Stoke Bruerne, Grand Union Canal

10 July 2004

A quiet Saturday morning at the picturesque village of Stoke Bruerne in Northamptonshire, on the Grand Union Canal

Sculptor is a motorboat of the Grand Union Canal Carrying Co. Ltd. and was  built at Northwich by Yarwoods in 1935. She is of composite construction, i.e. a riveted iron hull with elm bottoms, the cabin being riveted steel. She carries the simplified wartime livery of the G.U.C.C.Co. Ltd. During the war, Sculptor operated as a fire-boat with the London Fire Service.

Following nationalisation of the waterways, Sculptor and sister boats Scorpio and Sagitta were transferred as maintenance boats to the Shropshire Union Canal in 1949. Her water-cooled Russell Newbery twin cylinder diesel engine was replaced by a 1960 Lister HA2 air-cooled diesel which powers her today. Length 71'6", beam 7'0", draught 3'.

A boat on the move passes the canal shop

By the Stoke Bruerne canal museum, various bits from around the network have been placed, now looking slightly out of place

In high season, and later in the day, this location is extremely popular, but manages still to retain its integrity. This is a canal village with few equals, the cottages and other buildings having their front doors on the canal, rather than back doors as is more usual, which gives it huge charm.

The canal museum (left of picture), housed in a corn mill which closed in the early 20th century, opened in 1963. The museum itself has a fascinating range of exhibits, and the shop has a superb range of canal literature, possibly the best in the country.

Holiday cottages for let, with an old lock paddle sitting by the doorstep.

The cottages were originally used by workers at the corn mill, and more recently by canal employees.

The modern bridge over the tail of the lock fits in well, sadly marred by the very incongruous stainless steel railings beyond

Boats coming up the top lock, the seven Stoke Bruerne locks raising the canal 56ft to the pound 294ft above sea level which runs for some 14 miles to the Buckby Locks

As the boats rise, they get their view of the old corn mill, workers cottages, and an impressive brick house of Georgian style, for many years a shop catering for the needs of boating families, and now housing a restaurant.

To the west of the lock now in use is the original lock, nowadays home to a boat-weighing machine from the Glamorganshire Canal and a Birmingham Canal Navigations "station boat". 

The original lock from the bridge

The bridge, extended to this second, skew arch when the locks were duplicated

The boat makes its way south down the lock flight

A short walk down to the second lock...

The view of the original lock from below

From the second lock, the double-arched bridge, now rather a mishmash, shows the rather more elegant lines that the original (left-hand) arch had before the duplication of the locks

Looking back to the top lock from The Navigation pub

On a walk past the lock towards the tunnel, this impressive piece of oak invites intriguing questions about what this piece of modern art is symbolising, particularly in connection with the plate to the left stating "Rectory Fish Pools". However, as I pondered this, a nearby boater said that she had been told that the "holes" are to contain brass rubbings, and that it doesn't symbolise anything at all.

This interesting piece of art reminds us that, by the time the rest of the Grand Junction Canal had opened between London and Braunston in 1800, the bit of the canal from Blisworth to the bottom of Stoke Bruerne locks hadn't been finished, and the gap was filled by a temporary tramway over the top of the hill, and goods transhipped from boat to wagon and back again. The tramway, built in 1801, was Northamptonshire's first railway. The tunnel was finally opened in 1805, and the rails used to connect the main line to the River Nene until the branch canal to Northampton was built.

The "Old Stables", now home to some art by younger visitors to the canal

The sign on the approach to the tunnel tells the boater how far to Braunston, the northern end of the Grand Junction Canal, where it meets the Oxford Canal

The southern portal of Blisworth Tunnel, which at 3076 yards (2.81km) long is the third-longest navigable canal tunnel in England after Standedge and Dudley (and the ninth-longest in the world).


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Unless otherwise stated, all images copyright (c) Stephen and Lucy Dawson