Bisecting the confluence of the Thames and the Coln just above Lechlade on the River Thames, Inglesham roundhouse, bridge and lock mark the iconic entrance to the Thames and Severn canal as it begins its journey west up into the Cotswolds, to the summit and long tunnel at Sapperton and ultimately down to Stroud and its connection with the Stroudwater Navigation and on to the River Severn.
Closed and derelict since the 1920s, the Stroudwater and Thames and Severn canals are being restored together under the banner of the Cotswold Canals, and much progress has been made at the Western End – first in Stroud itself, and now on the important step of connecting Stroud to the main canal system at Saul on the Gloucester and Sharpness canal.
Where opportunity arises individual structures and canal lengths further east are still being restored and maintained. One such opportunity arose in early 2010 when the Cotswold Canals Trust acquired Inglesham lock and about 500m of the canal line and handed the lock restoration project over to the IWA to finance and coordinate.
Initial work on scrub clearance around the lock in order to make a compound for future work and clearance of the 500m above the lock progressed for a couple of years while the various planning and environmental permissions were sought to restore the main lock structure. This was no simple task when planning work connecting to a main river on a flood plain with limited access.
In 2014 everything was finally in place to isolate the lock from the Thames, with detailed safeguards specified to avoid any risk of contamination of pollutants from the restoration site affecting the delicate Thames ecosystem. In early summer a professional team installed a temporary dam below the lock and bridge to keep the Thames out, and several WRG summer camps were scheduled to clear the tail of the lock under the bridge to locate and assess the state of the stop plank grooves and cill, and install new stop planks. Kescrg took charge of the first week and had the honour of being first to follow WRG chairman Mike Palmer into the 6ft deep mud, and begin the excavation. Vast amounts of mud, bricks & broken bottles were dug out by hand and barrow hoist, and a system of liquifying the mud and pumping it to the bunded pound above the lock for settlement was established. By the end of the week we’d cleared from beyond the stop plank grooves and cill below the lock, right through the bridge hole to just short of the bottom gates. Prized finds of the week included many intact Codd-necked bottles and a Singer sewing machine. The Navvies camp report describes the week in detail:
By the end of the three WRG summer camps, metal liners had been installed in the stop planks grooves, stop planks and sandbags installed, a small section of scaffolding constructed under the bridge, and much of the brickwork under the bridge had been repaired. With the lock now isolated from the Thames, the temporary dam was removed and the lock was ready for the main restoration to begin.
With the lock isolated, WRG carried out some work starting to rebuild the gate recesses and wing walls at the head of the lock, but it took a further year for detailed project plans and method statements to be finalised for every aspect of the lock chamber demolition and rebuild. This was complicated by the perilous state of the lock walls, and the weight limit accessing the site over the Colne bridge meaning there was no access for heavy equipment. The lock structure would need stabilising, the chamber dug out by hand and then rebuilt with a brick face and mass block structure behind using traditional lime mortar, as there was no way to get concrete lorries on to site for the more typical mass concrete pour behind a brick face.