Guillotine Locks

The waterway system in the United Kingdom was built at a time when labour was cheap and it was fine to have boats of 25 or 50 ton capacity carrying goods at no more than 3 miles per hour round the country.

Improvements were made in some areas and one attempt to speed things up was the guillotine lock gate. These moved up and down and could be moved when water levels either side were different. In Britain they exist on the River Nene – in this case near Northampton.


It was just coming up for Easter 1977. The boat was one we borrowed from a friend. We can see the guillotine lock gate firmly down behind the boat. We only really went through the lock to say we had done a guillotine gate. It took an awful lot of winding to get the gate up and down.

Across the channel, in France, canals were still built in the 1960s.  These were built on a huge (by UK standards) scale. And guillotine gates were used. This one, at Pont l’Eveque near Noyon was photographed in July 2013.


The gate at the far end is raised. It is hard to judge scale here. It is huge. Barges with 300 tonnes of capacity can pass through the lock which is on the Canal du Nord.


Bigger canals are still planned.

In my view, the smaller UK canals are lovelier than the grand French ones and, perhaps, more suited to the leisure and pleasure traffic they now carry.

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