Sister Mary Ward

We visited the Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne recently to buy our 2011 IWA Calender. As I mentioned in an earlier post its narrow format is ideal for boating.
As we were leaving the museum my eye was drawn to a piece of nice sign writing at the rear of the museum and then to a grave headstone nearby. We had to examine it. It was the headstone from the grave of the famous nurse to the boat people, Sister Mary Ward. She lived nearby in what is now the Spice of Bruerne restaurant.

Relocated Headstone

Sister Mary Ward - Nurse

The interpretation board alongside says it all:

The red brick house before you is the family home of Sister Mary Ward, nurse to the boat people on the Grand Union Canal. After training and nursing on the Continent in the First War, she returned here in the 1930s and established a surgery in the house to provide nursing care for the boating families. Much of her work she funded herself, until eventually she received payment from the Canal Company. As well as providing medical care, she helped in many other social and practical ways, and was held in great esteem by the boating community She retired in 1962. The value of her service was officially recognised when she was awarded the British Empire Medal. The headstone was threatened with destruction when the site of her resting place changed ownership and function. The new owners of the property, realising the significance, offered it to the museum. It was agreed, with relatives' consent, that it could be accepted "as a place of safety", being an alternative to its uncertain future.

Here stands in acknowledgement of a lady who devoted her life and service to the people of the Waterways, and who was respected by all those who knew her.

Sister Mary - Nurse and, above all, Boaters' Friend

I presume the Baptist Chapel in Roade, where the headstone originally stood, has been converted to another use. It's good to see that such an important memorial is being preserved for future generations. More details on Sister Mary's life are available on a web page generated by local schools and of course Wikipedia.

She appeared on an early This is Your Life. I wonder if, like the recently screen Hattie Jacques episiode, the footage exists somewhere. A photo from the episode, which was filmed in 1958, appears in David Blagrove's excellent Waterways of Northamptonshire book. David identifies, and gives a biopic, of all the assembled guests who include Leslie Morton from Willow Wren and various boating families.

Cosgrove Aqueduct Abseiling

When searching for links for my post about the 200th aniversary of the opening of the Cosgrove aqueduct (Iron Trunk) this week, I thought the only video of abseiling off the aqueduct might be that from the BBC. I was wrong.

It appears to be a favourite pastime of a group of daredevil (?) climbers. The second video hints that they have done it several times.

Does this happen at other aqueducts?

Thames Problems

Having cruised the River Thames recently I still get Environment Agency stream warnings.

It looks quite difficult on the Thames at the moment:

"Red warning boards are being shown at ALL Thames Locks with an increasing number of weirs being fully open. River flows will continue to increase over the next 24 hours."

Lots of melted snow, lots of rain = difficult conditions on rivers.

Happy Birthday Iron Trunk

In terms of canal architecture we are lucky since we live close to both Blisworth tunnel and Stoke Bruerne locks. However, just to our south we also have a fine example of the other main component of canal architecture, the aqueduct.

Cosgove aqueduct, or the Iron Trunk, lies just to the south of our village and this week it celebrates its 200th birthday. There is some confusion over the exact date of the opening, according to Alan Faulkner it is January 22nd but British Waterways state that is January 21st. I was reminded of the anniversary by Brian Dunleavy, who blogs about Wolverton history, following the post about our recent New Year’s Day walk around Cosgrove.

Iron Trunk in January 2009

The Iron Trunk has carried the Grand Union (Grand Junction) over the Great Ouse for 200 years since it replaced an earlier unsatisfactory structure which collapsed in 1808. Originally there was a system of locks that provided a crossing at river-level. The locks were used until 1805 when the first aqueduct, designed by William Jessop, was constructed. The line of the locks is still visible. The first aqueduct appears not to have been very satisfactory from the start and it collapsed on February 22, 1808. The embankment also had difficulties and part of it collapsed in 1806.

Compared to some other aqueducts the Iron Truck is relatively modest in height (60ft), modest in length (100ft) and is by no means a ground breaking structure. However, it is an impressive structure and it has proved to be very durable only being dewatered for repairs in 1921 and 1986. It was designed by Benjamin Bevan who adopted the construction technique employed by Thomas Telford at Longdon-on Tern where he constructed the world's first large-scale cast iron navigable aqueduct. The iron sections for Cosgrove were cast at the Reynold’s Ketley foundry at Coalbrookdale who had supplied the material for the Longdon aqueduct.

Longdon-on Tern aqueduct in 2006

Telford employed the same technique at the world-famous Pontcysyllte aqueduct.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in 2002

British Waterways have just started giving the Iron Trunk a birthday facelift. It appears that this includes a repaint. Recently BW took samples of the 1811 paint by abseiling over the side. Video of this was featured on our local BBC news programme. BW plan to dewater the aqueduct at some stage. It would be great to see this happen, particularly seeing the water drop into the river below.

Iron Trunk dewatered in 1921

If you are interested in canal aqueducts then the blog by Captain Ahab specifically about aqueducts is very useful. Brian Dunleavy's blog about the Iron Trunk has some intersting images and details of the history. There is also a Wikipedia page on the Cosgrove Aqueduct.

I have earlier posts about the Iron Trunk and my visit to the Longdon-on-Tern Aqueduct.

The history of the Iron Trunk is also well described in Alan H Faulkner’s 1972 book “The Grand Junction” which was published by David & Charles. It provides a great description from the Northampton Mercury of the aftermath of the collapse of the first aqueduct.

Hatton Flight

We visited family in Solihull yesterday and had lunch at The Waterman by Hatton Locks. The ale was good, the cider (Stowford Press) was good and the food was also good, although the fish served on a wooden platter had a bit too much batter.

We walked up to the locks and looked in at the Locks Cafe. It was very busy which for a January winter's weekend must bode well for their business.

The flight was closed for maintenance with the lock pound adjacent to the depot (which must be handy) drained. As always, looking at drained pounds gives you a new perspective. I don't know what job is being carried out but the lock island looks in poor condition. Some stop planks were in use. Unusually they were aluminium.

Maintenance at Hatton Locks

The ground paddles on the improved Grand Union locks were visible. In a drained state their large size was clearly visible.

Grand Union improved (c. 1936) ground paddles

The remains of one of the single locks, that are now used as weirs, was clearly visible. Their ground paddles were obviously a lot smaller.

The remains of an original single locks now used as an oversplill weir - lots of silt

I also noted that they were adding fillets between the lock beams and the gates. I presume that this is a safety measure to stop boats getting hung up when locks are drained.

Safety Fillet

New Year's Walk near Cosgrove

For New Year's day, which was cloudy and relatively mild - particularly given the recent arctic weather, we took a walk near home along the River Ouse at Stony Stratford.

We started at Wolverton Mill and took one of the Ouse Valley walks but instead of following the river we crossed the bridge north towards Cosgrove heading in the general direction of the Grand Union aqueduct and the famous Iron Trunk. We visited the area below the aqueduct two year's ago when we posted about the "mock" lock that has been erected by the Milton Keynes Parks Trust near the river to indicate the original course of the canal and its river-level crossing. This year we were on the other bank. The original line of the canal is somewhat obscured by trees but it is still visible.

Former line of the Grand Junction alongside the aqueduct at Cosgrove

We followed the line of the former flight of locks up to the "modern" Cosgrove Lock. The boater wire sculpture looks impressive close up.

Boatman Sculpture - Cosgrove Lock

We then walked along the Buckingham Arm. The first part is in water and acts as a small basin. The ice was begining to melt and looked milky.

Grand Union Buckingham Arm - watered section

After what was the first bridge on the arm it is no longer in water. The footpath along the dry canal acts as public footpath to Old Stratford.

Grand Union Buckingham Arm - dry section

We walked along it for about a mile before we diverted across a field (very muddy) to the River Ouse where the modern A5 crosses. Unable to cross the river at this point, we then walked upstream along the river bank to the original Watling Street crossing before making our way back downstream to Wolverton Mill. A good new circular walk but around an area that is very familiar to us.