Burgedin Locks Restoration (1987-1998)

Between 1987 and 1998, the Society worked on the restoration of the two locks at Burgedin together with the connecting pound. These are sited close to, and below, the junction with the Guilsfield Arm. They are part of a group of structures of historic interest built before 1797 including the upper lock bridge (105), a sluice with radial-arm paddle gear, a lengthsman’s house and storehouses. The upper lock bridge, lock chamber and the paddle gear were listed Grade 2 in 1994. The lengthman’s house is now a CRT base.

Top lock before restoration (photo G Craven)

For the duration of the project, work parties were generally once a month from March to November, usually of two days duration but with the August event sometimes extended to a week. Throughout the project, volunteer numbers were low, rarely exceeding half a dozen per day. The information available in the source material suggests that the Society self-funded their own work and that British Waterways (BW) funded directly the latter stages of the restoration.

Work on site started in March 1987 with vegetation clearance and drainage work in the pound. Towpath copings and some 40m of wash wall were removed, ultimately to make way for a BW-specified reinforced concrete wall. The rest of the year’s work parties were concerned with trench excavation and fabrication of formwork for the wall.

Removal of copings on towpath

The first task during 1988 was the erection of a plant access bridge across the bottom lock. From May onward, reinforcement and formwork were assembled ready for the first concrete pour (using a concrete pump) on the new towpath wash wall. Aided by an August one-week camp, 35m of this was finished by the end of the calendar year.

In March 1989, work started on the offside wall of the pound, the old wall being demolished and the foundations excavated for a reinforced concrete wall of similar design to that on the towpath side. The sequence of fixing reinforcement, formwork assembly and pouring concrete was repeated seven times over the summer. By the end of the year, about half of the total length of offside wall was finished. In parallel, the towpath wall was completed by casting concrete copings and installation of expansion joints. By November, tanking and backfilling was completed and a towpath along the pound was constructed.

Casting the pound wall

Work continued during 1990 on the offside wall and by the end of the year, construction was largely complete including copings, application of tanking and backfilling. Low volunteer numbers meant that a decision was taken during the year to use more mechanical plant, initially a hydraulic excavator. This was used the next year to complete the offside wall including the spillway and its associated culvert pipework.

Attention turned to the top lock in 1992. In the early months, shoring was installed in the chamber. This was followed by removal of the lowest 1.2m of brickwork from the walls – a major task for the six regular volunteers – and one that continued into the next year. Also in 1992, the brick invert of the lock was removed and replaced by concrete. The jobs of erecting formwork for the lower parts of the lock walls and the subsequent pouring of concrete were finished by the end of 1993.

Removal of top lock brickwork

Work on the two locks occupied 1994. After BW had sealed the bottom stop planks, the chamber was cleared out including the remains of the old gates. The top lock chamber, lock bridge and forebay were pointed. At the end of the year, the Society was told that BW required the lock cottage. A number of containers were purchased and located adjacent to the cottage. Society equipment was moved into the containers over the winter/spring.

Clearance of the bottom lock (photo J Brundrett)
View of work in bottom lock

In March 1995, BW presented a revised design for waterproofing the base of the pound. The original plan had been for 450mm thick puddle clay but this was replaced by the use of a plastic liner. Use of the liner required a deeper upstand at its junction with the walls, together with a cast-in sealing strip. This work meant that the existing wall footing had to be broken out to enable new reinforcement to connected to that in the pound wall. The idea of demolition of work which had previously been judged acceptable was not a popular one with volunteers and resulted in a drop-off in the already small numbers. Those remaining persevered on the concrete removal. At the end of the year, a total of seven volunteers remained active.

During 1996, the bottom lock received attention but the main job was the rebuild of the base for the pound walls. Breaking out the concrete base of walls was largely accomplished by the middle of the year and was followed by fixing of new reinforcing tied into that exposed. After erection of formwork, including the liner sealing, the concrete pours to finish the wall were completed in September. During April, a Waterways Recovery Group work party pointed most of the bottom lock walls and removed the brick invert. The latter was replaced by concrete which was poured in May 1997 together with the bridge invert. The rest of the year was spent finishing the pointing of the bottom lock and forebay.

Concrete pour on the revised wall base (photo J Brundrett)

In early 1998, Brian Haskins, the recently retired BW Montgomery Canal engineer and Society Vice-President, took over the organisation of the Burgedin restoration from Geoff Munroe who moved with the Society volunteers to Brynderwen lock. BW did the preparation of base for the liner in the pound after which the liner was laid by contractors. BW subsequently concreted the pound. Finally, BW installed gates and, paddle gear. The locks and pound were finished and the official opening took place with due ceremony on June 6th, 1998.

Laying the liner in the pound
The opening ceremony (photo J Brundrett)

Nearly three decades on, there are a number of things worthy of comment. Firstly, the relationship with BW was clearly very different from that now enjoyed by the society with CRT. The source material in the society archives used for the production of this account suggests that the relationship with BW then appeared to be, for the most part, a distant one. However, it should also be remembered that BW was responsible for a substantial amount of work to finish the project. The change of design of base of the pound in 1994, which apparently came a shock to the Society, and the subsequent demolition of previous work had consequences. The disillusionment of the volunteers and the resulting drop in already very small numbers was by all accounts nearly terminal for the work parties. As a result of this experience, the Society adopted a policy of regularly getting work signed-off by BW/CRT, a policy that endures to this day.

Secondly, working practices thirty years ago were very different to today. Both personal protection equipment and machines are little in evidence on the images. The fact that dumper driver training only became mandatory in 1994 also raises an eyebrow.

The locks today

Viewed today, it is clear that the locks have fared better than some on the unnavigable sections of the canal. Burgedin is, of course, on the isolated navigable section and thus has had some use since restoration. That said, the channel above and below the locks are today choked by weed and boating opportunities though the locks are in any case restricted by their location near the end of the navigable section. Connection to the national canal system can’t come soon enough!

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