The Gift Shop Owner
Johnson's Hillock Locks
How Stone Masons Left their Mark on the Canal System
In the meantime we have formed a new company the Ribble Link Construction and Operations Ltd. to enable any VAT to be reclaimed. This company is a joint venture with Lancashire County Council and was one of the requirements of the Millennium Commission.
Babtie are hard at work sorting out the requirements of the Environmental Agency regarding water quality etc. which we hope will be resolved shortly. They also have a team hard at work on the detail design so, fingers crossed, construction should commence this summer.
The committee are preparing for this year's Ribble Link Cruise incorporating the Preston Maritime Festival, which once again promises to be every bit as good as last year. Virgin trains have signed up a deal towards sponsorship of the event, which secures the spectacular firework display. They have also kindly agreed to sponsor our moorings, for which we are very grateful, and intend to have a narrow boat painted in their colours at the festival. It is hoped that Richard Branson will attend.
We are planning to have a tombola stand and also run a balloon race, not of the Richard Branson type, but the small helium filled ones carrying a name tag to see which goes the furthest distance. We are looking for volunteers to help to run these. Please ring myself or any of the committee members if you would like to help out for a couple of hours over the weekend of the Festival. Babtie will also be in attendance at the Ribble Link Centre with full plans on show and to discuss with anyone who wants to find out more.
Jane Lea of Leyland who won the first prize of last year's raffle which was 2 tickets to a destination of your choice is set to use them to fly over to Canada in May. Have a great trip Jane and don't forget the stick of rock.
That brings you all fully up-to-date with what has happened over the past few months, hope to see you at the Festival.
One August morning, having been moored for the night close to a famous canal junction, we took a towpath stroll in the direction we did not intended to cruise. We soon arrived at a lock where a boat was passing through and two men were talking by one of the gate beams. I wandered across the bridge to look at a small display of goods outside what appeared to be an outbuilding to the lock cottage. Almost immediately one of the two men was beside me,
"Hello," he said, " are you a boater?"
"Yes." I replied rather warily.
He reached for a magazine from a pile on display saying, "Do you read Waterways World? Have you seen the article saying that we are the best gift shop on the system?"
When I told him that I hadn't yet read our copy of that month's magazine he thrust the open copy before me, asking a the same time where our boat was moored.
"Well, at the moment, we are moored down by the junction but our home mooring is at Blue Lias." I told him.
Telling him that was a big mistake.
"Oh, have you ever seen Blue Lias clay? We have some in the shop, come and see."
Having successfully lured me into the outhouse which turned out to be a very well stocked and, I have to admit, above average gift shop he produced a large grey stone.
"Genuine Blue Lias." I was assured. (Blue Lias is the old name given to the blue/grey clay mined in the area.)
By this time Frank and Graham had followed me and to Graham's great amusement we were then subjected to a sort of up-market hard sell on various items until we agreed to purchase a small ornament and hurriedly made our escape as other unwary visitors arrived.
"I think you were conned there, mother," said Graham as we walked away.
Fourteen months passed and early on a beautiful October morning we approached the lock again, this time by boat. With some relief I saw that everything around the cottage appeared closed despite a sign to the contrary on the towpath. Then, to my horror, I noticed that the paddle nearest to the shop had been left open. I crept round and closed it as quietly as possible. All went well until the boat was rising in the lock when, suddenly, there he was. This time we were ready for him...
"Good morning, we've got the IWA Christmas cards here, have you seen them?" he asked.
"Yes, we have, we're members of the IWA" replied Frank.
"Oh!" he looked at Sandpiper in the lock and obviously recognised the small Ownerships symbol on the bow, "I sit on a committee with Allen Matthews."
"Really?" we countered. Allen Matthews is the founder of the Ownerships scheme of which we and Sandpiper are part.
"Yes, we sit on the committee for the Holiday Property Bond boats." he went on.
We were still not impressed.
"Did you see the article in Waterways World about our shop?"
He was trying very hard now. This gave us our opening.
"Yes, we did. Did you see the article about the Ribble Link Cruise in last month's issue? We were the organisers."
I pointed to the RLT pennant flying from Sandpiper's roof.
"Oh yes, The Ribble Link, it should be quite good when it's built." he said vaguely as he retreated, somewhat defeatedly, into his cottage.
Round two to us. we laughed as we moved on to the next lock, pity Graham wasn't with us to see it.
Johnson's Hillock Locks Between December and March major repairs have been carried out on the Grade II listed lock flight at Johnson's Hillock Locks at Wheelton.
The £190,000 renovation work around lock 64, at the bottom of the flight, has been carried out by British Waterways.
A clay dam was constructed about 100 metres away from the bottom gates of the lock and the fish which were trapped behind the dam were rescued, by a team led by the BW Fisheries Manager, in the first week of December as the section was drained. The large build up of sediment which was revealed by this operation was removed before the canal reopened in mid March. In mid January the site was a hive of activity with generators, water pumps, floodlights, digger, dump truck and a large crane at work. The lock chamber was, at that time, full of scaffolding. The side walls of the lock have been repaired and the gates checked for wear.
The bullnose, separating the canal from the disused Walton Summit arm, which was in danger of collapse has been seriously attacked by a digger and then rebuilt. Other sections of worn masonry along the drained length have been renovated.
The abutments of the metal footbridge over the disused Walton Summit arm have suffered subsidence in recent years so the bridge was lifted out by crane to allow them to be strengthened and repointed. The bridge was replaced when the work on the walls was completed.
Boat jumbles are now quite a common event, listed below are the main organised jumbles in this area
Monday 4th May
Sunday 17th May
Sunday 14th June
Sunday 13th September
Sunday 8th November
Many books have been written about the building of our canal system, of the engineering features that adorn it and indeed about the lives of the great engineers themselves. On the other hand we seem to know very little about the daily lives of the craftsmen or the navvies, for whom life was particularly rough, who actually carried out the work of bringing all the designs and plans into reality. The Lancaster canal is particularly blessed with many fine stone bridges and aqueducts as well as the Glasson locks.
Where stone was readily to hand rough hewn blocks would have been brought down to the line of the canal either by horse and cart or by temporary tramways. At this point the gangs of journeymen 'banker' stonemasons engaged by the canal company's agents would have set to. First the apprentice masons would have dressed the rough ashlars which would have then been finished by the craftsmen and master masons, each of whom would finally carve his own mark on the finished stone. Was this an early form of quality control? Placing of the stones into the final structure was done by teams of 'fixer' masons.
Since the stonework of bridges and aqueducts has both a decorative and functional purpose these marks are usually no longer visible to us as we pass by as they are hidden on the reverse side of most stones. However, lock walls are an exception and it is here, either as we look from above into the lock chamber or, better, when we sink down in our boats as the lock empties, that a variety of masons' marks are still to be found today.
One local exception to these marks being hidden is to be seen at the western end of Gannow tunnel near Burnley.
Masons' marks usually consist of combinations of lines at right angles to each other but some involve curves and circles. Others are clearly based on letters of the alphabet, often embellished with large right-angled serifs, presumably based on the masons' initials. A selection from two local lock flights, the Rufford and Glasson arms, and from the Leeds & Liverpool canal are shown below.
Leeds & Liverpool Canal, Rufford Arm (1816)
Lancaster Canal, Glasson Arm (1826)
Barrowford Flight, Leeds & Liverpool Canal (1795)
We do not know the size of the stonemasons' gangs used on each canal, but records from some waterways suggest that the number of time-served craftsmen engaged at any one time was surprisingly small. For example it is recorded that at the time of the construction of Gannow tunnel in 1796 only 60 men, of which there were 8 miners, 25 diggers, 27 stone getters and masons with 74 diggers, worked for the contractor. Several members of the Fletcher family, originally from Bradford, were at this time much involved as overseers of masonry, digging and surveying and were based at a house provided for them at Gannow.
Over the years I have recorded masons' marks from most of our northern canals and I have found quite a few duplicates (my aim was to see if one could follow the journeymen onto other contemporary construction sites) but these may still be coincidental since there is a limit to simple combinations of right angles and perpendiculars! Strangely, however, the number of distinct marks (30) recorded for my own local canal, the Macclesfield, is greater than that for any other, with the exception of the complete line of the Leeds & Liverpool. Given the prolonged period over which the Leeds & Liverpool was built this is hardly surprising. So next time you are walking or boating on the canal system keep your eyes open and trace the marks carved so lovingly all those years ago by the mason who was, in effect, signing his piece of craftsmanship and proudly saying, "I made this! "
Last Revised: Tue 6th October 1998
Copyright © 1997, 1998 by John Clegg, Cliff Fazackerley and the Ribble Link Trust Ltd.