Friday, 13 May 2011

Leicester Ring - Foxton

Leicester Ring 2011
21 April 2011

I can't leave this section without a good look at the Foxton complex.

Foxton staircase locks

We spent several hours on the site as we passed through on our way to Market Harborough and again as we ascended the locks the next day.

Foxton Locks

Foxton is the tourist honeypot that Union Wharf in Market Harborough isn't. Not only are there the unique double five rise narrow staircase locks but also the remains of the incredible Foxton Inclined Plane. 

The foundation of the Inclined Plane

A narrowboat perched, waiting for the next lift down.

I travelled this route when I was a teenager in the company of Matilda and the Captain Snr and remember mooring at the top lock and exploring the site of the plane. That will be back in about 1974 when I was studying the canals in my CSE history - Mr Bacon has a lot to answer for, awakening an interest which has stayed with me all my life. At that time I scrambled over he steep slope, pushing through brambles and undergrowth and unearthing crumbling elements of the old track beds. 

Foxton pumphouse - now a museum

Its all so different today. The site has been meticulously cleared and the entrance channels refilled with water. As a result it is possible to get a good idea of the grandeur of the enterprise, unique in our inland waterways heritage.

A quick history lite about the Foxton Inclined Plane:

The original narrow flight of locks were a perennial bottleneck, as they still are today when the Canaltime boats arrive en mass. This problem was a constant complaint of FMC, who were the main users of the route. In the end a huge pair of counterbalanced cassions were constructed which carried pairs of narrowboats up and down the 90 odd feet in 10 mins, as opposed to the hour or more for the locks. This system was operational for 10 years to 1910, but eventually a reduction in trade coupled with the high cost of keeping the engine in steam made the lift uneconomic. With reduced working hours FMC lobbied for the reinstatement of the locks which they could operate day and night, a position which remains to the present date.

The old cassions and tracks were removed for salvage but the concrete foundations remain, encouraging talk of an ultimate restoration.

Jeff in the Arbour

We arrived at the bottom the the Foxton Locks at 9.30 to find the first boats of the morning making steady progress up the hill. A quick dash up the locks found the lock keeper who agreed to our tacking ourselves on the back - as long as we were quick. Up we went, aided and abetted by a couple of volunteer lock keepers who were being trained up for a summer of support duties.

Heavy horse sculpture at Foxton top lock.

Foxton is rightly regarded as one of the seven wonders of the inland waterways world.

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