Foxton Locks and Inclined Plane

18 August 2008

Steady rain in the Lake District put paid to ideas of a morning walk prior to departure back to London, and indeed it rained most of the way home, but a gap in the rain allowed for a visit to the Foxton Locks and Inclined Plane near Market Harborough. We've been twice before, but the site has been improved since our last visit.

There are two staircases of five locks each. Here the boat is descending the bottom lock of the upper staircase, while the water flows through the intervening pound to fill the top lock of the lower staircase where a boat is coming up.

Looking down the two staircases. The red-topped paddle gear should be used first, to fill a lock from the side pound, before the white-topped paddle is used to drain the upper lock into the side pond, the three eventually forming a level and allowing a boat to move from one lock to another.

Looking across one of the side ponds

The ten locks were a major bottleneck, because locks are always slow, because staircases don't allow boats to pass midway and therefore cause delays, and because the locks are "narrow" (about seven feet wide). An inclined plane was opened in 1901 to bypass the locks and allow "broad" (fourteen feet wide) boats to use the canal. This shows where a boat would move from the upper canal into a steel caisson which would then be sealed.

The upper caisson would then be lowered down this slope to the lower canal, the weight of the descending caisson pulling a second caisson up the hill.

Here you can again see the boat emerging into the caisson

A view of the locks and side ponds from on top of the museum. Sadly the inclined plane proved uneconomic, partly because the similar locks at Watford not replaced and the remainder of the canal not widened to take broadbeam boats so the predicted increase in traffic didn't materialise. The steam engine needed to wind the caissons up and down needed to be kept in steam all the time, and the plane manned, and the locks maintained for occasional use, which all added to the costs. The plane was closed in 1910 and the locks then became the only means of getting from top to bottom.

The green boat is waiting in the pound between the upper and lower staircases to enter the lower staircase

By the car park is this wheel around which one of the steel cables holding the caissons used to travel.



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