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Last working flash lock

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I am disappointed that not a single flash lock seems to have survived to the present day. It would appear that the last working flash lock was at either Castle Mills Lock on the Great Ouse in Bedford or Eaton Hastings on The Thames...or perhaps someone knows of one that lasted longer somewhere else? It is ironic that the Castle Mills Lock was finally swept away as part of a restoration effort, I think in 1978 - although it was derelict by then.

 

However, I wonder if there is the possibility of restoring a flash lock somewhere?

Any possible restored flash lock would need to be at the very margins of the network, because they are clearly incredibly difficult to use and result in considerable loss of water. The staunch at Bottisham would seem to be a good location (see separate thread that started all this!). By coincidence, it is also on the route of a proposed major cycleway (between Cambridge and Wicken Fen) so would get plenty of visitors. I am sure that flash lock stonework exists in many locations, although the staunch at Bottisham is right next to a public road so may be more easily accessible than many sites.

 

There is a working flash lock capstan, also by the Thames and restored in 1999, in the grounds of Wittington House between Henley and Marlow at the former Hurley flash lock: this particular lock was converted to a pound lock in 1773.

 

Although no flash lock survives anywhere in Britain (by stating this so bluntly, I am really hoping that someone is going to prove me wrong!), there are three weirs on the River Thames at Northmoor, Rushey and Radcot weirs. I understand all three continue to use the paddles and rymers principle of water level control. (See web page here) Technically, I imagine that these could actually be used as a flash lock if someone hauled a small boat through the gap. Perhaps even use by a canoe would constitute real usage of it as a flash lock!

 

 

So…which was the last working flash lock? Or is there one working in Britain somewhere now?

Should one be restored somewhere? If so, where?

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River Wey at Thames might be described as same as it raises the pound to let boats get over the cill of the first lock.

Well it did when I was last there but some 25 years ago.

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River Wey at Thames might be described as same as it raises the pound to let boats get over the cill of the first lock.

Well it did when I was last there but some 25 years ago.

But isn't it effectively more like a staircase there? Am I right in thinking that with a flash lock, the boat moves with the water?

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So…which was the last working flash lock?

 

 

Dutton Stop Lock, T&M canal, early 1970s :rolleyes:

 

The bottom gates were removed late 50s/early 60s as the levels were so similar, a new top gate was fitted with an extremely large paddle & extra long beam, at that time the Bridgewater was maintained at a consistently high level for the Kellogs grain traffic through the rocks in Trafford Park.

 

After the major breach at Bollington, more or less coinciding with the end of the Kellogs traffic, the Bridgewater level was dropped and was consistently 4 to 6 inches below the T&M. The single gate then became a real struggle to operate, and BW fitted a winch to it as a temporary measure until new bottom gates were made (by MSC, incidentally, as it was 'their fault!').

It was pretty close to being a flash lock at that stage, though I know it's not really what was being looked for.

I reckon if that arrangement was set up today, someone would be seriously injured within a couple of weeks. Although it was not terribly safe, I'm not aware that anyone hurt themselves in the time (a year or so?) when it was in operation.

 

The average Bridgewater level seems to have crept back up over the years, the cynic in me thinks that's probably to hide the lack of dredging.

 

Tim

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I am disappointed that not a single flash lock seems to have survived to the present day. It would appear that the last working flash lock was at either Castle Mills Lock on the Great Ouse in Bedford or Eaton Hastings on The Thames...or perhaps someone knows of one that lasted longer somewhere else? It is ironic that the Castle Mills Lock was finally swept away as part of a restoration effort, I think in 1978 - although it was derelict by then.

 

However, I wonder if there is the possibility of restoring a flash lock somewhere?

Any possible restored flash lock would need to be at the very margins of the network, because they are clearly incredibly difficult to use and result in considerable loss of water. The staunch at Bottisham would seem to be a good location (see separate thread that started all this!). By coincidence, it is also on the route of a proposed major cycleway (between Cambridge and Wicken Fen) so would get plenty of visitors. I am sure that flash lock stonework exists in many locations, although the staunch at Bottisham is right next to a public road so may be more easily accessible than many sites.

 

There is a working flash lock capstan, also by the Thames and restored in 1999, in the grounds of Wittington House between Henley and Marlow at the former Hurley flash lock: this particular lock was converted to a pound lock in 1773.

 

Although no flash lock survives anywhere in Britain (by stating this so bluntly, I am really hoping that someone is going to prove me wrong!), there are three weirs on the River Thames at Northmoor, Rushey and Radcot weirs. I understand all three continue to use the paddles and rymers principle of water level control. (See web page here) Technically, I imagine that these could actually be used as a flash lock if someone hauled a small boat through the gap. Perhaps even use by a canoe would constitute real usage of it as a flash lock!

 

 

So…which was the last working flash lock? Or is there one working in Britain somewhere now?

Should one be restored somewhere? If so, where?

The original weir at Buscot was also a paddle and rymer weir. When the new channel was cut and a replacement weir installed, I'm fairly sure that the roginal weir was retained and is now maintained by the National Trust (as is most of the land in the local area).

 

My Brother in Law is the lock keeper at Radcot. Given the choice, he would well prefer a modern weir with powered gates. Operating the paddle and rymer weirs is long and back breaking work!

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The original weir at Buscot was also a paddle and rymer weir. When the new channel was cut and a replacement weir installed, I'm fairly sure that the roginal weir was retained and is now maintained by the National Trust (as is most of the land in the local area).

 

My Brother in Law is the lock keeper at Radcot. Given the choice, he would well prefer a modern weir with powered gates. Operating the paddle and rymer weirs is long and back breaking work!

 

Thanks for this Steve. I gather that many weirs on The Thames, as on many rivers, were originally constructed this way.

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Thanks for this Steve. I gather that many weirs on The Thames, as on many rivers, were originally constructed this way.

If my memory serves me correctly, when we started boating (on the Thames) back in the mid sixties (I was only a child), most of the weirs on the Thames were still paddle and rymer.

 

In my more reckless youth, we used to shoot the weirs in canoes. You used to have to mind your head on the cross beam though :o

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If my memory serves me correctly, when we started boating (on the Thames) back in the mid sixties (I was only a child), most of the weirs on the Thames were still paddle and rymer.

 

In my more reckless youth, we used to shoot the weirs in canoes. You used to have to mind your head on the cross beam though :o

 

I think a lot of Thames weirs are still used by canoeists for this!

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So…which was the last working flash lock?

D.H. Burlingham's "To Maintain and Improve" (the history of the Lower Avon Navigation Trust) states that the last working example was Pershore (AKA Pensham) Water Gate on the Lower Avon.

 

83_big.jpg

 

The water gate was required to raise the water level sufficiently for vessels to be able to get over the cill into Pershore Lock, about a mile upstream.

 

It was removed in the late 1950's as part of a flood prevention scheme carried out by the River Severn Catchment Board. There was a second water gate on the same river at Cropthorne, but this was derelict when removed in a later phase of the same scheme.

 

The boat in the picture passing through the gate is probably the grain barge "Pisgah", which traded from Avonmouth to Partridge's Mill in Pershore until it burnt down in 1974.

 

Cheers

 

Paul

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It was removed in the late 1950's as part of a flood prevention scheme carried out by the River Severn Catchment Board. There was a second water gate on the same river at Cropthorne, but this was derelict when removed in a later phase of the same scheme.

The 1950s makes it a lot more recent than the Thames flash locks, but what about Castle Mills on the Ouse in Bedford? It was derelict when removed in 1978, but how long had it been derelict?

 

 

Also, how does this type of lock differ from the lock at the entrance to the Wey Navigation?

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The boat in the picture passing through the gate is probably the grain barge "Pisgah", which traded from Avonmouth to Partridge's Mill in Pershore until it burnt down in 1974.

 

Cheers

 

Paul

 

Has anyone heard of the Pisgah in recent years?

It was taken over to France in the ?late seventies?, operating IIRC as a sort of charter vessel.

Originally Dutch built IIRC, and had a Widdop engine when working on the Avon or so I was told, never saw it then.

 

Tim

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Pisgah was taken to France in the 70s and became a hotel boat. I seem to recall that this venture was the brainchild of John Liley,former editor of Motor Boat and Yatching and still an occasional contributor to waterway magazines, It may have been renamed? If anyone has contact with John I am sure he would know the answer in any case. CKP

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The average Bridgewater level seems to have crept back up over the years, the cynic in me thinks that's probably to hide the lack of dredging.

We think its because the sluice at Castlefield had been leaking for years and now its bunged it, the water levels come back up!

 

There were some flash locks on some of the rivers in Yorkshire when I was a lad, no gates but still in good condition, I do not remember any of them being navigable that far up except by canoes!

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The 1950s makes it a lot more recent than the Thames flash locks, but what about Castle Mills on the Ouse in Bedford? It was derelict when removed in 1978, but how long had it been derelict?

 

 

Also, how does this type of lock differ from the lock at the entrance to the Wey Navigation?

Sorry, I'm not familar with the Wey Navigation lock. But I do have a few pictures of the Pershore Watergate, and it seems to have had four rymers in the weir, and at least one paddle in the single gate. There was a winch to enable the gate to be opened against a head of water, and possibly a second one used to winch boats through.

 

In the postcard picture that I posted, only three of the rymers seem to be lifted, but this may have been due to the poor condition of the navigation equipment at the time. According to contemporary accounts, by the early 1950's the crew of "Pisgah" (who obviously had a commercial interest) carried out sufficient repairs to render the waterway navigable (just!) as far as Pershore.

 

The owner of the navigation had stopped collecting tolls, and was only interested in receiving the Annuity that was (and I think still is) payable by the Stratford Canal.

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We think its because the sluice at Castlefield had been leaking for years and now its bunged it, the water levels come back up!

 

There was a definite policy decision to drop the levels after the combination of the breach and Kelloggs traffic ending. That's why Waterways were able to lean on Ship Canal to make the new gates for the (Waterways) stop lock.

 

Tim

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Sorry, I'm not familar with the Wey Navigation lock. But I do have a few pictures of the Pershore Watergate, and it seems to have had four rymers in the weir, and at least one paddle in the single gate. There was a winch to enable the gate to be opened against a head of water, and possibly a second one used to winch boats through.

I think the main difference of the Wey lock is that boats only pass through it after equalizing the levels, whereas a flash lock should be navigated on flowing water.

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I think the main difference of the Wey lock is that boats only pass through it after equalizing the levels, whereas a flash lock should be navigated on flowing water.

That's just what I said back in post no. 3!

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That's just what I said back in post no. 3!

Yes true, but that was a while back and Post #14 seemed to warrant its being repeated

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Yes true, but that was a while back and Post #14 seemed to warrant its being repeated

No problem, always happy to have someone confirm what I thought - especially as the River Wey experience was right at the start of our boating career and we had no idea about anything really. It's very scary in hindsight!

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I'm not sure why it didn't occur to me before, but there was an excellent article on flash locks by Pat Jones in the April 1991 issue of Waterways World. If you have all the old issues, do check it out - it provides a lot of great information and confirms some things written in this thread but also contradicts other things.

 

Firstly....the last working flash lock in the UK?

 

Cropthorne Watergate on the Lower Avon, near Fladbury, which was demolished in 1961 by the Royal Engineers, but it doesn't state when it last operated. The article suggests that there were no less than 33 working flash locks in the 20th Century, and most seem to be on the Fens (27), with four on the Thames and two on the Lower Avon. "My" staunch at Bottisham Lode (separate thread) must be one of those listed for the Fens, but there were others on the Lark and Great Ouse and Little Ouse. Pat Jones' article refers to several further articles in the late 1960s and early 1970s in other magazines and journals.

 

Now rather surprisingly, not all the flash locks were of the rymer+paddle configuration, and contrary to some of the information in this thread, some of the gates were indeed guillotine locks (WW has a photo of a guillotine flash-lock gate at Thetford). I must confess that this surprised me, but then I had not fully appreciated the whole cycle of a flash lock's operation. My perception was that when the gate was opened, the subsequent rush of water was all white water fury. But this was not the case; for the first few minutes, it was a foaming torrent, but at this stage there was no boat movement at all - either up or down stream. However, the local miller would certainly encourage the boats to get moving so as to be able to shut the gate as quickly as possible. For passing the flash lock, the boaters wanted it as level as possible, but the millers wanted to lose as little as possible from the upper pound. It seems that after a while it was quite straightforward moving boats upstream or downstream, and it wasn't all the manic rush of crashing timbers, and Sodom and Gomorrah - just a swiftly flowing stretch of water. Once through the lock, the boats heading upstream would usually wait for the pound to refill. However, downstream of the locks, the boats would shoot off hell for leather to avoid running aground in the upper reaches of the pound.

 

Pat Jones article mentions the Piercebridge Formula book and there is certainly lots of possible exploration for archaeologists and others to discover ore of this little-studied part of our waterways history.

 

Do contribute any memories, photographs, theories, suggestions that you might have about flash locks!

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Cropthorne Watergate on the Lower Avon, near Fladbury, which was demolished in 1961 by the Royal Engineers, but it doesn't state when it last operated.

 

I don't know, but it was certainly derelict when demolished.

 

However, the local miller would certainly encourage the boats to get moving so as to be able to shut the gate as quickly as possible. For passing the flash lock, the boaters wanted it as level as possible, but the millers wanted to lose as little as possible from the upper pound.

 

Interestingly, the two watergates on the Lower Avon worked differently from the way you have described. They were both situated a mile or so downstream of mills and their associated locks and weirs, and so would have been left with their gates/paddles/rymers open. A boat passing upstream had to pass through the gate and wait for the water level to rise sufficiently for them to be able to clear the cill of the upstream lock.

 

The miller would have lost his head of water until the gate was opened again and the water level fell in the lower pound.

 

I assume that boats passing downstream must have sent crew ahead to set the watergate before they were able to empty the lock upstream of it, otherwise they would have been grounded in the lock.

 

I'm fairly sure that there was at least one similar watergate above Evesham on the Upper Avon. I recall reading a story that one of the day trip steamers from Evesham had been in the process of entering a (pound) lock, when the impatient crew of another craft opened the downstream watergate prematurely, resulting in the steamer grounding partway into the lock and then breaking her back on the lower cill.

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what about the watergate in the weir at chester? would that still count as still being "in use"

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what about the watergate in the weir at chester? would that still count as still being "in use"

 

hadn't thought about that. Are there other watergates in weirs? They wold certainly seem to fit the bill.

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