October 2022 work party report

October 7-9 and 21-23

Six days of concerted effort resulted in the removal of the clay dam at Crickheath; the lining and blocking of the remaining section of channel; infill of the remaining land drain sumps; completion of the placement of rip-rap and stone on the banks; and building the offside banks up to final height.  In doing so we achieved practical completion before the deadline. By the time this report is published the channel will be in water.  Wow!

Before the clay dam could be removed early on the first Friday morning a fabric dam was installed across Crickheath Basin by contractors. This consisted of a series of triangular metal frames spaced across the channel which are held together by scaffolding tubes. The ‘upstream’ side of the frame is covered by a heavy duty plastic sheet which is weighed down by sandbags. Water between the ‘downstream’ side and the clay dam was pumped out and the dam inspected and handed over to the society ready for removal of the clay. The bulk of the clay was removed by Saturday night, in doing so revealing the edge of the concrete base of the basin.

Sunday was a day of frantic activity. The final shaping of the last ten metres of channel took all of the morning. After lunch the remaining section of channel was lined including anchoring the liner to the concrete base of the basin using plastic battens and some ferocious looking concrete screws. The final act was to lay a thousand or so blocks in the base of the channel. This work involved all of the volunteers on site. It was not finished until 1630 – unheard of for a Sunday – and revived all sorts of old jokes about overtime rates.

The last section of blocking

Over the weekend there were two other major tasks. Rip-rap and soil was added to about 200 metres of the offside bank, and one of the remaining sumps in the channel was filled in.  Also newt fencing in a number of locations in the compounds was removed as the first step to the de-commissioning of the site.

Work on the Friday morning of the second weekend was concentrated on finishing the remaining blocking at Crickheath. This was in anticipation of the laying of the ceremonial last ‘golden block’ in the afternoon. This was done by Fred Barrett, the supervisor of block laying and the oldest volunteer on site, watched by an appreciative audience.

Lining reaches Crickheath basin plus the fabric dam
The ‘golden block’ ceremony

The second day finished off the other two major tasks on the channel, namely, installation of soil covered rip-rap on the remaining offside banks, and the infill of the remaining land drain sumps.  That done a stop plank at Pryce’s Bridge was raised and the re-watering commenced – no ceremony this time but quite a moment none the less!  A concentrated effort on the last day built up the remaining sections of offside bank to final level.

Flooding of the channel starts

This was the ninety-second work party since the project started in May 2014. Despite being excluded from site for 26 months because of exclusions due to newts or covid lockdowns, the work was finished within budget and programme.  A total of 173 volunteers contributed to the work. Although some came for a single company ‘volunteer day’, the majority clocked up tens or hundreds of days attendance. The finished channel is a great testimony to their skills, perseverance and sheer hard graft over the years.

Although the work has reached the stage of practical completion there are a number of other jobs required to finish the section. There is also a considerable amount of work required to de-commission the site. Tune in next month for an update!

Posted in Montgomery Canal, Pryces Bridge to Crickheath Bridge Restoration, Restoration, Shropshire Union Canal Society, Work Party.

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