Interview 4 - Male Born 1933
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My memories of the Buckingham Arm of 1938/9 when I was 5 years old visiting this area in a place called Little Hill Farm.

Little Hill Farm is situated between the bridges of the road of Thornton and towards Deanshanger, slightly. My memory is walking as a 5 year old towards the canal and finding a maintenance barge being pulled by a large white horse with an old boy who was maintaining the whole of the canal section. And so I used to go down and look at him working on the canal.

The war came and I visited in 1945/6 and I remember the Italian prisoners of war fishing with home made rods which I enjoyed having a go with in the canal because the canal was full of fish and my memory of that period was that all the barges, or better still narrowboats, never passed the canal and the bridge that was next beam bridge to the bridge at Little Hill Farm had been made into a straight oak board bridge so never lifted up or down and the canal's use so far as I can remember had dwindled.

The canal was no longer maintained by people in that day, 1946, and the beam bridges as I said had gone.

The other interesting thing about the canal was the wildlife that lived in it - otters, kingfishers, and swans. I always remember in about the 1950's finding some boys had killed one of the swans on the other side of the Thornton road, and beyond that would be the Buckingham side. My memory sort of go from the Deanshanger end of the canal through to just the other side of Thornton.

Lets see, what else do I remember? Not a great deal.

Q: Let me take you back to the first thing you mentioned. You talked about the maintenance barge being pulled by a horse, what were they actually doing? Describe what you could see them doing.

A: Well, my memory as a boy of 5 is a bit limited as I am somewhat older now, and time has passed! I think what they were doing was trying to stop leakages on the banks and filling in holes made by rodents. It was mostly maintaining the wooden drawbridge, an of course the canal was about 5ft deep along that section, and I can also remember swimming amongst the fish as the water was lovely and clear, no disturbance and it was very nice swimming in the sun.

Q: Did many people swim there?

A: Oh yes, quite a few. We used to use a place quite close to the red bridge stone-built bridge that goes over at the bottom of the hill from Little Hill Farm, so we had quite an enjoyable time there as boys visiting a farm and the canal was nice, and beyond that you had the River Ouse of course, and I understand further towards Deanshanger where the concrete sections were they had considerable leakages there and they tried to stop the leakages by lining the sides with concrete, and my memory of that is that the concrete would be, the walls of the canal would be 7ft deep which made it quite a deep section.

Q: This would be around Mount Mill Farm?

A: Yes.

Q: Can you remember the bridge at Mount Mill Farm? Tell me about that.

A: That was a brick built bridge as well. And, one had double gates sometimes on these bridges, one each side, but mostly towards later time it was a swing bridge with a draw bit, and I can remember riding a horse up over a Little Hill Farm bridge and the gates swung to and the hinges creaked and groaned with a rather loud squeak and the horse went up in the air, I shot over the side with my foot jammed in the stirrups, and had a very bouncy and painful ride over the bridge. Then the leather of the strap snapped eventually and I was able to get free, but I thought my head was gong to be kicked in at one time as I was dragged across the field! But I survived that little trauma.

I would get on the bike and cycle to Buckingham to have an anti tetnus injection. It was a painful trip each way (ha ha).

Q: Moving on a bit, you talked about the Italian prisoners of war, they were fishing in the canal.

Q: Where were they ...?

A: They were fishing again, by the redbrick bridge south of Little Hill Farm, and there were also some German prisoners of war. When I first remembered them they had these sort of boiler suits on with coloured patches, but as time went on after the war, they amended these patches, and wore civilian clothes and stayed on until they were released to go home.

Q: Where were they staying in the end?

A: They used to stay in a camp towards Buckingham I believe, and they were transported in to help on the farms. I think they were in groups of about two or four, I'm not too sure, but it was interesting all along there, it was a nice stretch. I always described it as the nicest canal in the country.

Of course, the disaster was, unfortunately, in the 50's, or was it the 60's? They dropped the bridge at Old Stratford, without an Act of Parliament, which they should have had, and people allowed it to happen, and people like me used to scream in the wilderness round here at the damage done by duggers and lowering roads, and the canal became a virtual write-off, and then the unfortunate thing, the disaster, was the biggest disaster was the infilling that took place along the whole length of Old Stratford and also Thornton infilled and latter Deanshanger. This all took place in perhaps the 70's, I think it was that the infills took place at Thornton end and Deanshanger. And the hedges were removed at Deanshanger as well in the early 80's. And I have walked the sections on two or three occasions from the Buckingham basin, right through to the Grand Union which was a nice walk before it all disappeared. It was beginning to dry up in those days, and unfortunately the last section I remember was well kept as far as it could be by putting earth stops to keep the water in at Little Hill Farm because Mr Marchant who used to farm it liked the canal, like we all did that was interested, and he did try to save that section but the Thornton End is now overgrown.

I also photographed it I suppose even in the early 50's just a couple of sections, and photographed it again in 1982 I think it was, the length leading out from the Thornton going west towards Buckingham and a section this side, and also put some on slide film when the bridges were taken down and the new bridges inserted again, I think about 1970's, and they put a bit of a culvert in and there was the old stone bridge the other side of Thornton which had a track which is said to be an old Roman road leading toward Thornton Hall, which you can see marked in the ground. This has been vandalised and I would think will not last much longer than 2/3 years. There's some good photographs in the archives of the Archaeological Society as well.

Q: Earlier on you were talking about the old beam bridges, can you describe one of those for me?

My memories are a bit vague now, but it had two posts each side on the south bank, I seem to remember, with two beams with weighted blocks of wood, I think from memory, again which would be on the south side, and these were balanced and they just sort of swung up just enough to clear them, they were sort of counter-balanced beamed wood. All wood construction.

Q: How wide were they?

A: Well, you could get a cart over it, horse and cart. You know, 7 ft, maybe 8 ft max. No more than that. As I say that was as a 5 year old I can remember that. After the war that had gone, or just after. Again, John Marchant would give you a more accurate dating on when the beam bridge came down, and as I say the otters were there and the hounds were after it. Again, unfortunately, it was thought better to shoot the otter, rather than let the dogs take it to bits. So, we shot and skinned it, pegged it to a board for a souvenir if you like, a rather terrible thing to happen this day and age, for anybody doing anything like that this day and age, let the dogs get it or shoot it and put it out of its misery.

Q: Do you have any particular memories of when you were photographing the infilling and the changing of the bridges and so on, any particular incidence then?

A: No, only to think that the bridges unfortunately the original ones which were iron girder sections which crossed each section of river and the canal, unfortunately, had extremely heavy loads of grain lorries I believe went over it, and where the bridges had rusted at each end they began to give way and were condemned and the road was closed for about two years I think before they were replaced with newer bridges, and sort of culverted bit was inserted by the canal, or I believe the canal, from memory, was totally infilled not even culverted so that was the end of the canal or anybody wanting to get here, and then as I say in the fields to the west they were filled at about the same time I would think. I always wished that these had not happened, because I still feel that it would have been the most beautiful stretch of canal in the country.

Q: You remember the maintenance boat? Do you remember any other boats at that time?

A: Not too sure whether it was a distant or stretched memory on my part, but I'm wondering if I ever remembered a coal barge going through. And they used to deliver coal halfway between Thornton and Buckingham, I vaguely remember. Now whether this actually happened or you know, when you're five, you don't remember when you're sort of getting near 60 virtually.

Q: People tell you things, and they become part of your own memory/

A: That is it, everything I can remember up to that question is as I remember, but the coal barge it could be stretched imagination, because there was a signing there, but I can remember the basin.

Q: Tell me more about the basin.

A: Well it was a fairly large area, and you had the houses, canal maintenance houses I think they were, unfortunately stripped of all their slates I noticed the other day, and I understand there is a plan to try and save these is under way, but I thought 20 years ago they should have been saved, but ... and the whole of the servicing area that was part of the canal maintenance section is down there and I vaguely remember some sheds adjacent to the landing, where they landed stuff, but again this was in the 50's and they have all since been filled in and are gone now.

As I say, I have walked the whole length which was most enjoyable.

Q: Tell me about walking the length

A: Walking the length well some canal freaks and myself decided we would like to see it before it was all completely gone. So we made a schedule, no matter what the weather, to walk sections. Unfortunately, barbed wire would be tripped across. We were lucky, we were never stopped by anybody, and we just walked from Buckingham through to the Grand Union just to see how it was. Of course, now compared to then all hedges are so overgrown the towpaths, that in some cases you would not be able to walk the towpath any more because the hedges have got totally out of control.

Of course, this was the other thing, the maintenance barges, or narrowboats, used to trim the hedges back so that you could get through and lay the hedges. They used to maintain the hedges as well, but laying the hedges have long since ceased on the Buckingham Arm, so it would be nice if they opened them up again and lay the hedges one day and being able to walk along, and perhaps one day who knows even see water back into the canal, but I think it's a little doubtful myself.

Q: How many stretches did you walk the canal in?

A: I think we did it in three weekends. We walked from here to the other side Deanshanger, Deanshanger to near Buckingham and then finished it off and walked it, so it took about three weekends, by a weekend I mean a Saturday or a Sunday. So it was an interesting walk.

Q: What was the junction as Cosgrove like?

A: Oh, I remember that, that was full of mud, and a sunken narrowboat, I think it was a wooden one in the winding hole, and then I think there was a nice stone bridge that went over opposite the big house, whether has been bushed in or dropped in, its no longer there now, but sections was dug out and boats allowed to park there. On the other side of the bridge ...

Q: When is this we are talking about now?

A: This would be about 1970, perhaps 72. Then there was a move to try and open the canal about the same period, and there were enthusiasts that came and cut trees down and the idea was to get it through to Old Stratford, but I believe the thinking then was that if they put water in it the banks on the south side again would collapse and the water would just flow down into the fields so the idea of ever opening it was abandoned at that period and steel shuttering was put across the arm by the bridge, and that's as far as the re-watering ever took place unfortunately, because I feel it would have made a very fine ... even if it got to Old Stratford it would have been a place to park boats, rather than clutter the canal with a load of parked up boats which one gets these days, which I never think is a good thing.

Q: Can you remember what the canal was like at Old Stratford?

A: Well, I've looked at that, there was I believe a lock there, from memory. Also the buildings that were used for fitting out the boats that were made in Stony Stratford and launched sideways, as most people know that the tugboats were made in Stony, and taken up there and launched sideways, you could see the buildings of that period and my wife's grandfather worked on them for some years before Hays closed.

Q: What was his name?

A: Mr Faulkner, Bert Faulkner was his name, and he eventually became part of Bets & Faulkners builders in the town that built quite a lot of properties. But before being a builder he was a carpenter in the boatyard, and as I say, I remember chatting to him when he was in his 80's when he died, about his life as a carpenter and a builder and how he worked at Edward Hays. They were, as I say, most of that building now has fallen down, but some of it was standing when I went up there. I haven't been there lately so I don't know.

Q: Moving on to Deanshanger, what can you remember about the canal at Deanshanger?

A: Well it sort of zig zags through the village of Deanshanger, and through the Works, and I can remember the Works being very rusty and everything all about was sort of grey rusty dust, and even that used to get in the river at one time and they used to do a clear up job there. I suppose it must be 20/25 years ago when they tried to stop the river running red, as it used to away from Deanshanger out, but the canal as I say survived and then they started unfortunately building in Deanshanger, I believe they put garages and filled it in and generally unfortunately there are sections through part of it are totally filled in. So that's another section for anybody wishing to put the canal through would be with great difficulty. That's it.

Q: Anything else?

A: No, that's it.

OK, thank you.

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