Wendover Arm Canal

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For other uses, see Wendover (disambiguation).
Wendover Arm Canal
Wendover Canal Arm (Little Tring) taken from Little Tring Bridge.jpg
The Stop Lock to Little Tring Bridge
Status Part restored
Original owner Grand Junction Canal Co
Date of act 1794
Date completed 1797
Date closed 1897
Start point Wendover
End point Bulbourne
Branch of Grand Union Canal

The Wendover Arm Canal is part of the Grand Union Canal in England, and forms part of the British canal system. It originally linked the Grand Union Canal at Bulbourne near Star Top End in Hertfordshire to the town of Wendover in Buckinghamshire. The canal is 6.7 miles (11 km) miles long, but has not been navigable since 1897. It is currently being reconstructed by the Wendover Arm Trust, and Phase 1 of the project, the first 1.3 miles (2 km) from the junction at Bulbourne, was completed and reopened in 2005.


Wendover Arm Canal
Grand Union Canal Marsworth locks
Gamnel bridge - Tring Ford Road
Tringford Pumping Stn and Resr
Stop lock
Little Tring Road bridge
End of navigable section
culvert to Tringford Reservoir
Drayton Beauchamp bridge
culvert to Tringford Reservoir
A41 Aston Clinton Bypass
London Road culvert (old A41)
B489 Stablebridge Road
Harebridge Lane bridge
Halton bridge
Perch bridge
Wendover Basin

The Grand Union Canal uses the valleys of the rivers Bulbourne and Gade to pass through Hertfordshire so the canal could easily cross the Chiltern Hills without the need for costly tunnelling works. On its journey through the Chilterns it reaches a height of 390 feet (120 m) at Tring summit[1] before it descends into the Vale of Aylesbury.

Need for water[edit]

Each lock uses 50,000 imperial gallons (230 m3) of water each time a boat passes so the main canal needs to find an adequate supply from the local watercourses. Fortunately the north-facing escarpment of the Chiltern Hills has an abundance of streams fed by the chalk aquifer.

The main line of the canal, then called the Grand Junction Canal, was authorised by an Act of Parliament obtained in 1793. A second Act was obtained on 28 March 1794, which authorised the construction of branches to Buckingham, Aylesbury, and Wendover.[2] The Wendover branch was conceived as a non-navigable feeder, which would carry water from springs and streams in the Wendover area to the Tringford reservoirs which fed the Tring summit locks. However, the cost of widening it was small, and so it was always a navigable channel[3] from the time of its completion in 1799.[4]


The canal

The Wendover Arm itself had a working life of 100 years. Part of its downfall was that some sections leaked. Much of it was repuddled within 10 years of its construction, to try to prevent some of the leakage.[3] Once a section called The Narrows leaked so much that it caused a flood in a large neighbouring property, Aston Clinton House. In 1897, which was drier than usual, the Grand Union company decided that the arm was leaking more water than it was supplying, and stop planks were used to block off the arm at Little Tring. The stop planks were replaced by a stop lock, which was operational by 1901.[5]

By 1904 the canal company had decided to abandon the arm as a navigation. The top 4 miles (6.4 km) were again repuddled, the water level was lowered, and all of the water flowing along it was fed into Wilstone reservoir. This put an extra load on the pumps at Tringford, as the Wilstone reservoir is at a lower level than the Tringford one. A pipeline was therefore laid from a sump at Drayton Beauchamp to the Tring pumping station, along the bed of the disused canal, so that water arrived at the pumps at a higher level. The new system was still not satisfactory, due to the large variations in flow along the feeder, and it was redesigned in 1912. After reconstruction, the water was pumped directly into the main line, with surplus water flowing into Tringford reservoir.[5] The section between Wendover and Drayton Beauchamp remained in water, resembling a chalk stream.


Interest in the arm was revived in 1967, when the Inland Waterways Association held a public meeting in Watford to debate the future of the Grand Union Canal. In February 1967 the Grand Union Canal Society was formed, and later began campaigns to reopen both the Slough Arm and the Wendover Arm. The initial plan failed, due to a lack of local interest, and the fact that the legal position was not sufficiently strong to mount a successful campaign.[6]

In 1979 the Grand Union Canal Society was worried that nature conservation lobbying might lead to the arm being closed to boats completely, so it organised a campaign cruise to Little Tringford Pumping Station, the head of navigation at the time.[7] By 1985 there was enough interest in reviving the arm that a separate Wendover Arm Group was formed, which included members from the Grand Union Canal Society, the Inland Waterways Association, the Aylesbury Canal Society and representatives from local boat clubs. They planned a two-stage project, involving first the section from Tringford Pumping Station to Aston Clinton, where the A41 road crossed, with a second stage covering the remainder of the route into Wendover.[8] In 1986 the group published a report called Water to Wendover, to highlight its plans.[9]

Their position was strengthened in 1988, when the Department of Transport announced that the Aston Clinton bypass would include a navigable culvert where the new road would cross the arm. This led to the formation of the Wendover Arm Trust,[10] and the identification of the arm by the Inland Waterways Association as one of the ten restoration schemes most likely to benefit from its backing.[11]

Wendover Arm Trust[edit]

In February 1989 the Wendover Trust was formed as a charitable trust with the aim of restoring and promoting the canal.[12] The organisation is also registered as a private company limited by guarantee with Companies House.[13] The trust is funded primarily by donations (with some funding from British Waterways, now known as the Canal and River Trust). The major fund-raising activity was an annual canal festival[14] which began in 1990; however a site is no longer available to run this, and new funding is being sought. The trust welcomes volunteers to work on the restoration, as well as members and donors. Members and volunteers have even appeared at the Lord Mayor's Show in the City of London driving JCB tractors.

Phase 1[edit]

Little Tring Road bridge

Phase 1 of the restoration involved the first 1.3 miles (2.1 km) of the canal from Bulbourne Junction (51°48′56″N 0°39′14″W / 51.8156°N 0.6538°W / 51.8156; -0.6538 (Bulbourne Junction)) to Little Tring Farm (51°48′26″N 0°40′27″W / 51.8072°N 0.6741°W / 51.8072; -0.6741 (Little Tring Farm)). Major engineering work included the refurbishment of the stop lock, and the construction of a winding basin at the terminus, to allow boats to turn round. Between the two, Little Tring Road crossed the course of the canal on an embankment which was constructed in 1973 when the original bridge was demolished.[15] This was replaced by a new reinforced concrete bridge, built to a traditional design, which is faced with bricks to give it an authentic appearance. It was funded by the Wendover Arm Trust, and the award-winning bridge[3] was completed by British Waterways in 2000–01 at a cost of £223,000.[16]

In 2003 the Association of Independent Navigation Authorities (AINA) published a report called Demonstrating the value of waterways, in which they outlined methods for assessing restoration projects, and their likely social and economic benefits. British Waterways produced a report in the following year, called Waterways 2025 – Our vision for the shape of the Waterways Network, which used many of the methods suggested by the AINA report to identify 18 restoration schemes which they thought might be completed before 2025, and which they would support. The Wendover Arm appeared in the list, but the report was abandoned two years later, after other groups claimed that not being included undermined their ability to raise funds.[17]

The Phase 1 project was completed on 28 March 2005, when the refurbished section between Tringford stop lock and the new winding basin was opened.[18] Construction had been finished in November 2004, and the new section was re-watered during March 2005. The total cost of this phase was £400,340.[citation needed]

Phase 2[edit]

Relining the dry canal bed near Drayton Beauchamp in April 2009

Phase 2 involves a 1.75-mile (2.8 km) dry section from Little Tring to Drayton Beauchamp (51°47′56″N 0°41′29″W / 51.799°N 0.6915°W / 51.799; -0.6915 (Drayton Beauchamp)), and includes the navigable culvert under the Aston Clinton bypass.[18] Part of the cost was funded by British Waterways, which would have had to replace the feeder pipeline which runs along the bottom of this section, but which will not be needed once the work is completed.[14] However the pipeline will remain in place under the canal, and is having to be capped with concrete to prevent the restored canal collapsing into it. As work proceeds, the channel is being re-profiled, and then lined with Bentomat[clarification needed] liner. Concrete blocks have been laid over the liner on the side walls of the channel, with turf above water level. When the next section is re-profiled, the spoil removed is used to cover the bed of the canal on the previous section to a depth of 1 foot (300 mm).[19][20]

Phase 3[edit]

Phase 3, from Drayton Beauchamp via Buckland Wharf (51°47′39″N 0°42′25″W / 51.7942°N 0.707°W / 51.7942; -0.707 (Buckland Wharf)) and Halton (51°47′00″N 0°44′06″W / 51.7833°N 0.735°W / 51.7833; -0.735 (Halton bridge)) to Wendover (51°45′58″N 0°44′28″W / 51.766°N 0.7411°W / 51.766; -0.7411 (Wendover basin)), requires major engineering work to three road bridges. This section has never been de-watered but is environmentally sensitive.[14]


Phase 1 Little Tring Bridge to Winding Basin
The Phase 1 head of navigation near Little Tring Farm
  1. ^ Wendover Arm Trust – information board
  2. ^ Priestley 1831, pp. 301–302.
  3. ^ a b c Nicholson 2006, p. 56
  4. ^ Hadfield 1970, p. 111.
  5. ^ a b Ware 1989, pp. 120–124
  6. ^ Squires 2008, pp. 63–64.
  7. ^ Squires 2008, p. 102.
  8. ^ Squires 2008, p. 116.
  9. ^ Squires 2008, p. 118.
  10. ^ Squires 2008, p. 124.
  11. ^ Squires 2008, p. 126.
  12. ^ "Find Charities". Charity Commission.  (Enter 801190 in search box)
  13. ^ "WebCHeck". Companies House.  (Enter 02353392 as Company Number)
  14. ^ a b c "Board Briefing Paper" (PDF). British Waterways. September 2007. Retrieved 31 May 2013. 
  15. ^ "Little Tring Bridge". Wendover Arm Trust. Retrieved 30 May 2013. 
  16. ^ "Wendover Arm Walk". Wendover Arm Trust. Retrieved 30 May 2013. 
  17. ^ Squires 2008, pp. 160-161.
  18. ^ a b Squires 2008, p. 166
  19. ^ "Working Party News" (PDF) (96). Wendover Arm Trust. April 2013. 
  20. ^ Petticrew, Ian; Austin, Wendy; Martin, Barry. "The Wendover Arm and the Tring Reservoirs". Gerald Massey. Retrieved 31 May 2013. 


Disused section of the canal near Wendover

External links[edit]