The Buckingham Arm Canal

Cosgrove lock (No. 21) lies at the junction with the former Stony Stratford and Buckingham Arm.  Authorised in the Grand Junction Canal Act of 1793 and originally planned as a short branch to Old Stratford and the busy highway of Watling Street (the A5), the Arm was soon extended a further 9¼-miles to Buckingham, principally at the instigation of the Marquis of Buckingham who loaned the Company the construction cost: See Buckingham Canal Society

“The branch of the Canal from Buckingham to the Grand Junction Canal was opened this day with great rejoicings.  A barge with the Marquis of Buckingham, Mr. Praed, and Mr. Selby (Gentlemen of the Committee) and Mr. Box, the Treasurer, accompanied by a large party of Ladies and Gentlemen, and a band of music, led the way to the procession of 12 barges, laden with coal, slate, and a variety of merchandise.  Upon their entrance to the basin at Buckingham they were saluted by the firing of several cannon.  A numerous party were handsomely entertained by the Marquis of Bath at the ‘Cobham Arms Inn’ on this occasion, and a liberal supply of beer was given to the populace.  This branch of the Canal, 9¼ miles in length, has been completed in about eight months, and will secure to an extensive distance of country most substantial benefit.”

The Gentleman’s Magazine, 1st May 1801

As elsewhere, water-borne transport was to have a considerable impact on the town and its locality.  Coal, stone, bricks, manufactured goods, imported produce from London Docks were all more readily available at much lower cost than ever before; and local produce could be moved faster and more easily, whether it was foodstuffs to the local market, or loads of hay and straw destined to nourish and sustain the motive power of the Metropolis.  Within a few years, trade on the branch had reached 20,000 tons per annum and was to remain at this level for almost fifty years.

The first section of the Arm to Stratford was, in common with the main line, built as a wide canal, but the extension to Buckingham was built narrow.  Its route led over easy ground, only two locks being required, so construction progressed quickly.  In its early days the Arm was successful, but from the 1850s railway competition led to its decline, which was further aggravated by leakage and by Buckingham Corporation using it as a dump for the town’s sewage, which caused silting.  By 1904, Bradshaw’s Guide was describing its upper section as being “barely navigable” and by the 1930s the Arm was derelict.  All that now remains is a section of about 100 yards, which extends westwards above Cosgrove lock and is used for moorings.  The remainder of the canal has been filled in, although there is an ambitious restoration scheme, the Patron of which is the present Speaker of the House of Commons.

The towpath, Old Stratford sluice and humpback bridge, which connects Wolverton Mill Meadows to the Old Stratford side and the old Lime Kiln Field.
This section was 1 mile, 2.38 furlongs long. Level 14 ft beam.
The humpback bridge has now been removed

The original north south canal that passed through the village at the end of the eighteenth century was known as The Grand Junction Canal. It was the celebration of the bicentenary of the signing of its enabling act in 1793 that brought about the Cosgrove village festival of 1993.

In the canal system Buckingham had a narrow arm off the Grand Junction Canal - an offshoot of the wide arm from Cosgrove to Old Stratford. At one time troops regularly travelled along the canal, often marching the tow path in the day time to keep fit and resting and sleeping aboard at night. A regional seat of government was prepared at Weedon Barracks with its own arm off the main line.

The canal to Buckingham had been in use for some four years before the north-south route finally opened with the completion of Blisworth Tunnel in 1805 - a year which is perhaps better known in the history books for the battle of Trafalgar.

The canal system sparked the industrial revolution and survived two world wars, but commercial traffic finally staggered to a halt in the early 1960’s. For the Buckingham Arm the end came sooner. Originally it was a successful agricultural canal carrying grain to the local mills plus and with an export trade of various produce, straw and hay for the growing population of London and its natural horse power There were also imports such as coal, iron and fertilizer. The last recorded commercial traffic to Buckingham, in the late 1880’s, was Oleum (concentrated sulphuric acid) for local industry. The end finally came in 1944 when the Buckingham Arm was blocked at the first bridge out of Cosgrove to prevent water losses to the system and at the same time relieve the authorities of their maintenance burden.

Today a remarkable amount of the Arm's original 10 miles and six furlongs can be traced from Cosgrove to Buckingham, although there are many incursions by development between Old Stratford and Deanshanger.

The Buckingham Canal Society believes that it would be to the overall benefit of the community, both local and from further afield, to restore navigation between Cosgrove and Buckingham.

As part of its investigations the Society has carried out a survey of the line as it is today compared to canal as shown on old maps: it has published the first edition of its findings. An archive of artifacts, documents and oral history is being prepared. In sections, the ground is being cleared so that preparations can be made for the rewatering of the parts of the Arm.

The Buckingham Arm

This curious name was questioned in an issue of the newsletter “The Old Mail” in April 1

The Jaycock 1843

In this map from 1843 the Jaycock is shown clearly off the Buckinham Arm, next to a quarry field which is no longer used. At the top left of the map section is the bank which now marks the end of the Arm footpath section - a gate leads into the field opposite the Quarries campsite.

The Jaycock 2014

John Holman identifies a short piece of what was water filled cut down the Buckingham Arm past the farm bungalow on the north bank –which was called Violet Bank for the flowers that grew there. It is grown over now and is part of a spinney.

Buckingham Canal Society offers the following from their survey in 1994 in the entry for Arm 788417

Shown on 1924 and 1900 maps. 1900 map indicates not owned by GJCC. Short arm c. 50 yards in length from north bank. Only barely discernible. Has been in-filled for some time (possibly by dredging or similar). East side of arm is a ploughed field. West side is a small copse.

“The Grand Junction Canal” Alan H Faulkner 1972
The Old Mail

Dawn Bellingham

For centuries the only method of transport was horseback or coach. The ladies rode sidesaddle pillion whilst the families and elderly rode in a cart without springs which travelled no faster than a walking pace.

Then the canals were brought into action and it seems that since the arrival of the Romans possibly nothing has changed Old Stratford more than the canals.

On 30 April 1793, the Grand Junction Canal was authorised by an Act of Parliament, and the act made provision for an arm from the main line to Old Stratford, ending at the former Roman road of Watling Street, which was a major communications route.

Canal Branches Act 1793

“Another vote of thanks went to the Marquis of Buckingham, who had given very strong support to the project and who was described at the meeting as ‘Projector and Patron of the undertaking’.  Indeed, the Marquis’s coat-of-arms was incorporated into the Company’s official seal.”

The Grand Junction Canal, Alan H. Faulkner, David and Charles (1972)

The Marquis also helped the economy of the area around his family seat at Stowe by lending the Company the cost of constructing the Buckingham branch of the Grand Junction Canal.  The branch was to prove of considerable benefit to the town and its locality until the 1850s, when its trade was taken by the railways. 

The Marquis of Buckingham decided that a canal spur from the Grand Junction Canal would help the town of Buckingham.

The continuation to Buckingham was surveyed in 1793, and included in another Act of Parliament, passed in September 1794, which authorised the construction of the Aylesbury, Buckingham and Wendover arms.

The estimated cost for the complete construction of the Grand Junction Canal was £500,000, most of which was generously given by Marquis of Buckingham himself.

Work started almost immediately at both the Braunston and London ends of the canal. The main Grand Junction canal was 5ft deep and 43ft wide, but for the reasons outlined below, the branch from Old Stratford to Buckingham was only 4ft deep and 28ft wide.

The initial section to Old Stratford was to be constructed as a broad canal, capable of use by boats which were 14 feet (4.3 m) wide. The Grand Junction Canal had to cross the River Great Ouse at Wolverton, and the original plan was to construct a crossing on the level, with a flight of locks down one side of the valley and another up the other side. The Old Stratford branch would have had a junction with the main line at the lowest level, and followed the course of the Great Ouse valley.

From Old Stratford, the canal was to continue as a 7-foot (2.1 m) narrow canal, which would have joined the river at Passenham, effectively becoming a navigation, as a number of locks would have been needed along the course of the river. The plans were changed when it was decided to construct a high level crossing of the Great Ouse, ruling out the possibility of a junction, and so the arm left the main line just above Cosgrove lock, following the north side of the Great Ouse valley, and resulted in a canal which was on one level for most of its length, with just two locks as it approached Buckingham.

By 1797 the Grand Junction canal stretched from Braunston to Blisworth where two main tunnels where constructed, and from London to Fenny Stratford. But it was not until August 1805 that the 3,000 yard long Blisworth Tunnel was completed and it was this date that the canal became for the first time fully operational.

The Buckingham and Old Stratford branches in the plans are shown as running from the junction with the Grand Junction canal and the Great Ouse up the valley, first to the Roman road Watling Street at Old Stratford and then onward to Buckingham.

In its early days a lot of pressure was put on the Grand Junction Canal Company by some of the towns, to which branches were proposed on the building programme. It is possible that Buckingham would have been at the bottom of the list had it not been for the Marquis of Buckingham who lived at Stowe.

In May 1800 the Marquis agreed to lend the Company the money needed to build the branch from Old Stratford to Buckingham. The work was carried out quickly in August 1800. The Old Stratford branch was short, at 1¼ miles, and was completed in either August or September 1800. Work then started on the 9½ mile long Buckingham Branch.

“The branch of the canal from Buckingham to the Grand Junction Canal was opened in trade on the 1st May 1801 with great rejoicing. A barge with the Marquis of Buckingham, Mrs Pread, Mr Selby and Mr Box (Committee gentlemen) accompanied by a large party of ladies and gentlemen, a band of music led the way to a procession of twelve barges laden with coal, slate and a variety of merchandise.

Upon their entry into the Bason of Buckingham they were saluted by the firing of several pieces of cannon”.

The Grand Junction Canal, which included the two flights of locks to cross the River Great Ouse, opened in August 1800, and the Old Stratford arm followed six weeks later, in September. The Buckingham branch progressed quickly and was built in 8 months. A formal opening occurred on 1 May 1801, with celebrations like those in Buckingham. The canal was supplied with water by a feeder from the Great Ouse in Buckingham.

By the 1850s, the Buckingham Canal was suffering from competition from the railways, and the water supply from the river contained much silt, which was deposited in the canal, making navigation difficult. Buckingham Corporation also used the canal as a disposal point for sewage, which added to the problems. Trade continued to reduce, with the Grand Junction Canal Company resorting to legal action to prevent the dumping of sewage into the canal in 1890, but Bradshaw's Guide of 1904 lists the upper section as "barely navigable".

In 1919, a section of the canal near Mount Mill Farm was replaced by a concrete trough, in an attempt to reduce leakage. The last recorded commercial traffic was a delivery of chemicals to Leckhampstead in 1932. The arm was blocked at the first bridge in 1944, as a precaution against further leakage, and the temporary dam was never removed. The Buckingham branch was formally abandoned in 1964, but the Old Stratford branch was not. Despite this, the Old Stratford branch was severed by the new route of the A5 road, constructed in 1975/6, and Old Stratford basin was sold in 1991. The route of the Buckingham branch was severed by the construction of the A422 Old Stratford Bypass in 1989/90.

Today the Buckingham canal is closed, with the exception of a short stretch (about 200 metres) running westwards from the junction with the Grand Union Canal at Cosgrove towards the Watling Street, and a 400 metre section at Buckingham which was restored in 2013. The Grand Junction Canal became part of the Grand Union Canal in 1929. Beyond this point the canal can still be followed as a trench running through open fields as far as Old Stratford, where a housing estate has been built over the canal's route. Other remnants of the route are discernible in the landscape as far as Buckingham.

Buckingham Canal Society was formed in 1992 initially with the aim of clearance and photography of the remains of this stretch of waterway. With encouragement from British Waterways, who still owned part of the route, cutting down of the vegetation began on the section from Cosgrove to the A5 road. As the society grew, the restoration of the remains and reinstatement of navigation along the arm became the new aim.


There were originally four wharfs in Old Stratford where cargo from barges could be loaded or unloaded. The majority of the business was the handling of coal.  Large amounts of corn and different foodstuffs were mostly handled at Wharf Farm where there was a wind driven mill.

Another wharf was directly opposite on the other side of Watling Street and run by Mr Washbrook who was a very important coal merchant at one time. Further west on the canal bank itself where Millwards coal yard was later situated was another coal business run by Mr Canvin.

Of course wherever there was a canal wharf there had to be access roads linking with existing roads and since most of these roads had little previous traffic they had to be greatly improved and repaired.

In Wharf Lane, Mr Hayes launched the tugs and launches he produced in Stony Stratford, which were then brought by steam engine to his workshop in Old Stratford.

The Northampton Mercury August 7th 1830

On the 21st ult. Mr. Hall master of the national school at Potterspury, in this county, went with his son, a youth about 19, to bathe in the canal near Old Stratford when, from some unknown cause they were both drowned. By this truly lamentable occurrence, a disconsolate widow is left in circumstances which greatly increase her unhappy bereavement.

The Northampton Mercury September 4th 1830

A subscription is being raised for the benefit of Mrs. Hall, of Potterspury, whose husband and only son were unfortunately drowned a short time since, while bathing in the Grand Junction Canal, near Old Stratford. The amount already subscribed is £85.

The Northampton Mercury August 20th 1881

An Inquest was held at the Falcon Inn, Old Stratford, on the 12th inst., by A. Weston, Esq., on view of the body of Albert Wake, a child 2½ years of age, who was drowned in the canal on the previous Wednesday. Annie Wake said I am the wife of Charles Wake, a labourer, residing at Old Stratford, in the parish of Potterspury. About 2.30 on Wednesday afternoon the deceased was at home. A few minutes afterwards I heard my child Edith screaming, and she told me that the deceased was in the cut of the Buckingham arm of the Grand Junction Canal. I saw my child in the water. It was dead. Assistance came, and the child was got out. The jury returned a verdict of "Accidental drowning," and thought it necessary that the Canal Company should be informed of the danger caused by the want of proper railings.

The Buckingham Arm in the 1950's
Keith Baud

Having a passing interest in canals (holidays on the Shroppie, Ashby and Caldon canals over the past few years) I was aware of the existence of the Buckingham Canal Society and their efforts to get at least part of the Buckingham Arm back into commission.

As I was born in Old Stratford in 1947, and lived in the South Northants/Milton Keynes area until I moved to Devon in 1986, I knew the Stratford Arm particularly well from boyhood rambles along its overgrown banks. Whilst too young to actually remember the canal in its working days, I can certainty remember working boats on it, or perhaps more correctly, IN it. But more of that later...

Although I can remember other bits of the Arm, and parts of the Grand Union when it carried working boats, my main story concerns the stretch of canal between what is called Bridge No 2 on the Stratford Arm (785418) and Bridge 5 on the Buckingham Arm (774401). The reason for this is that this encompasses the approximate area that a 10 year olds legs were likely to carry him from his home!

Bridge 2 was a lovely stone structure with a wooden farm gate and stile at its northern side. It certainly had water underneath it in the '50's, as did all this stretch. The parapets were in good condition, the stone wall on the south eastern side was a bit ruined where people climbed over It to gain access to the towpath and the towpath went underneath the bridge on the southern side. Certainly the towpath lay along this side of the canal for its whole length at least as far as Deanshanger.

The bridge serviced a stony track that ran from a gate on the Cosgrove road opposite what is still known as the "Quarries", and is still I think used by the Scouts for camping. This whole area both sides of the Cosgrove Road had obviously been used for quarrying as the fields were full of humps and bumps. The track to the bridge ran south along the edge of a field (with a dry stone wall on its eastern edge) to Bridge 2. This field was lower than the track, canal and Cosgrove road. In fact the Cosgrove road ran along the top of a small 15/20foot cliff face which was obviously the face of the quarry (limestone). The canal ran along a low embankment that gradually increased in height as it crossed Dogsmouth Brook. As a child this embankment seemed HUGE, I am sure it looks very small today!

The field also held a rubbish dump close to the Cosgrove road which we were always warned to stay clear of. It contained a lot of ashes, still hot underneath, and one of the Slaymaker brothers was badly burnt when he fell through the crust that covered it.

The canal executed a long curve on this embankment and was in water. I am glad you have identified the paddle gear and culvert at 783417. My memory recalls that this was a brick lined semi-circular culvert that ran down the southern slope of the hill through an area of rough land and into the brook. One of our favourite pastimes was damming this culvert with puddled clay from the brook which implies that there must have been water coming down it at times - meaning water in the canal.

The culvert which took Dogsmouth Brook under the embankment was obviously a source of great interest to the local lads, it is reputed that some of the more daring waded through it to the far end. It is called Dogsmouth Brook by the way because of a spring that used to issue from a Dogs Mouth in the bank near the road bridge over the brook on the old Northampton Road at its junction with the Cosgrove road.

The section of the canal between the Dogsmouth culvert and what is now the ASD was never easily accessible, as the towpath was heavily overgrown. We did get along it in 1963 however when the canal froze over for months.

There was certainly a short arm at 782414 and I seem to recall a building made out of corrugated steel sheet and painted black near it, although whether it was a wharf or not I would not like to guess. This arm lay in the far (eastern) corner of a rectangular field bounded on two sides by the canal and was well overgrown in the 50's. In later years David Adams of Bridge Farm (opposite Riverside Garage) established ACE Plant Hire in this field.

At the south-east corner of this field the canal made a 90degree turn west, with a short arm going straight into what we called “The Wharf". Although we never went into "The wharf" (it was private property), a little niggle at the back of my mind says there must have been a way of crossing this arm to gain access to the towpath which continued on the southern side of the main cut. I note that you have found evidence of a swing bridge at 782413 and this must have been it. By the late 60's the Wharf Arm had dried up and we used to walk across it through the reeds.

This junction seemed quite big as a child, it was certainly quite an expanse of water and a popular fishing spot. There was also an old punt here, covered in black tar that we used to use to make the odd foray onto the waters of the canal. As I said, I think I can only ever remember going into Hayes Wharf once and this was from Wharf Lane. I can remember a great barn of a place like a Dutch barn, with old walls overgrown with ivy. From the junction with the Wharf arm to Bridge 1BA/4 at 781413, the canal ran along the north side of another rectangular field that served as the village recreation ground (known as the Rec.). I think there are houses there now. The boundary between the "Rec" and the canal was a high unkempt hedge with plenty of gaps to access the towpath. The eastern boundary of the "Rec" was the old stone wall of Hayes Wharf. The western boundary was Cosgrove Road - the old A422 to Northampton. As the major junction of the A5 and A422 from Northampton to Oxford, Old Stratford was very busy place before the opening of the M1.

The enigmatic Bridge 1.4/4....

I can remember this bridge when it was a conventional narrow "hump backed" bridge so I would guess that is in the ‘50’s. However, as I said, the A422 was a busy road and after an Army tank transporter (Diamond T or Mighty Antar - I cannot remember which) grounded out on it one day the local council decided to lower the bridge.

They constructed a new flatter concrete bridge that I guess is still there, and this had a towpath underneath on the south side. You could walk under it OK with just your head bent (about 5' 6" headroom I would guess) so from water level there should be enough room for a boat. There was always plenty of water in this stretch of canal and definitely NO dam! The towpath was accessed by an inclined path which led from the south side of road near the entrance to the "Rec" and along between the wall and the road.

After this bridge the canal turned south west along the back of 6 wooden bungalows between it and the Cosgrove road and towards the bridge under the "old" A5. On the right was a field, but closer to the A5 bridge there was a Wharf. This was known as Slaymakers yard after the farmers who owned it. There was a tall brick building on the right, then an open yard area edging the water where boats presumably unloaded, then a long stone barn whose south eastern wall fell straight into the water. This whole complex was accessed through some fine wooden gates just to the north of the row of small brick built terrace cottages fronting the A5 to the north of the canal.

To the south of the towpath at this point, on the corner of the A5 and Cosgrove road, was Chapmans Yard where the Chapman brothers had a coach-building business building wooden cattle lorry bodies and carts. There was also a forge here where they used to make their own ironmongery and fittings and sweat steel bands onto wooden cartwheels. Two of the brothers lived in two of the aforementioned wooden bungalows that I think they built. The towpath at this point climbed up a ramp to join the A5 on top of the bridge.

I was rather intrigued to see this bridge no 2/5 (779412) referred to as the Old Stratford Tunnel. This is the first time I have heard this expression and whilst I do not remember a towpath underneath it, I think I am right in saying that I do not think it was always this long...

In 1970 the stone arch bridges over the Old Stratford Arm had been bulldozed.

Dredging back in my memory I seem to recall that the A5 and its verges were widened at some point in the '50s. I might be wrong about this but whilst the parapet on the north-eastern side of the bridge is original, I am sure that the one on the south west side is of newer construction. I also seem to remember that the bridge portal on this side is of newer flat construction as opposed to the original arch on the north-east side which indicates that the bridge changes shape halfway through. I could be totally wrong about this, I haven't been down to the canal side by this bridge for about 25 years, but it might be worth investigating.

The towpath rejoined down a ramp on the south-eastern side behind the village shop and the canal continued in a shallow cutting past the rear of the Memorial Hall, a row of houses, an allotment and then two brick built bungalows all sandwiched on the narrow stip of land between the canal and the Deanshanger Road. In the first bungalow lived the Knight family, "Mowey", Agnes and their only son Peter. "Mowey" was the local "bookie" and Peter, being born about a year after me, is my oldest friend. He was always constructing oddball things, like rafts constructed from shed doors and oil drums, and launching them into the canal which bordered their back garden. They invariably sank!

The next bungalow was lived in by the Millward family. I cannot remember their names. They had an interest in the coal yard next door

The final building on the ever narrowing strip of land between the canal and the Deanshanger Road was Millward Bros. Coal Yard. This comprised of an old timber and corrugated iron shed and a small coal yard. The canal ran right along the back and I can only assume that coal was unloaded here for transhipment in the past. This was at 77854105. Nick Millward, the son of one of the owners, inherited the land from his father and subsequently had two or three houses built on it in the mid 80's. One may be on the line of the canal. I have a photo taken in about 1953 showing the whole of the Old Stratford May Queen entourage (including myself and my sister Celia) sitting on Millward's coal Forty outside the yard. Unfortunately it does not show anything of the canal.

Now we come to the exciting bit....

After Millwards Coal yard the canal got ever close to the road until it was separated by just the towpath and a thick, unkempt hedge. On the north west side of the canal at this point, after the council houses of Mount Hill Avenue, was a small rectangular field, which the village team used as a cricket field for a couple of seasons after they were thrown out of the Black Horse field at the top of the village. It was never much good as a cricket field as it was really too small, wet and bumpy.

The canal edge had a number of willows along it at this point, but in it were two abandoned narrowboats - a tug and butty. I can still clearly remember them and although our parents used to warn us off playing on them for fear of us getting trapped and drowning - we still did. I am pretty sure they were of wooden construction, but they were sunk and listing, the holds full of water, timbers green with lichen, their small cabins dank and mouldering. I can still remember the great rusting hulk of an engine in one. They faced towards Buckingham and I reckon they must have been there a few years, but after the last boat to Leckhampstead in 1932 or it could not have passed!

They eventually extended Mounthill Avenue and built what is now Willow Grove on this field in the early ‘70's?, filling in the line of the canal and cutting a new road through it from Deanshanger Road. The line of the canal can still be discerned between Deanshanger Road and Willow Grove as a slightly raised hump and beneath this the remains of two old narrowboats still might lie. What a project for the "Time Team!". As far as I can remember they will be buried between what was Millwards Yard and the entrance to Willow Grove (77854100).

Moving south you have correctly identified the location of Bridge 3. This bridge led into the aforementioned rectangular field and into a marshy area at the foot of another field. The track that lead over this bridge was opposite Holtons Garage and I think the Holton family built a bungalow in the "marshy" bit and used the bridge as access to it. It was certainly originally a timber bridge with a planked deck and wooden handrails but I think it was later replaced. I think the grid reference for this bridge should be 778408.

After this bridge the canal followed the line of the Deanshanger Road on its western side, again slightly below the level of the road. It was separated from the road by a high hedge but had plenty of water in it. Where the Deanshanger road bent right as it left the village a length of iron railings separated the canal from the road to allow vision on what was a dangerous corner, this also allowed a view of the canal as it swept around the bottom of a field.

This field was accessed by another timber bridge - your Bridge 4 - which has probably now been buried under the junction of the new Old Stratford bypass. There was water in the canal at this point although the section after the bridge towards Deanshanger was heavily overgrown, at this point the canal began diverging from the road again, its line defined by a row of trees and a hedge on the towpath side.

Bridge 5 (Puxley Road) at 774401 was about the limit of my youthful wanderings. Again I can remember this as a timber bridge, I think it was replaced with the existing structure in the early '60's. The pipe went in about the same time I think.

The odd thing about these timber bridges is that I can remember no evidence of how they worked. I do not remember any uprights or balance beams that would indicate they were lift bridges, but the ends of the bridges were square, not radiused as you would expect with a swing bridge. On balance I think they were probably lift bridges but with the lifting gear long removed.

I can also remember odd stretches of the canal as it went through Deanshanger, our School Bus to Towcester used to go that way. Bridge 8 and 9 in Deanshanger were both narrow "hump backed" bridges but bridge 7 was a timber decked one as you so rightly deduce. After Bridge 9 the canal curved east behind what is now a small housing estate, a pub (Kings Head?) and school to rejoin the line of the A422. I think there were a couple of bridges on this section serving fields, bit for their exact location you would be better speaking to someone from Deanshanger.

Obviously, the new Deanshanger bypass has destroyed much of the next section of canal but when travelling along this road on a bus in the direction of Buckingham you used to be able to see the line of the canal quite clearly across the fields to the north.

Finally, I can remember the lattice girder bridge on the Thornton road (750365) .

I never did quite understand what the canal did in the vicinity of Cattleford Bridge (742364) but wonder of the road eventually adopted the line of the canal. Back in the 70’s I needed some old bricks for an extension I was building on a cottage at Wicken and knew of a small derelict barn in the field by the side of the road at this point. I bought the “barn” from the owners and transported the bricks to Wicken on a tractor and trailer. I have absolutely no idea whether the barn originally fulfilled a canal function, or whether it was a farmer’s barn. Whatever, as this part of the world is predominately stone I would guess those old bricks originally came in by canal!

The owners of the barn were the Merchant Venturers, who used to own a lot of land in the Wicken/Lechampstead area. Their land agents were based in Oxford I think. It might be worth contacting them to see what ownership records they have for those stretches of canal.

Living where I did I also have memories of the Grand Union when it was still carrying working traffic. We used to go fishing on the canal between Yardley Wharf and Grafton Regis. You could tell when a working pair were coming long before they got to you as the water level would rise with the amount they were pushing along and fall then as they passed, the water virtually up to their cloths.

A popular Sunday walk would be to Cosgrove to have a drink at the Barley Mow, or in the other pub long closed, that was on the other side of the canal through the dark wet tunnel under it. We also used to walk to the locks to watch boats working through, and then right along the embankment and over the Iron Trunk to the Galleon.

I remember when the Sand and Gravel pits were working at Cosgrove (Cosgrove Caravan Park now). A little diesel engine used to pull trains of tipping trucks up from the grading plant at the quarry to the wharf edge before the locks, you can still see the rails today I believe. As kids we used to hitch a ride on the short bumpy journey.

I can remember the short stretch of canal known as the “Black Boards” after the high wooden fence that skirted Wolverton Carriage and Wagon Works between the station and the rail skew bridge over the canal. As a train-spotter we used to go regularly to Wolverton station where you had the double joy of steam on the railway and the working boats on the canal. A flight og wooden steps led down from the road near the station to the canal alongside the carriage works, the towpath affording an excellent view of the main line.

Like many of my contemporaries, when Milton Keynes started being built, I took up tools in the building trade and worked for many years as a carpenter on various sites and projects in the area. Once in the early 70’s, when between contract, I worked for a few months at Faulkner’s Yard in the Old Brewery at Cosgrove fitting out narrowboats. I recall they were steel hulls with a plywood superstructure that we built in a barn at 90degrees to the cut so they were launched end-on, not sideways.

I hope these reminiscences are of some use to your efforts in restoring the Buckingham Arm and wish you all every success with the project. I am a little too far away to offer any practical assistance but I am sure that with a bit of prompting the old memory banks might come up with a few more nuggets of useless information!

[newspaper image]

The Wolverton Express September 29th 1961


Buckingham Borough Council meeting on Monday heard that the Minister of Transport has accepted the advice of his Inland Waterways Redevelopment Committee that the Buckingham Arm of the Grand Union Canal should be closed to navigation between Hayes Basin, Old Stratford, and the terminus at Buckingham.
The Advisory Committee has, however, recommended that the rest of the Arm, from Cosgrove to Old Stratford, should remain in it’s present condition, until it is clear whether there is a demand for pleasure boating on this length.
The Minister has, however, accepted the advice of the British Transport Commission that this length, also formally closed to navigation.
The B.T.C. is considering the inclusion of both lengths for formal closure in a Bill which they will be promoting in the next session of Parliament.

Agricultural use

The effect of this Bill will be to extinguish rights of navigation but enable the Commission to retain other rights which amongst other things, would allow improvements to be made where road bridges crossed the canal. The canal site might be developed for other purposes.
It is proposed that, with the approval of the Minister and the Advisory Committee, the aim should be to develop the Old Stratford-Buckingham for agricultural use.
The Borough Council heard of objections that are being made, particularly by the newly formed Old Stratford and Buckingham Arm Restoration Branch of the Inland Waterways Association.  It was agreed to seek the views of these enthusiasts before any reply is sent to the British Transport Commission letter about the proposed closure.

No surprise

“This has come as no surprise” said Mr Ron Faulkner of Hanslope. Chairman of the Restoration Branch, when the “Express” told him the news this week.  They were, he said, still going ahead with a previous decision to send a personal delegation to the Minister asking for a 12 months’ “standstill” to enable further evidence to be brought forward to prove a need for the canal’s retention.
Once the B.T.C. got it’s way and a start was made on filling in that would be the end of the canal for ever.   “ The thing we are trying to do,” said Mr Faulkner “is to keep negotiations open.”

Northampton Mercury and Herald  1st Dec 1961


Latest move by the Buckingham Arm and Old Stratford branch of the Inland Waterways Association towards re-opening as a waterway the stretch of canal from Cosgrove locks to Hayes Basin at Old Stratford is to make an attempt at restoring the towpath alongside the disused canal.

It is hoped to convert the one-and-quarter miles of overgrown footway back to it’s former state when it was one of the prettiest walks in the whole of the area.

At a special meeting, the Association agreed to write to the Inland Waterways Association H.Q. asking for legal advice about possible trespass and also for information in case of any damage or injury.  They are also to write to the National Trust to see if they are interested in the Arm.


If everything goes according to plan work will start in the New Year at the Hayes Basin  and near the Old Stratford recreation ground and will proceed systematically along the whole length to Cosgrove locks.

As the British Transport Commission has decided to close the stretch of canal from Buckingham to Old Stratford the local branch of the Inland Waterways Association was wondering if it would be able to get water for the remaining portion from Old Stratford to Cosgrove.

The British Transport Commission said that the relief from statutory obligations which the Commission was seeking in a Bill applied equally to the Buckingham Arm and the Old Stratford Arm—but this would not prevent arrangements being made on a voluntary basis for the Old Stratford Arm to be put back into use.

The Old Stratford Arm was not dependant upon the Buckingham Arm, but could be supplied from the main line of the canal at Cosgrove, the B.T.C. said.

This would present no difficulty providing the Old Stratford Arm was put into suitable condition to avoid any undue loss of water.