Lots of Locks

24 January, 2017

We are often asked about how locks are operated – even “What are the locks for?” In simple terms, a lock enables boats to move along a river or canal when the area is not flat, a little like steps.  Sometimes you will just get 1 lock on its own or you could get a flight of locks – one after another, where there may be as many as 20 locks in a row.

Caen Hill Flight looking up near to Devizes

Caen Hill flight near Devizes

The English canal network has over 1,500 locks. These require a lot of maintenance to keep the waterways running for leisurely activities.  Every lock has anything from 3 to 4 lock gates to enable the boats to move up and down as required. Each gate is unique to the specific lock and is made to measure to the exact specification. The Workshops of the Canal & River Trust (previously British Waterways Board) maintain detailed drawings for every lock gate on the network, making repairs or replacement more straightforward. A lock gate has a life span of about 25 years and it takes two carpenters a total of two weeks to build a pair of lock gates. The larger gates can take up to a month to build. They are all hand made in the traditional way using British Green Oak and steel brackets are used to strengthen joints to make sure that they last.  The working paddle gears are made of Cast Iron fittings and are recycled and re-used on new gates. The gates and fittings, ie. collars and hoops to keep the gates in place, are all made at the Canal & River Trust’s two workshops.

Lock being repaired

The inside of a lock

About 180 lock gates are replaced each year. These are made ready for the fitting, which is mainly done during the winter months when there are fewer boats moving around the network. When a gate has been made and stored the timber has to be kept wet to avoid them drying out and shrinking. These gates will cost over 2 million pounds every year.

Emergency repairs are continuous and engineers are called out when required to allow the canals to keep open as much as possible.

Each wide lock holds around 240,000 litres of water which is equivalent to 3,000 bath tubs.  The narrow locks of course will hold less.

Occasionally the Canal & River Trust run Open Days so that people can take a look, climb down in the lock and see the workings and how they are built. Here you can see the mechanisms of the paddles and how they work to let the water in and out of the lock chamber.  Well worth a visit if you get a chance.

STOP PRESS  Open weekend

Come along to St Pancras Open Weekend, and take a look at the works happening around the site. 4th February & 5th February, 10:00am – 4:00pm. This is your chance to learn more from heritage experts, engineers and volunteers about St Pancras Locks on the Regent’s Canal, in particular the replacements of the top and bottom lock gates. You will be able to walk in the drained lock chamber, seeing first hand the exceptional engineering work that helped construct the canal originally and talk to our experts about the essential restoration and repair work being carried out. During the weekend, you will also be offered guided heritage walks from Granary Square to Islington Tunnel. We will be teaming up with local trip boat operator, Hidden Depths, to offer boat trips from outside the lock up to the London Canal Museum. Visitors with a head for heights will also get the rare chance to go to the top of the St Pancras water tower. This was originally built to supply steam trains with water, the Grade II-listed tower was moved in sections by a huge crane to its current canalside location in November 2001. There will be activities for children aboard our boat Jena, which will be moored at Granary Square.

You can view this notice and its map online here:

Hotel Boat Kailani
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