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|I was born in 1909, and living in Buckingham now. I've been asked to write what I remember of the canal when I was young, and the canal was the working highway running the length and breadth of England. The cargoes usually transported by barge on the Stratford and Buckingham Arms were, I think, coming to Old Stratford and onto Deanshanger and Buckingham, mainly coal, and mixed cargoes.
The ironworks at Deanshanger making farm machinery would most likely have received all their raw materials by barge, and going the other way they would carry corn, hay etc, and I think implements from Deanshanger.
You remember, in those days everything that was moved aro Color und the country went by rail, canal or horse drawn carts. Motor transport of goods, which had not started, and I'm talking about 1914. I can't quite remember ... 1914 I started school, so it was somewhere about when I was five, but I couldn't tell you when. It might even have been about 1916. But during the 1914/18 war nothing changed, until 1918.
We lived then at 3 High Street, Stony Stratford. Sometimes mother and father would take us children for walks in the country. My favourite one was along the canal from Old Stratford, via Cosgrove Locks, returning across the fields via Wolverton Mill.
The canal was approached by a footpath across the first field over the river, and over a style onto the towpath. To our left was the entrance to Hayes fitting out shed and launching place, and the boats they built at Stony Stratford. The boats were launched sideways and then taken into the fitting out shed to have the engines fitted etc, because they were steam engines When finished they went down the canal, I think to the Thames where there was a connection to the river, and then on to the sea. The boats were used about Harveys tug boats.
In front was a large piece of water, large enough to turn a barge around, in the canal to Buckingham. On the right was the way to Cosgrove. I think the great attraction for me was the nearness of the water, it came right up to the path with no rushes or reeds, like you get alongside water, like old rivers or lakes. On the way to Cosgrove the canal was crossed by a farm road on a stone built bridge. At the bridge the canal narrows to just the width of one barge and then opened out again, and the stone wall of the bridge was worn into grooves where the tow ropes from the horse to the barge attached. The tow ropes were quite long, and if you think about it, the longer the tow rope the easier the steering would be, as it would not pull the barge towards the bank, as a short one would.
For the most of the way the bank on the far side of the canal was open without hedges, which gave everyone a good view across the fields, and did not give a feeling of being confined.
Approaching Cosgrove the far bank was boarded by a narrow wood which we were told, as it approached the house, was covered with wild flowers, snowdrops etc. With the wood passed we would soon be getting to Cosgrove Locks, which if there were any barges about, we could wait and see the Locks working. This would be our highlight to the walk. The return home would be across the fields to Old Wolverton. There is a footpath to Vicarage Walk.
Although not part of the canal, but connected with it, was a ship building works in London Road. The large house next to the works was a private school for small boys and girls which I attended at the time.
The main noise coming from the factory, sometimes almost continuous hammering. This was explained to me as hammering the rivets which joined the steel plates together. One man would be inside the boat and one outside, both with heavy iron hammers. The rivet was heated to red hot, put into the hole in the sheets and then flattened - both men hitting at the same time.
That's all I've written for now. Unless there is anything else you want to know?
Q: Is there anything else you were going to write.
A: Not at the minute. The countryside in those days of course was much more tidier than it is today. The labour was cheap, and the elderly farm worker was often kept on beyond retiring age, to just a sort of tidy up around the farm, which of course spilled over onto the towpath. Everything was nice and trim and tidy nothing out of place.
The locks are exactly as they are today, they've not altered a bit. The motor driven boats came in as far as I can remember after 1914. That was when the petrol engine was developed over the war years for war purposes, and probably not immediately, but very soon after the war finished they were adapting the motor engine to all sorts of things.
Q: Can you remember the barges, describe some of the barges.
A: Oh, yeah. The barges were full sized barge always, with living compartment at the stern I think, and the bargees, if they had a family, they would travel with the family, so it wasn't unusual to see a boy of about seven or eight years on a horse, while his father probably went ahead to get the locks open. The practice continued right up to the war years. I can't remember exactly, but more or less right up to the war years.
My sister-in-law was the school teacher at the girls school in Wolverton, and the children from the barges were supposed to attend the school if they could possibly get to a school. When they brought timber to be unloaded at the wharf, there might be about three days before they were loaded up to get back and three days schooling at Wolverton school. The teachers of course did their best to fit them in, and some of them came regularly for the trips, for others it was just a one day off.
Q: What did the other children think of the barge children.
A: They tolerated them, there was no antagonism. They probably thought they were rather unique, but it created an interest in my sister to the whole outlook of barges and canals and she was quite interested. She bought a set of dipping bowls and two large cans with a lid and a small can with a lid which I have inherited. She bought it from a shop which supplied the bargees, on the way to Northampton, you go through the village by road.
Yes, Blisworth. There was a barge shop there to supply the bargees with what they wanted. She was seconded to the BBC when they started school broadcasting on the radio. Quite a party of people got together to start schools broadcasting. Then they suddenly realised they hadn't a teacher amongst them, so they appealed to Bucks County Council for an able teacher, in fact they had two, both from Wolverton Girls School. Miss Faulker, my sister in law, and Miss Smith who was the headmistress of the school at the same time, and they were seconded to the BBC, to get Schools Broadcasting shaped up, so that it conformed with ordinary teaching. Of course, she ran a programme on canals, because she felt she was fully qualified to put it over.
Q: When was that?
A: When Schools Broadcasting started? Somewhere about 1937. Just before the war. They then sent out mid Bristol way for the duration of the war, and she became a permanent member of staff, and stayed with the BBC till she died.
That's a bit of BBC history I shall have to convey to our guys at work. Thinking about the canals again, you spoke about the families of the bargees, what was the general status of barge people?
Well, mainly gypsies, definitely, but I don't really remember. I wouldn't have been old enough to know what their status was really, except that they were one up on gypsies, because they more or less had a permanent home, and permanent journeys. It's a job to describe a canal, it's just a stretch of water the boats come down.
Looking at it in 1921, I made a trip to Buckingham, and as far as I remember there was still coal in the coal wharf along the cottage of Stratford Road, and of course the depot where barges unloaded with the other goods was a working mill that ground corn, not sure what sort of mill it was, but it wasn't a water mill. In 1932 it was all finished. As far as Buckingham was concerned the canal was dead, but all the buildings were there of course.
Q: What did they look like? Can you remember?
A: The building that you saw from the Stratford Road, which is roughly where the garage stands now, was the Black Tower boards, without any windows on the road side, and it wasn't very lofty. The building on the other side of the unloading canal was, I think, a two storey building, and they were still making grinding flour, but of course if you wanted to send any, it went by road or rail. There was a turning area just short of the end of the canal between the two buildings and that was the end. Just before you got there, there was a turning area, I never really went along to investigate, but it was a turning area. Various surface water drains drained into the canal. Of course, the Grand Junction pub was the nearest public house to the canal, so they had most of the bargee trade.
Q: Did you ever go there?
A: No, afraid not. The last cargo to Buckingham was in about 1927 I think. Going on, after the canal was discontinued, it was put on the market, and you could buy a piece of it. The cost of the canal from Cosgrove to Buckingham complete, was £2,000, but that entailed the upkeep of the road bridges and also the bridges over the canal which, of course, was an unknown amount of money to look after them, but I didn't pursue that.
When the canal was finally filled in at the Buckingham end, there were various floods with the surface water - they had forgot to connect it through to anything else so you had a local flood occasionally until they woke up to the fact.
Q: When did they fill it in?
I can't remember, that was something that happened along the way.
Q: Did you see it being filled in at all?
A: No, I don't remember seeing it being filled in at all. When we want to have the stretch of canal that contained the lock, the lock gates were in position, but after a few years, it was decided from a safety point of view they ought to be moved, they were heavy things and really not safe. It was a pity.
Q: What happened to them?
A: I don't know. Then of course the draw bridges they had, getting the barges across the farm roads, also the road that goes towards Passenham Road, a little bit towards Stony Stratford, you have a road that goes towards Puxley. Just down there, there was a drawbridge which lifted the road up, when the barges wanted to go underneath.
Q: Can you describe the drawbridge?
A: The drawbridge - you had a tree trunk, and another trunk over it, and this was a counterbalance to equal the weight, there was a chain, a hinge. You pulled on the chain and everything went up. They took very little muscle to pull up. The edge of the bridge fitted in to the road, and when it came down it fitted back on. The bridge was slightly domed and it was timber like railway sleepers running across the road, and the other were slightly down. There was another like that down by the stretch of the canal, and several more, taking farm roads and by-roads, any thing more than a by-road had a stone bridge put over it. There was a stone bridge at Leckhampsted wharf, and several stone bridges in Deanshanger. I never walked through Deanshanger much.
You had one of those that the farm just before you get to Deanshanger which stood back across one field - had its own little drawbridge and they put white water lilies in that canal. I always liked to go across and deliver anything to that place because it was such a nice little piece of water. A friend of mine has the piece of canal in his garden which still holds water and he uses it as a water garden.
You have the Stony Stratford side as the canal comes into Deanshanger, you have the big house and garden that goes down to the road, and there's one or two slightly smaller houses, and then you have what used to be a bridge, and that little bit of canal runs through his garden.
Q: Did you open drawbridges yourself?
A: Oh, yes. You were allowed to open them yourselves, provided an adult was there to see we did it properly. And, of course, the mode of transport around the country was the pony and trap.
Q: Did you raise bridges because a boat was coming?
A: No, we were allowed to raise it to see how it worked.
Q: Could you open it on your own?
A: As far as I remember, probably I was 8 years, I could open them. It was surprising how easy it did open with the help of the counterweight.
Q: They must have been well maintained?
A: Oh, everything was well maintained.
Q: Did you ever see maintenance going on?
A: No, I didn't.
Nothing else strikes me as being worth recording.
Well, there's a lot there - thank you very much indeed