agenda, it seems possible that the line could be reinstated north of Ruddington to the point where the NET tramway occupies the old GCR formation at Clifton Boulevard.

This is the work of decades, if not a generation, but it’s testimony to the determination and hard work of transport enthusiasts that what was once discarded as useless infrastructure is slowly, doggedly being restored to useful amenities.

Hardly anybody would have imagined, when the Great Central main line was wound down in the 1960s that it would ever again carry trains, let alone trams.

The Great Central Railway (Nottingham) website is at http://www.gcrn.co.uk and the Great Central Railway (Loughborough) is at http://www.gcrailway.co.uk.

Both railways are included in the itinerary of the Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour.  For further details please click here.

Wardsend Cemetery

Wardsend Cemetery, Sheffield

Wardsend Cemetery, Sheffield

Behind Owlerton Greyhound Stadium, not far from the Sheffield Wednesday ground, a long road called Livesey Street leads eventually to a bridge over the River Don – a recent replacement for a much older bridge washed away in the 2007 flood.

On the other side of the bridge lies Wardsend Cemetery, last resting place of nearly 30,000 Sheffield people, forgotten until a group of Friends rescued it and drew attention to its fascinating history.

It was established in 1857 as a churchyard extension for St Philip’s parish church, Shalesmoor, one of four “Million Act” churches in Sheffield, opened in 1828, bombed in 1940 and demolished in 1952.  The church’s location, now unrecognisable because of road improvements, was opposite Green Lane Works, near to the Shalesmoor tram stop.

The vicar of St Philip’s, Rev John Livesey, bought five acres of land alongside the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway, and – largely at his own expense – built a lodge and an attractive little chapel designed by the Sheffield architects Weightman, Hadfield & Goldie.

Rev Livesey had been minister since 1831 and vicar since the parish was created in 1848, “a tall man of fine presence, very active… genial, benevolent and kind hearted”.

He bit off more than he could chew when he opened Wardsend Cemetery.

The original sexton died shortly after the cemetery opened, and his successor, Isaac Howard, quickly made the place notorious.

In 1862 the tenant occupying the lodge, Robert Dixon, complained of unpleasant odours from the floor of his coach-house and accused the sexton of disinterring corpses to sell to the Sheffield Medical School.

Word travelled quickly and a crowd entered the cemetery on the evening of June 2nd to find a pit containing coffins, some containing corpses, one of which had clearly been dissected.  They burnt down Howard’s house, and over the next few days obliged the authorities to arrest him.

He in turn implicated the vicar, who had carelessly signed a burial certificate for a dissected corpse that remained unburied until discovered by the rioters.

In fact the medical school obtained corpses legally from the Sheffield workhouse, but had transported them in sacks rather than coffins and allowed Isaac Howard to take them to the cemetery illegally in plain packing cases on a wheelbarrow.

The real disgrace of Howard’s actions was that he exhumed corpses, particularly of children, to resell burial plots, a practice made easier by an unwise allocation of public graves beside the main pathway.

Howard was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment, and the Rev Livesey to three weeks, but the judge, ruling that the vicar was only guilty of trusting the sexton’s word, back-dated his sentence to the opening of the assizes a fortnight previously.

When Howard admitted his perjury Rev Livesey was pardoned.  He returned to his benefice and served until his death in 1870, a total of thirty-nine years.

Contemporary accounts of this notorious affair are at https://www.chrishobbs.com/sheffield/agraveaffair1862.htm.

There’s more to the history of Wardsend than the often-told story of the 1862 riot.  The cemetery is a chronicle of ordinary and extraordinary Sheffield people.

While the movers and shakers of Victorian Sheffield were interred in the General Cemetery and pillars of Nonconformity gathered in the Zion Graveyard, Wardsend provided rest to a cross-section of society – soldiers from the nearby Hillsborough Barracks including George Lambert VC (1819-1860) who died of a burst blood vessel on the parade ground, victims of the Great Sheffield Flood which rushed past the site on the night of March 11th-12th 1864, and such fascinating characters as George Beaumont (died December 25th 1877, aged 23 years), killed during a football match when he climbed a wall to retrieve the ball and fell down a quarry face, Kate Townsend, Mrs Tommy Dodd (1849-1886) who with her husband travelled as show-people billed as “The King & Queen of the Lilliputians” and Tom Wharton (died 1933) – a life-long, celebrated Sheffield Wednesday fan, who missed only one home match in forty-six years [https://www.sheffieldtelegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/nostalgia/heritage-veteran-owls-fan-was-the-happiest-man-in-sheffield-1-8995148].

The Friends of Wardsend Cemetery [https://wardsendcemetery.wordpress.com] have rescued the place from decades of neglect after its formal closure in 1988, and they welcome visitors to a regular programme of events and tours.

I admire the volunteers who devote their time to preserving an unassuming burial ground and keeping alive the memory of “the short and simple annals of the poor”.

Road blocks

Grantham Canal:  Woolsthorpe Locks

Grantham Canal: Woolsthorpe Locks

The twentieth-century mismanagement of the decline of canals and railways in Britain is most obvious in the planners’ assumption that these moribund routes would never again be needed.

Essential road-developments rendered waterways practically useless for lack of foresight.  Lengthy routes could have been protected at a fraction of the cost of the reverse solutions now needed to restore canals as environmental assets.

The Grantham Canal was built in 1793-1797 to connect the Great North Road and the Vale of Belvoir to the River Trent, giving access to the coal-carrying canals of the Erewash valley and the rich manufacturing towns of the East Midlands.

Traffic was never heavy.  The highest dividend was paid in 1839, 1841 and 1842 – £13, equivalent to 8.67%, after which traffic fell away.

The company was sold in 1854 to the competing Ambergate, Nottingham, Boston & Eastern Junction Railway which promptly leased itself to the Great Northern Railway.

The Grantham Canal was formally abandoned in 1936, subject to an agreement to keep the waterway in water for agricultural use.  This guaranteed the integrity of the route but not the termini, both of which were destroyed by post-war trunk-road construction.  Furthermore 49 out of 69 hump-backed road bridges over the canal were levelled and piped.

Local resistance to filling in the canal began in 1963.  After the Inland Waterways Association defeated a British Waterways Board attempt to stop maintaining the water supply along the canal the Grantham Canal Society was formed in 1969 to work towards restoring navigation.

Slowly but surely, the Society has returned parts of the canal to navigable standard.

A railway embankment, constructed to replace a rickety timber bridge over the canal, was cleared away in 1992 as part of a project to restore the top three of the Woolsthorpe flight of locks.

Another 2¼-mile section from Hickling Basin to Hose was restored in 1994.

The subsequent rebuilding of the piped Casthorpe Bridge in 1995 restored navigation to a 4½-mile stretch of waterway.

The ongoing restoration of the bottom locks at Woolsthorpe will extend this section to ten navigable miles.

The most serious problem facing the Society is linking the canal with the River Trent.  The old alignment is blocked by the modern A52 trunk road and the plan to build a new canal on a different route doesn’t qualify for restoration funding because it’s not a restoration of an existing structure.

Yet the Trent Link is strategically crucial to the practical restoration of the whole canal and the economic benefits that would spring from it.

The Department of Transport’s flat refusal to pay for a high-level replacement for the piped Mann’s Bridge was perverse, since a short distance away a new high-level bridge crosses the A46 trunk road the canal at Cropwell Locks.

Plans for a cycle tunnel under the A1 west of Grantham could provide an opportunity to reach and redevelop the original terminal wharf, which is now a scrapyard.  A culvert could have been budgeted and built in the first place.

In the post-war boom of road building the possibility that the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century networks of canals and railways might have environmental value was largely ignored.

The huge popularity of leisure boating, the demand for marinas and waterside housing, and the economic advantages of bringing tourists to less-frequented parts of rural England are each reproaches to the narrow vision of planners and civil servants.

Future generations will salute the determination of canal enthusiasts and local people who saw possibilities in dried-up canals and ruinous wharfs and continue to work year in, year out, to bring the boats back to Grantham and many other places around the UK.

A visit to Woolsthorpe Locks is included in the Waterways & Railways of the East Midlands (September 3rd-7th 2018) tour.  For further details please click here.