The Hanwell flight of locks are part of the lower Grand Union above Brentford. The locks are part of our London Ring and Kingston to Ware and Berkhamsted cruises, which we usually do 7 – 8 times each year. The flight consists of 6 locks plus two above the flight – (Norwood Top Lock and Hanwell Lock), making 8 in total. If we have a good run up the locks we can do the six in about 1 hour but it has been known to take us 3 hours, mainly depending on who is ahead of us; those who are more in stop than in go make things difficult for us – in fact, for everyone!
The locks were built in 1794 and allow the canal to ascend 53 feet in around a third of a mile. The flight passes the old County Asylum, which had a wharf for boats to deliver coal and take away fruit and vegetables from the inmates gardens. This entry point has since been bricked up, but it is easy to identify the location. The nearby lock is called Asylum Lock.
There are some lovely lock cottages on the flight where the lock keepers would live and when boats were carrying goods, the keepers would be out working the locks to make sure that the boats could get through swiftly.
It is an impressive, well engineered stretch of the canal which became one of the most important 19th century navigations taking goods between Birmingham and London and on to the River Thames. The brick boundary wall beside the towpath is a significant part of the setting and visual integrity of this length of canal.
Along this section is Three Bridges – aptly named as the railway and an aqueduct are below the canal, and the roadway is above. It is unusual to see such a structure.
From the bottom of the flight to three bridges there is a wall which was constructed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and was built as a boundary wall to St. Bernard’s Hospital, now known as Ealing Hospital. It was built in the 1830’s and is 744 metres long. The wall over the years has had some work and alterations, but the majority of it is still made out of the original fabric. The wall gradually increases in height from 2 metres to 3 metres, then at the rear of the hospital to 8 metres. The height then decreases again towards Windmill Bridge. The highest stretch of wall is supported by triangular wall piers with quoins of industrial blue brick and stepped brick coping. Below, the copings are decorated with iron grills.