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Latton Basin

a small piece of canal history

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Latton Basin - Ten Years On.
Doug Small

    It seems impossible that it was more than ten years ago that the idea of renovating the old Basin area at Latton presented itself to a couple of unwary explorers.  Prior to that my knowledge of this section of the North Wilts Canal was from fighting my way up the towpath from the River Thames through dense under/overgrowth to find that I could only vaguely make out the lock entrance and aqueduct, and not being able to see anything of the Basin due to the dense vegetation.

    Shortly after this my interest was further roused by three 'phone calls.  Two from grand daughters of the last Basin Keeper offering information, and the third from a lady whose friend had just purchased the Basin cottage and wondered if I had any historic photographs of it.  All this eventually led my wife and I visiting the Basin and meeting Jan and Bob the new owners.  Here it becomes a bit of a blur; I remember that John Holloway and I mentioned to Bob that it would be nice to be able to clear around the aqueduct and lock as they are of historical interest, being the largest remaining original structures on the canal.  We all thought that this was a 'Jolly Good Idea'.  From that simple premise we suddenly found that the project built up a momentum that was almost unstoppable.

    The driving force behind the initial work came from the East Vale Branch members (this is my branch), who, on hearing about the idea, insisted on turning out in force one December Saturday (29th 2005) and blitzing the Basin.  I must note here that we did have 'permission to work' from the Co-op's land agent before we commenced.  These same work party stalwarts, with new additions, have continued to turn out over the years, fitting this extra work in with all their many other existing commitments.

    Our work progressed so well that by June 2006 we were able to hold an open day, and were delighted that many of Alfred Howse's, the last Basin Keeper, descendents were able to come along.  We also had a very good turn out from Trust members and local people from around Latton and Cricklade.  The most important outcome from the open day was that Harry Bromley, our tireless corporate fund raiser at the time, was so impressed that he approached the landfill firm, Crapper Ltd, extolling the virtues of the project.  Since that time Richard and Roger have been a strong supporters of the project and undoubtedly allowed us to reach the stage we are now at, and for which I am truly grateful.

    From that point on it has just been doing what we can when we can, bearing in mind that initially we had very little local help:  most of us travelling many miles (Wantage, Abingdon, Chinnor, Maidenhead).  Ray Aldridge, a Trust director, joined us to help oversee the work, and bring his expertise to the project.

    We had planned an Open Day in August 2007, but the heavy rain in July forced us to cancel at the last moment as all the surrounding land was completely flooded:  not uncommon in this area, hence the need for a flood relief aqueduct.  In June 2008 we did have a second open day on a slightly larger scale, with displays from the Cotswolds Canal Trust and Somersetshire Coal Canal society adding interest to the event, which was extremely successful.

    A couple of years into the work and a very strange thing occurred.  The land agent contacted me and asked why I hadn't applied for a lease.  A bit worried by this call I spoke to him and found out that while there was no problem carrying on as we were he thought that we would feel more secure with a lease.  This turned out to be very fortuitous as the lease gave us permission to work not only on the Basin etc., but down the canal as far as the River Churn.  The cost of the lease:  two peppercorns!  If only all landowners thought like that.

    Over the following years we have cleared the bed of the Basin and renovated the walls, cleared the aqueduct and rebuilt the towpath side wall, opened up the lock entrance, cleared several hundred yards of totally overgrown canal bed and towpath and generally improved all the surrounding area.  The towpath now forms part of a circular walk which includes the Thames & Severn and the Thames Path and provides an interesting way for the very many visitors to reach the famous Fritillary meadow adjacent to our canal.  This work was speeded up when a couple of years ago we were joined by some local volunteers, who enthusiastically took on board all aspects of the project and moved us on apace.

    While the current plan is to re-connect the North Wilts to the Thames & Severn at Eisey, to the east of Cricklade, there is no reason why the old line from Latton cannot be restored to provide a route in to the North of Cricklade where there is the possibility for a marina.  No roads bar the way, and just two aqueducts over the rivers Churn and Thames would be needed.

    The Basin provides a unique glimpse at our canals' heritage.  The aqueduct is the only remaining original structure we have and the lock, although infilled, is mainly intact.  The cottage has been modernized but is basically still the same on the outside, and the Basin, technically part of the Thames & Severn, is a massive structure that it is easy to imagine once more filled with water, and boats using it as a temporary mooring.

Can I just quote here from the 'Aims of the Group' (the original Amenity Group). 

i) to protect the lines of the Wilts & Berks and North Wilts Canals,
and to prevent further infilling or any other destruction of them or their associated structural features
.

    The future:  there is still a great deal to do.  The aqueduct being the priority as it needs the west side renovated and the arches stabilized.  The Basin still needs some work to finish it off, and, of course, the maintenance of the canal bed and towpath will continue.  To reconnect the Basin to the Thames & Severn Canal the aqueduct over the Mill Leat will need to be re-established; this may not be as difficult as it initially seemed as the brick culvert which took the flow under the aqueduct is still intact.

    Added to all this practical work is the fascinating history of the family who were the last inhabitants of the cottage when the canal finally closed in 1914.

(Printed in the 2017 Spring Dragonfly)

 

Flood relief aqueduct.

 

Trees removed and rebuilt

 

The Basin

 

Canal Bed and Towpath

 

Howse family and friends