Museums, Lord Constables and the Sharpness Canal: SCS hit Gloucester: 8th May 2018
Our day trip began at 7.30 am with the coach making the first pick-up in the car park at Lidl’s in Pontardawe, then down to the Community Centre in Clydach for the second pick-up and a final pick-up for Jacqueline and Rabbie en route to the M4.
The traffic started to build up around Port Talbot. Alan, our trip organiser was anxious about our arrival time in Gloucester. Damon, our driver, was quite re-assuring and suggested a five minute stop at the next services to allow the traffic to clear. He let slip that every time he stopped at a services he could get a voucher for ten pounds. This admission resulted in loud merriment, and much gentle ribbing.
We arrived at Gloucester, found the ‘docks’ but couldn’t find coach parking. However Damon was able to drop us off at a convenient point. As we walked up to the museum we saw a superbly restored quay-side crane and two ‘reproduction’ coal drams. A very promising start I thought.
A most welcome coffee was served, and then we split into two groups for the museum tour. There were some very interesting displays and models on show. I was most impressed by a series of four very nicely made models that illustrated ’puddling’ a canal, repairing a sluice, rebuilding a lock chamber and fitting a new lock gate. In those four models was the essence of all that we are trying to achieve. Excellent display. There was a very informative display about the ‘gauging stick’ and how it was used to get a rough estimate of the weight of the cargo. Our ‘lock keeper’ up at Ynysmeudwy would almost certainly have used one of them to work out the tariff that would be charged to the boat owner for passage through the locks.
It was time for us to board the vessel to take us along the canal. A word about the boat. She was called ‘Boadicea II’ and had an interesting history. She was built in the ‘twenties and worked as a ferry. At the outbreak of the Second Work War she was requisitioned and used as a harbour patrol boat. She has the distinction of being one of the ‘Small Boats’ that went to Dunkirk in 1940 to rescue members of the British Expeditionary Force and the French Army. She proudly bore a marvellous brass plaque as testament to her wartime adventure.
On the way up to our ‘turning point’ at a large road bridge there were many interesting sights. We passed under two bridges. One was a ‘swing’ bridge, the other a lifting bridge. In both examples the bridge ‘deck’ was so carefully balanced that the turning and lifting was performed manually by one man. Toby and I spotted a ‘dry dock’ along side the canal. The drydock was at right angles to the waterway. Water-tight gates would be opened allowing, in this case, two boats into the dock. Once the gates were shut the dock would be pumped dry. Now there’s an interesting idea!!
We also passed the site of the old Gloucester Carriage and Wagon Works. Thousands of ten and twelve ton railway wagons were built there, and many were used on the Swansea Vale Railway. The canal boats in Gloucester carried the timber to the wagon works to build the wagons that would bring on the demise of the coal traffic on the canals.
We disembarked and made our way to the Lord Constable of England pub next door for a splendid meal, hearty conversation and a drink or two. We were granted one hour for further hour for shopping, exploring or drinking. I found a splendidly restored diesel engine in a small workshop next to the Wetherspoons. The two fellows with the engine explained all about it’s restoration to the accompaniment of the ticking and purring of the ‘beast’. There was a nicely restored ‘Pooley’ weighbridge outside the brick workshop so it must have been a weigh station for drays and small lorries.
A very good day out. I do believe that later that same evening there was a do-or-die Swans football match. The result was not a happy one for Swansea City. Bill Shankly once said “football is not a matter of life and death, it is more important than that”!
Many thanks to Michelle for all the above photos and write up, and thanks tooo to Alan for organising the visit and the excellent intinerary