Posts Tagged ‘Stone’

Entering a Lock

December 21, 2013

Canals are artificial and they go where water may not have gone naturally. Gravity ensures that water finds a level. It’s gravity that makes rivers flow from source, up in the hills, eventually, to the sea. Canals need to provide a depth of water for boats and conserve water, for it often needs expensive pumping to get it to the high point in the canal.

Canals are made in level sections, often called pounds. Where needed, steps are put in – methods of raising or lowering a boat through a height of about ten feet. In the UK the most common form of step is the gated lock.

Back in 1974 a group of friends hired a boat and as part of the journey we were on the Trent and Mersey Canal near Stone in Staffordshire. This is a front passenger view of entering a lock there.


The driver, of course, is at the back of the boat, with one hand on the tiller and the other ready to throw the engine into reverse. Some passengers will have left the boat earlier and walked ahead to open the gates to allow the boat (She was called Empress of Worcester) into the lock. The top gates, at the far end of the lock look a bit leaky.

The boat is passing under a bridge and then straight into the lock. This is a narrow lock – built to a width of around seven feet and the boat fits snugly into it. The bottom gates are large and there are two of them that, when shut, meet in the middle of the canal to keep the water in. The top gate has much less depth and a singleton suffices.

A handy foot bridge has been provided to allow workers to cross the lock. One of our workers, Sam the Springer Spaniel, is standing on that bridge. The bridge is in two halves – both cantilevered out from the lock wall. The gap in the middle was crucial in times past, when horse power was used to haul boats. It provided a gap for the rope to pass through.

Once the boat is in the lock, the bottom gates are shut and the sluices at the top are opened to allow water to fill the lock. These sluices are called paddles. There is nothing you can do to hurry the process and no way can you open the gate until the water is level on both sides of it.

So sit down on a balance beam and relax. Once open, the boat can continue, but workers must shut all gates and paddles so they’ll still be walking and trying to catch up with the craft.

By the way, Sam can be counted as a worker. On a couple of occasions he rescued floating items which we had dropped in the canal!

Joule’s Brewery

March 6, 2013

I’m returning, today, to that canal trip in 1975. Back then it was still possible to see how industry had grown up by the canal because in the early nineteenth century, canals had been the main transport arteries.

Joule’s Brewery, at Stone in Staffordshire, was certainly canal-side. The canal in question was the one that linked the east and west coasts of England – the Trent and Mersey Canal.


There is the brewery, or more correctly a warehouse, forming one bank of the canal. We can see pleasure craft lined up in the distance on the left bank.


And there’s the sign telling us that this was where Joule’s Stone Ales were produced and stored. Not everyone likes industrial buildings but some are wonderful. I particularly like the gentle curve, to fit the canal, that this building has.

The business opened on this site in the 1780s. The canal had opened in 1777 so clearly Francis Joule was quick to see the benefits of a canal-side business. The brewery was bought out by a large company in the 1970s. They promptly closed it and demolished much of Joule’s old brewery. That canal-side warehouse survived, however.

As an aside, another member of the same Joule family was James Prescott Joule. He became a leading physicist and the standard unit of energy, the joule, is named after him because of the time he spent researching heat and mechanical energy.

As a second aside, most of the English canal network is far from industrial. Canals wind their way through gentle rolling countryside, for the most part and are attractive scenically.


There’s a gentle, reflective scene on the same trip near Tixall Broad where the canal widens out into a lake. This was done, probably, to keep a landowner happy. This is actually on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal but is only about ten miles from Stone.