Brynderwen Lock restoration (1998-2002)

Society volunteers restored Brynderwen lock between 1998 and 2002. The site is on the unnavigable southern section of the canal approximately four miles southwest of Garthmyl and about a mile from the village of Abermule (OS map; aerial view). The lock is prominently sited, sandwiched between the A483 trunk road and the River Severn. Next to the lock is a Shropshire Union Canal Company Warehouse and the former lock cottage and wharf is sited below the lock. This stretch of the Montgomeryshire Canal (the Western Branch) was constructed between 1815 and 1821 under the direction of the engineer Josias Jessop. The bridge and lock date from this phase of construction.

The two-storey brick and corrugated iron warehouse was built by the Shropshire Union Railway and Canal Company, probably between 1880 and 1890. It was restored by the society during 1993 in cooperation with British Waterways (BW) and Powys Training. The project was funded by the Welsh Development Agency with assistance from the Prince of Wales’s Committee. The warehouse was subsequently used as a base for restoration of the lock and bridge – the lower storey for storage of the society’s tools and other equipment and the upper storey as a rudimentary welfare area.

Warehouse before restoration
Warehouse after restoration

The restoration work on the lock and surrounds was a joint venture between the society and British Waterways (BW), the society’s contribution being two-day work parties during the months from March to November. The society’s work commenced with the dismantling and rebuilding of the spillway above the lock. In mid-1999, BW installed stop planks above and below the lock. The society then added second barriers adjacent to and outside the planks so as to isolate, respectively, the forebay and the bridge invert. The last major job in the first year was the start of silt removal from the lock chamber using barrow and hoist.

Early work on the spillway
Finishing the spillway
Clearance of silt

The major task of silt clearance was finished in the middle of the second year. The brickwork on the walls and invert of the lock was then inspected by BW and as a result, all of the brickwork in the lock chamber was raked out and repointed and some areas replaced. Much of the forebay brickwork was demolished and rebuilt and the ground paddle sluices renovated. The bridge was relieved of its ivy covering and its brickwork restored. The curious little wooden bridge (whose history is unknown) immediately upstream of the brick bridge was found to be rotten and was demolished.
New gates, cills and paddle gear were installed by BW in 2001 and the gates were painted by the society. This done, a number of work parties were devoted to water testing the chamber. When this was concluded the dams and stop planks were, with difficulty, removed. The channel downstream of the lock was dredged by BW.

Repairs to forebay
Installation of the gates

The final months of the restoration were devoted to landscaping the surrounds and installing a slipway upstream of the lock. This was intended as a permanent feature for launching trail boats onto the Brynderwen/Byles/Newhouse section of canal. Alas, planning permission for this was refused due to the proximity of the A483. Its sole use was for the opening ceremony performed by Janet Lewis-Jones, a BW Board member, in 2002.

Opening ceremony
The site in 2002

Viewing the project retrospectively, three things are perhaps worthy of comment. Generally, volunteer work party numbers then were a far cry from today’s attendances – work party numbers rarely made double figures and in September 1999, attendance fell to three. Also, as can be seen from the photographs, there was a more relaxed attitude to personal protective equipment on site for much of the project – the hi-viz, hard hat, steel toed boots regime was (rightly) introduced at the insistence of BW in July 2000. Finally, the appearance of the lock and its surrounds today is diminished by lack of both use and maintenance and by the siting of an ugly CRT welfare facility adjacent to the (listed) warehouse building.

One Comment

  1. It may be of interest to others that the current state of the lock is in an appalling condition. The top gate is thoroughly rotten and surprising it hasn’t already collapsed. The balance beams on the bottom gates are very rotten and will now need replacing. There are huge sink holes all around the lock covered up with piling for safety (!) and the bridge is suffering from serious subsidence and cracking due to leakage washing away subterranean soil.

    The warehouse is also in an appalling state now and as far as the so called “temporary” huge welfare container… well, less said about that the better! And the stop planks are still there after 20 odd years. Such a shame after all the work we did in those days.

    From the present occupiers of the wharfhouse and lock cottage.

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