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    15 JANUARY 2004

Thames and Medway Canal talk poster

A very interesting and informative talk was given by Brian MacKnish, on the Thames & Medway Canal & the Association, which was formed in 1976.

There have been various Canal projects around the UK recently -The Falkirk Wheel, Anderton Boat Lift etc. The T&M Canal is right for restoration & from Gravesend Basin – Mark Lane, Denton is suitable for boat use. The Basin is a 200 yr old structure with a bridge by a canal lock, the proposed Development is not agreed as yet but TMCA would like it made into a water feature & the canal to be 48 ft wide by railway line.

Originally, plans were to provide a safe passage from Deptford/ Woolwich & Chatham Dockyards, & cut journey times from 46 to 7miles. They were revitalised in 1799, work began in 1800 & completed in 1824. To save cutting through 600,000cm chalk to cut through the big hill, a 2 1/2m tunnel was built, longest in UK.

G W Arnold, The Mayor of Gravesend (1890-1893) is on the Coal Dues Marker plaque, which used to be in NW corner of the Basin, now in Gordon Gardens. Coal brought into London was taxed, but when unloaded at Gravesend, it was not. The Lock Keepers cottage was demolished (1978) & also Dickens Peggoty Boat House–old smugglers boat on roof (built 1815). Canal gates have also been removed & put in storage.

Albion Parade was possibly built in 1910. Mark Lane had the 1st big crossing - Swing Bridge. A dredger cleared some debris found from WW2, bricks etc & working parties cleared the area, there’s now a slipway for small boats. Swing Bridge no 4 is by old Sea School, now The Met Police Strategic Training Centre. Gravesham Borough Council + others gave money to TMCA in 1993 for a new swing bridge. A plaque indicating this was erected but was vandalised after approx 3 weeks. The Canal was previously owned by British Rail.

In 1922 at the Chalk/Milton Range Halt – St, near the Ranges/ Sea School, there was a rail accident in the fog, a train over ran the St, carrying workers for the building of the A226. 4 people died. At Shornemead Crossing – ½ way between Gravesend/ Higham, is a winding hole/lift bridge, near Queens Farm Rd/Hoo Sidings, further on is overgrown with water, but no feed. Part of the No 1 Sustrans Cycle Route runs along the canal, with plenty of wildlife to be seen, inc swans, some of which unfortunately get shot! The railway to Grain/Hoo Peninsula crosses the canal. There’s a Granite Obelisk, 15’, the largest on the Canal system, to mark the mtg of the waters ie Medway/ Thames. London was responsible for part & Rochester.

At Higham Wharf, Canal Rd, dung barges used to offload to the Allhallows Flyer – Steam train. 1822 – 2nd portal of Tunnel built, 2 ½ m long. Horses went on the tow path but boats could only go in tunnel at each 12 hr high tide, max 16’ beam with sails lowered. It would also take 12 hrs to go round Isle of Grain & avoiding the tolls by the tunnel. 3-4 years after the tunnel was built, there was too much queuing, so a passing place in the tunnel was built, where the pumping station is. There was a lime kiln by the entrance on the left, (the remains of which are still there) on the site where the canal side allotments are. We saw a slide of a painting of the kiln, by James Baker Pine in 1847. The Canal was OK military wise but not commercially successful.

The Tunnel will be closed for approx 1 yr @ 17/1/04. Currently trains could only go at 20 mph, due to falling chalk. Strood Basin was sold for development & houses stand there now. You used to see some large steam ships & windmills on top of the hills, but would be nice if the canal could go through to the Medway now. There is debris by the lock gates here & TMCA will be asking for volunteers to clear. TMCA have stands & a short narrow boat at the local Regattas to promote their work.


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