Wendover Arm Trust - rebuilding a Heritage Asset, a Community Benefit and a Tourist Attraction.
The 7-mile Wendover Arm Canal which feeds into the Grand Union Canal at Bulbourne, near Tring was originally constructed in 1799. It had the dual purpose of bringing water from springs near Wendover to feed the main canal system between London and the Midlands, as well as providing a transport connection to Tring and to Wendover.
As such, at various times, it carried coal to three gas works, sent straw to London and received horse manure from London to improve the productivity of the local agriculture. It also brought wheat and other cereals to Heygates Flour Mills at New Mill in Tring and took away the resulting flour. Nearby there was a boat repair business which became Bushells Brothers boatbuilding business in 1875 and which operated until 1952.
Unfortunately the stretch of the canal arm closest to Wendover developed leaks continuously and no satisfactory solution could be found, leading to the stoppage of navigation at Little Tring in 1904 and for several miles a pipe was laid beneath the canal bed to enable the crucial flow of water to continue replenishing the reservoirs that are essential to the national system.
However, the Wendover Arm Trust (WAT) was formed in February 1989 as a voluntary body to promote the restoration of the Wendover Canal. Then, nearly 25 years later, the Canal and Rivers Trust/Glândwr Cymru (CaRT) was established on 12th July, 2012, and all British Waterways' assets, liabilities and responsibilities in England and Wales were transferred to them. At the same time, CaRT took over the Waterways Trust, a pre-existing charity previously affiliated to British Waterways with similar aims to CaRT.
CaRT is vaguely described as holding the "guardianship" of the canals and navigable rivers in England and Wales and is expected to engage with users and stakeholders - involving the public as "members" of the Trust. Locally it seemed to get off to a shaky start, having taken some 4 years to repair a road bridge on the Aylesbury Arm, though some time later a second incident of serious damage at New Mill, Tring was repaired within a couple of months.
Despite the lack of clarity surrounding CaRT's responsibilities and activities - or perhaps because of it - it does seem to work! Certainly it is engaging with the users and the communities through which the canals and rivers run and it does appreciate and value the work of voluntary bodies like the WAT, with whom they co-operate effectively.
This positive attitude on the part of CaRT, together with the support and enthusiasm over decades of the WAT members - many of whom have relevant professional experience and qualifications - has enabled considerable progress to be made over the years. Little Tring Bridge has been splendidly rebuilt and navigation is possible now underneath and past the bridge for a small stretch.
And restoration continues apace, since WAT managed to find socially distanced ways to resume volunteer and engineering works. Further articles will report on progress.