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The Leicester Line

Historical Profiles: NarrowBoat, Summer 2010

Mike Beech

Mike Beech looks at the four canals that linked the Trent to the Grand Junction, and eventually became part of the Grand Union Canal system

The Fellows, Morton & Clayton cheese and goods wharf in Leicester with the steamer Earl in the foreground apparently being loaded from the horse-drawn wagon alongside. The label on one of the many barrels reads “American Glucose Oil”. The Waterways Archive, Ellesmere Port

The Leicester Line tends to be thought of as the poor relation on the canal system. People extol the virtues of the Grand Union, Oxford and Llangollen canals, but not the Leicester Line. Some think it merely a branch of the GU to Leicester. Although Foxton is a ‘honeypot’ site in the summer, the combined waterway is one of the country’s best-kept secrets and one of the finest waterways to cruise. It also provides a vital north–south link.

The line is made up of four waterways, which took over 36 years to build.

The River Soar

The River Soar, from its confluence with the Trent through to Leicester, is a substantial waterway, usually not suffering from lack of water, but sometimes suffering from too much. It is believed that the river was navigatedfrom Roman times with relatively small boats. Over the years, several works were undertaken to improve navigation, although the mills along the line would not have assisted much in this.

The county businessmen and politicians recognised that they had very poor communications with the rest of the country, especially for bulk cargo such as coal. Making the river navigable was an obvious way forward and, by 1778, the Soar Navigation was open linking Loughborough with the Trent. Later on, it was known as the Loughborough Navigation. This was an easy and inexpensive waterway to build, which is why it quickly became the most profitable in the country. It was further boosted with the opening of the Erewash Canal in 1779, giving direct access to coalmines. The price of coal in Loughborough was reduced to ten shillings (50p) per ton.

The seal of the Leicestershire & Northamptonshire Union Canal Company. OUCS Archive

To Leicester

Coal for Leicester was still being carried on pack horses from the west of the county and selling at very high prices. The turnpike was a popular alternative, and a lot of coal, lime and stone was moved along it. But the heavy traffic was destroying the surface and one report claimed it to be nearly impassable by coaches.

Attempts were made to gain support for various schemes to improve navigation to Leicester, but opposition from the twelve mill owners on the river and the interests of the western coalfields, along with landowner opposition, were difficult to overcome.

Chronology

1776 Construction started on Loughborough Navigation
1778 Loughborough Navigation opened
1791 Construction of Leicester Navigation started
1792 First meeting to promote navigation to Harborough
1793 Acts of Parliament for Leicestershire & Northamptonshire Union Canal and Grand Junction Canal passed on same day
1793 Construction started on Leicestershire & Northamptonshire Union Canal
1794 Leicester Navigation opened
1797 Work on LNU stopped at Debdale
1809 LNU opened to Market Harborough
1810 Construction started on Grand Union Canal
1814 GU opened
1881 Act of Parliament for Leicester Corporation to widen and straighten river to alleviate flooding
1890 Leicester flood prevention works completed; two locks removed, one inserted
1894 Grand Junction Canal purchased LNU and GU and planned to widen canal, replacing all locks as far as Leicester with inclined plane boat lifts
1900 Foxton Inclined Plane opened
1909 Foxton Locks rebuilt for FMC steamers on night time fly run
1911 Watford Locks rebuilt narrow
1911 Foxton Lift mothballed to save money
1928 Lift dismantled for scrap
1928 GJC amalgamated with several other canals to form the (new) Grand Union Canal Co
1932 GUC took over the Leicester Navigation, Loughborough Navigation and Erewash Canal
1948 GUC nationalised under Docks & Inland Waterways Executive
1949 Harborough Arm under threat from bridge lowering
1950 IWA National Festival of Boats at Market Harborough
1963 Canals passed from DIWE to British Waterways Board

 

 

This classic view of Foxton Locks has been seen many times, but is surely the most impressive and evocative photograph of the locks ever taken. The Waterways Archive, Ellesmere Port

This receipt for coal from Union Wharf was found years after it had been issued when a house chimney was rebuilt in the 1980s. It had been thrown on the fire but had dropped into a cavity where it remained for over a hundred years. OUCS Archive

A boat said to be peculiar to the Leicester Navigation and measuring 14ft x 50ft, pictured on 25th January 1958. Although obviously empty, and looking more like a maintenance boat, the caption to the original photograph suggests that it was owned by Mr Harrison and carried coal, stone and gravel between Leicester and Loughborough. Note the most unusual central cabin. A similar design was seen on Berrichons used on the Canal du Berry in France where it acted as a stable for the donkey. The Waterways Archive, Gloucester

It was not until 12th May 1791 that an act was passed to enable the construction of a waterway to Leicester. This was for a navigation from the terminal basin of the Loughborough Navigation to Leicester, plus “a communication by railways, or stone roads and water levels to several places and mines” – effectively, Leicestershire’s western coalfields. This was to be the Forest Line and was a similar arrangement to that on the Ashby Canal, where transport over the more difficult ground could be made by any means possible.

Although not part of this story, readers interested in transport in general should also look at the Leicester & Swanington Railway, which has substantial remains and featured inclined planes.

The new Leicester Navigation was to run for just over 15 miles and climb 50ft, originally using nine locks, but it was necessary to insert Pillings Lock, making ten in total. The navigation was more costly to build than the Soar because it had long canal sections to bypass mills. Its deepest lock was Barrow Deep at 10ft 1in.

At Cossington, the navigation leaves the Soar and follows its tributary, the Wreake, to rejoin the Soar at Thurmaston. The upstream section of the Wreake was later made navigable as part of the Melton Mowbray Navigation.

William Jessop was the engineer, using his assistant Christopher Staveley Jnr as his surveyor. The time taken to get this scheme underway and the various proposed lines gave Jessop and Staveley a very clear picture of the challenges to be met. The navigation opened in 1794 with a procession leaving the wharf at West Bridge, Leicester, and weaving its way to the Three Crowns Inn to celebrate.

The Harborough Navigation

This waterway was also fairly profitable, but well before its completion, and no doubt driven by the success of the Loughborough venture, people were talking about pressing on to Market Harborough and its rich farming district. A meeting was called at the Swan in Harborough. The Swan is still a thriving business with its picturesque frontage, but is now known as the Three Swans, boasting a very ornate wrought iron sign supporting three of the birds. Christopher Staveley was asked to survey a route and William Jessop to report on Staveley’s findings.

The Navigation Inn at Barrow-on-Soar around 1900. The Waterways Archive, Ellesmere Port

Norton Junction toll office. The Leicester Line runs off to the right, and under the bridge takes you to Braunston. OUCS Archive

The construction of the Great Central Railway bridge across the navigation at Blaby in 1900. The Waterways Archive, Ellesmere Port

Repair work underway on one of the three staircase flights on the original Grand Union Canal. The Waterways Archive, Ellesmere Port

Harborough wharf before it was in commercial use by Harborough Marine. OUCS Archive

Loading steel on to boats at Belgrave Wharf, Leicester. The cargo was on its way to London Docks, destined for Spain. The butties are Oxted and Brighton, and the motor, still in British Waterways’ earlier, predominantly yellow, livery, is Gorse. The OUCS Archive

The plans for the Grand Junction (now known as the Grand Union) spurred a change in the plan for a Harborough Navigation. The narrow gap between the end of the Harborough and the GJ in Northamptonshire was too tempting and the Harborough Navigation scheme became the Leicestershire & Northamptonshire Union Canal.

A meeting was called on 6th August 1791 and planned for the town hall, which still stands at the north of the high street. To everyone’s surprise “a motley group of many hundreds of persons” turned up for the event. The meeting was forced to adjourn to a nearby field and the chairman set up under the shade of an oak tree. The committee had foreseen that “canal mania speculators” would turn up and insisted that share deposits must be paid within seven days. One witness claimed that they were demanding £15 on the spot.

Jessop was appointed engineer and John Varley was asked to survey the route. The Act of Parliament was granted on 30th April 1795 and authorised that the River Soar, from the end of the Leicester Navigation at West Bridge to Aylestone, be made navigable and onward to the River Nene in Northamptonshire. From there was to be an arm to join up with the GJ. A branch was to be made to Market Harborough.

This navigation proved to be anything but easy to construct. The price of labour shot up as did the price of materials, especially bricks. The company fell out with the press and then they fell out with the engineers, now jointly Varley and Staveley. The millers were uncooperative and the country was at war with France. Bricks once available at 9s (45p) per thousand now cost £1 11s (£1.55) and the quality, if they were available at all, was often poor. Money wasrunning short due to the escalating costs and, to avoid opposition from Foxton landowner Sir John Palmer, several deviations were surveyed and considered; one included a massive tunnel near Foxton to cut through in to the Welland Valley.

In March 1795 riots broke out when two navvies were arrested for causing trouble in a Kibworth shop. They were rescued from a party of forty ‘fencibles’ who were taking them for trial in Leicester. The magistrates sent the Leicester Volunteer Infantry followed by the Volunteer Cavalry. They arrested four men but apparently not the ones that started it all. The whole thing would make a good TV drama series.

A complex Heath-Robinson arrangement at Watford, preparing the site for hauling the steam dredger up past the narrow lock flight. The 20-mile pound was dredged in 2 years before the widebeam dredger was returned to the Grand Junction Canal’s main line. The Waterways Archive, Ellesmere Port

The tunnel at Saddington gave major problems; the ground was bad and there were disputes with the engineer and the contractor. It was found that the tunnel wasn’t straight so that wide boats would get stuck in several places – several sections had to be realigned. Varley had claimed that the tunnel was straight and that he would pay for any necessary works if it was found to be otherwise. No record exists to say that he did pay.

All of this resulted in the canal terminating for a time at Debdale wharf, which was conveniently close to the turnpike. Goods could be sent on by road. A basin was added and a small community grew up around it. The canal to Debdale opened on 7th April 1797; the company came to an arrangement with the surveyor of highways; they provided gravel to improve the roads and the surveyor provided the labour to spread it.

The company considered several options to continue the line, but in the end opted for the cheap version of taking it on to finish at Harborough. Sir John Palmer relented and allowed the canal to cut through his lands and slice the village of Foxton in half. The canal finally opened on 13th October 1809. (Detailed maps of the proposed route were published in Summer 2006 NB.)

The celebrations took place with a procession of boats to Harborough followed by a meal in the Angel Hotel. The meal was improved thanks to Joseph Cradock, who provided fish and game from his estates at Gumley (the hill overlooking Foxton).

The LNU had in fact constructed the Harborough Navigation, its proprietors were relieved to be able to leave the building of any extension into Northamptonshire to others. But others were keen to see the link completed and engaged Thomas Telford and Benjamin Bevan to survey a line. But as soon as this was complete the committee dispensed with the (presumably expensive) services of Telford and employed Bevan as engineer.

LEICESTER LINE PERSONALITIES

Benjamin Bevan (1773–1833)

The eldest of four children, Bevan was the son of a yeoman farmer. He worked as engineer for the Grand Junction and several other waterways. In 1805, he reported on the construction costs and extra time spent locking through Berkhamsted Locks 58 and 59, which had experimental side ponds. Perhaps this is where he got his ideas for Foxton and Watford?

The (old) Grand Union Canal Company employed Benjamin in 1808 as its engineer with a salary of £500 a year, plus £200 a year expenses. The following year, whilst still working on the GU, he produced a survey for a line extending the canal from Market Harborough to Stamford with a connection to Boston through the South Forty Foot Drain.

He also reported to the Grand Junction Company on the Northampton Arm and in November 1814 he reported that there were still seven locks and over half a mile of cutting to be done.

Apart from waterways, he undertook town surveys, and he was also an astronomer and mathematician. He published articles on the properties of wood, iron, glue, the weather, the proper way to establish the height of things, and devised a very accurate rain gauge. His system for closing swing bridges without leaving the boat was featured in Rees’s Cyclopaedia.

He died, at the age of 60, probably of a heart attack whilst observing an eclipse of the moon, on 2nd July 1833. He was buried at Ridgemont, Bedfordshire. His son, Benjamin Bevan Jnr, succeeded him as engineer to the Grand Junction.

Gordon Cale Thomas, Lift Engineer (1865–1921)

Gordon Cale Thomas, born in Watford in 1865, the son of Hubert Thomas. Hubert was engineer of the Grand Junction Canal from 1864 until 1891, when he was appointed clerk to the company, which included engineering and general management. He retired in 1905. Gordon worked for the GJC commencing 1891, as assistant engineer, and left under a cloud in 1916. As the company engineer, he eventually ran the whole GJC empire from their London headquarters at 21 Surrey Street. He was also a partner in the engineering design consultancy, Thomas & Taylor, with his cousin Barnabas James Thomas. They designed the lift, which was subsequently adopted by the GJC Co. He was appointed resident engineer for the construction of the lift. He was awarded a Gold Medal at the St Louis exhibition in 1904.

Things went wrong in 1916 when several irregularities were discovered in the works department accounts and Thomas was implicated. After a 9-day trial his prosecution was dismissed as the jury could not reach a decision. The company was not happy but accepted a plea of not guilty. He joined the army as a surveyor, and died in Birmingham in 1921, aged 56.

Christopher Staveley

Little seems to be known about Christopher Staveley. He worked under Jessop as surveyor on several projects. He surveyed the line for the Melton Mowbray Navigation under William Jessop’s guidance in 1790. He, and William Jessop, proposed a canal and river line to Leicester, the canalisation of the Wreake to Melton Mowbray, and a rail and water line to the Leicestershire collieries. In 1790, that became the Leicester Navigation. He was appointed surveyor at £200 a year. Having carried out a detailed survey of the Oakham Canal in 1792, he became engineer for that project and continued in that role until 1797. In addition to his works on the LNU, he also worked under John Smeaton on the Forth & Clyde Canal.

John Varley

Varley worked for James Brindley in his early career and went on to be employed by several companies, but never gained a high reputation. His first recorded independent work was a survey for a short Greasbrough (Park Gate) Canal. He worked as clerk of works on the Chesterfield Canal from 1772, but the committee found that his books were in a muddle and that the tunnel contracts “have been improvidently made and at prices greatly exceeding the real value thereof and in a collusive manner”. Presumably having learnt from the experience, he became engineer to the Erewash Canal in 1777, with a salary of £220 a year. In 1778, the top lock had to be taken down and rebuilt following his error in the levels. He was ordered to pay the £78 costs, less the value of the bricks. In 1780, he was dismissed following his failure to keep proper accounts for land and damage compensation payments, and for mistakes in the levels for the top lock.

Amazingly, this did not stop the Leicestershire & Northampton Union Canal from employing him to survey the line of the canal in 1792. He recommended a line to join the Grand Junction Canal at Gayton, with a branch to the Nene at Northampton, if the cost were reasonable. He did the final plans for the Bill together with Christopher Staveley. The pair got the job of engineers on the Leicester end of the canal.

He was offered work on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal on Standedge Tunnel but all his sureties backed out (his engineering reputation not being the best), so he was only used for some limited tunnelling work.

The Mountsorrel Granite Company’s extensive wharves. The Waterways Archive, Ellesmere Port

Gordon Cale Thomas (1865–1921) worked for the GJC from 1891, as assistant engineer, and left under a cloud in 1916.

The First Grand Union

On 24th May 1810, the Act to build a canal from Gumley Parish to Norton and the Grand Junction Canal was passed. The new waterway was to be known as the Grand Union Canal. It would have one branch to Welford, with one shallow narrow lock, taking the canal close to two of its reservoirs. Clauses in the Act gave large amounts of compensation to other waterways.

It was an expensive canal to build, with two tunnels, several embankments, and two flights of locks, making this the least profitable of the four waterways. Because the GJ refused to allow wide boats to use its tunnels, the GU built narrow locks, although the tunnels and bridges werewide. Two other clauses were to be beneficial in future years; if the GJ relented on its wide beam ban, the GU could widen the locks on its waterway without going back to Parliament. It was also allowed, if it wished, to replace the locks with inclined planes, making the building of the Foxton Lift much easier to undertake.

The first part of the waterway was built successfully and trading began using a temporary railway until Foxton Locks were completed. The tunnels were the last and biggest problems, especially Crick where the ground was particularly bad. One of the construction shafts collapsed and killed a workman.24HP Leics line.indd 24The Foxton Inclined Plane This unique solution allowed wider boats to pass and saved water. With the coming of the railways, competition started to bite. Fellows, Morton & Clayton wanted to use bigger boats to take coal from the north to London factories. They promoted a take-over of the Leicester Line by the Grand Junction Canal Company and promised to put more narrowboats on the canal until the locks at Watford (Gap) and Foxton could be widened. GJC engineer Gordon Cale Thomas was put in charge of the project. Wide locks were dismissed as using too much water from the canal’s summit pound. His solution was a boat lift to his patented design. Built by W.H. Gwynne of Hammersmith, London, the lift consisted of two tanks or caissons linked by wire rope. A steam-driven winch at the top wound the rope on to one side of its drum and simultaneously let it off the other, raising and lowering the tanks. Each tank was full of water and weighed 230 tons with or without a boat. Two boats or one barge would fit in each tank. The gradient was 1 in 4 and the total rise 75ft 2in. Once a boat had entered a tank at the bottom, the operator would close a guillotine gate behind it and signal to the engine room with a ship’s telegraph. The 25hp steam engine hauled the caisson up the hill, whilst the other tank descended, either with boats or just full of water. The descending tank simply sank into the water at the bottom where the guillotine gate was opened. However, the immersion of the descending tank effectively made it lighter in weight, upsetting the balance between the two tanks. To compensate for this, when the tank neared the top of the incline, an ingenious change was made to the angle of ascent. The top of the slope curved off, effectively making it easier for the tank to ascend. On the leading edge of the tank, extra wheels came into contact with extra rails either side of the normal track. At the same time the rear wheels descended into a pit. This arrangement kept the tanks upright.

A remarkably fine postcard image of FMC horse boats France and Iris about to enter the caisson at the bottom of the Foxton Inclined Plane. Although there are several well-dressed boat people in the photograph, there are also some others who are obviously not off the boats, so one wonders if this was some special occasion or whether the photographer was visiting with his family. There appears to be a spare set of caisson wheels to the right of the boats. Roger M. Butler Collection

The tank aligned with wooden seals fixed on the end of each top dock. Once at the top, hydraulic rams pushedthe tank onto the wooden seal, and the guillotine gates on the end of the tank and on the dock were opened. The entire operation took 12 minutes to move two narrowboats up and two down – a big saving against the time taken to use the locks.

The lift also saved a tremendous amount of water, because the only water lost was that trapped between the gates at the top.

The lift didn’t normally work at night as horse boats tended to stop to rest the horse. By 1909 FMC steam boats were working ‘fly’, which meant boating 24 hours a day, with a four-man crew working shifts. To accommodate these fly boats, the locks were restored for night use. The lift had worked well but the locks at Watford Gap were never widened, and the traffic didn’t increase.

This made the lift uneconomic. There were problems with track bolts pulling out of the sleepers, but nothing that could not have been overcome. The lift was capable of moving a massive amount of traffic compared with the actual usage. FMC’s promise of increased traffic had not been fulfilled.

In 1911 the lift was moth-balled to save money, the traffic returning to the locks which have been in use ever since. The decision was probably due to the need for substantial maintenance repairs on the 10-year-old structure, and the cost of keeping the lift in steam with a minimum of three operators. The fact that a fully working set of locks was available alongside the lift would not have helped. The lift was maintained for a few years, but sank into a slow decline, and in 1928 the machinery was sold for scrap.

The Grand Junction Canal Co’s horse boat Blisworth in one of the caissons of Foxton Inclined Plane on the opening day of 10th July 1900. The Waterways Archive, Ellesmere Port

The Grand Union opened on 9th August 1814, with a very grand cruise of the entire waterway, complete with brass band. They continued to Harborough and, as with the LNU, had a very good meal with the generous support of Joseph Cradock. A pair of Pickford’s boats travelled with the party and carried on to Leicester where they unloaded their cargo and set off with a return load back to London on the same day. Twenty years after the idea had been put forward, by a Dr Bree and his associates, the dream had come true – the Leicester Line was complete.

The celebrations, however, must have been tempered for the Grand Union committee. They knew that the canal was in debt and they had to arrange a large loan to tide them over. It wasn’t until 1827 that the company was out of debt and paying dividends, but it was nothing like as profitable as the Loughborough Navigation. One of the GU’s biggest problems was that it cut through a very rural part of Britain. This makes it one of the best places to cruise today but, when the canal needed trade, it had to rely almost entirely on through traffic, which was never as abundant as the proprietors had hoped.The Grand Junction

The LNU and (Old) GU were to become part of the Grand Junction Canal Company, and the last five miles of the LNU became the HarboroughArm. The GJC Co tried to fight the railways by building the inclined plane at Foxton, and then the line became part of the Grand Union Canal that we know today. We almost lost the Harborough Arm, with a threatened lowering of the A6 Bridge, but the diligence of a local council officer resulted in the intervention of the IWA, and the first ever Inland Festival of Boats at Market Harborough.

Traffics & Takeovers

The Leicester Line had a very chequered history once completed. It did well on local traffic but never really gained the through traffic that had been hoped for. Coal tended to go down the Ashby Canal rather than the Leicester Line, so the only really notable cargo was metal products from Butterley iron works on the Cromford Canal. The Wreake, Melton and Oakham canals gave way at an early date to rail competition.

In 1845, 80,000 tons of coal were being delivered to the Old Union from the Leicester & Swannington Railway for delivery locally. By the 1870s the local coal trade had all but disappeared.

The trade to Leicester was not too bad, but trade on the Old Union was struggling. By 1884 the Old Union canals were no longer making a realistic profit; the minutes suggested optimism that canal traffic would return but, in truth, they could not remain independent.

By 1893 the old GU company had offered itself for sale to the Grand Junction, but no agreement could be reached. They met with Mr Fellows of FMC who told them that trade under existing conditions was impossible. If they widened the locks at Foxton and Watford, and dredged the canal to take bigger boats, FMC could put wide steamboats on the canal with bigger carrying capacity. This, he said, would make the canal competitive with other transport systems.

With Fellows as a go-between, a sale was agreed with the Grand Junction. The winding up act was passed in 1894. The GJC started to dredge its new waters and negotiate reduced tolls from the coalfields near the Erewash all along the Leicester Line, giving the GJC effective control of the entire line.

Then they thought that they could consider Fellows’ suggestion of widening Watford and Foxton locks. Plans were even drawn up to replace the locks between Foxton and Leicester with lifts. This resulted in the building of the lift at Foxton, but before this was completed it was decided not to widen Watford. Declining trade and the success of steam-powered narrowboats may have had an effect, but Fellows had promised to put more trade on the canal in narrowboats until the line was widened. This didn’t happen, so with no guarantee of more traffic, spending the money on the second lift at Watford was not considered good value.

IWA Festival of Boats at Market Harborough 1950, the first ever inland festival of boats. There are hundreds of pictures of Foxton, but the oldest picture of Harborough dates from 1950 and this festival. OUCS Archive

The Foxton lift worked until 1911, the locks having already been restored for night use for ‘fly run’ steamers. The company minutes state “we will reopen when things get better”. The lift was used a few times after this date, probably when the locks were under repair, and it was maintained in a mothballed condition until 1928 when it finally went for scrap.

The GJC having amalgamated with other companies, the Act to set up the new Grand Union Canal was passed in 1928. They struggled on against growing competition of rail and road with the latter taking an increasing amount of the traffic. When the canals were nationalised in 1948, things looked bad for the Leicester Line.

Decline and Rise

That year nearly saw the end of the Harborough Arm, when the Leicestershire County Council roads department applied to the Docks & Inland Waterways Executive to lower the A6 bridge over the arm. DIWE said that it had no objection (subject to compensation) as there was little traffic on the canal.

Fortunately an eagle-eyed employee of the Harborough Council spotted the application and set in motion series of events which not only saved the arm but also led to the first ever Inland Waterways Association Festival at Harborough in 1950.

The canal may have been saved, but it was in poor condition with little traffic. Negotiating Foxton was hard work because of leaking gates, and the canals were clogged with weed. By 1956 there was hardly any traffic on the old Unions, and the Welford Arm became disused just after the Second World War. The Old Union Canals Society worked with British Waterways to get the arm reopened, which it did in 1969, Sir Frank Price performing the ceremony from his boat Telford.

It was only the coming of the pleasure boat market that finally saved the canal. Market Harborough became one of the biggest canal boatbuilding centres, with Harborough Marine and Springer Engineering in the town. Over 4,000 boats were built between them and they were not the only companies. Anglo Welsh was established at Harborough and Foxton Boat Services at Foxton. In 1980 the Foxton Inclined Plane Trust was formed to restore the lift and established a museum at Foxton which houses its collection and the archives of the Old Union Canal Society.

The Leicester Line is now a wellloved waterway, but still doesn’t get as much through traffic as it deserves.

INFORMATION

Bibliography 

The Leicester & Melton Mowbray Navigations by Philip A. Stevens (Alan Sutton; ISBN 0 89299 187 0) includes a good description of the Forest Line as well as detailed information about the Loughborough and Leicester navigations. 

Leicester Line by Philip A. Stevens (David and Charles; ISBN 0 7153 5536 8). 

The Old Union Canals, from the Old Union Canals Society available from Foxton Canal Museum (below). 

The Canals Of The East Midlands by Charles Hadfield (David & Charles; ISBN 7153 4871 X). 

There are also various documents in the OUCS and FIPT archives in Foxton Canal Museum. 

Old Union Canals Society

Formed in 1964 to promote all aspects of the canals, but in particular the Old Union waterways from West Bridge in Leicester to Norton Junction. It helped restore the Welford Arm and has been involved with many projects including replanting the living milepost trees along the summit canal and replacing the GJC cast iron marker posts which were missing. Society members designed and made the ‘Frank the Plank’ statue in the refurbished Harborough wharf. Whilst remaining completely independent, the society works in partnership with FIPT (below). 

Foxton Inclined Plane Trust

Formed in 1980 to promote the boat lift and its eventual restoration to full working order. Working as part of the Foxton Locks Partnership, the Trust has helped to organise and fund £3m of work on the incline and improved access and interpretation to the locks site. The Trust reconstructed the lift’s old boiler house and in 1989 opened the Foxton Canal Museum. The Museum is an Accredited Museum with the MLA and holds an extensive archive. 

Both organisations can be contacted at Foxton Canal Museum, Middle Lock, Gumley Road, Foxton, Leicestershire LE16 7RA (fipt.org.uk; 0116 279 2657).

Although much of the Leicester Line was never a great success in the early days, one late traffic did operate. Three Fellows Carrying carried gravel between Thurmaston and Syston, with Bletchley and an unnamed butty passing Syston Lock in the 1986. Paul Chanin