Winter Works on the Kennet & Avon Canal at Crofton

The Canal & River Trust’s project to replace the pumping system at Crofton, that keeps the summit of the Kennet & Avon Canal topped-up with water for boats, towpath users and wildlife, will be completed this winter.

The works, near Great Bedwyn in Wiltshire, started in September 2022 and will continue through to March 2023.  Costing £1.8 million, the project will see the 40-year-old pumps, pipes and electrics replaced with a modern, more efficient and reliable system.

To enable the works to be carried out, a six-mile stretch of the Kennet & Avon Canal, from Lock 52 (Heathy Close Lock) to Lock 65 (Burnt Mill Lock), will close to boats from 7 November 2022 until 17 March 2023.  Update:  As at 10th June, the canal itself is now navigable by boat.  A diversion will also be in place for the half-mile stretch of the towpath that will be closed between Lock 58 and Lock 61 on the Crofton flight.  Update:  As at 10th June, the towpath is still closed as there are additional works required.  It is likely to reopen in July 2023.  There is a permissive path through the fields that run parallel to the canal so that you can continue your walk along the canal using this detour.

The pumps at Crofton supply water from Wilton Reservoir to the Kennet & Avon Canal.  Soon after the canal first opened, the historic Crofton Pumping Station was built in 1807-9 to supply water to the highest point of the Kennet & Avon Canal.  The pumps were steam powered and continued to operate until 1959.  In the 1980’s, when the canal was restored, a new pumping station was installed powered by electric pumps.  The steam pumps housed in the historic Pumping Station building, continue to be regularly demonstrated to the public by volunteers at open days. 

To enable the upgrade to take place, part of the closed stretch of canal will be drained so that new pipework, pump and electrics can be installed.  There will also be works at Wilton Water to improve the flow of water from the reservoir, and the historic water control gates (penstocks) will be restored as a heritage structure.

The work this winter is the second phase of this important project to keep the canal navigable, for the benefit of people and wildlife.  Phase one of the works, completed in March 2020, laid new pipes connecting to the existing historic pipeline beneath the canal, and installed new pipework under the railway and up to the canal feeder channel.

Charles Baker, the Canal & River Trust’s senior project engineer, explains: “Crofton Top Lock is the highest lock at the head of the eastern descent of the Kennet & Avon Canal.  The pumping system at Crofton keeps the canal summit topped up with water, which is vital for boaters and wildlife, as well as the thousands of people who visit the canal towpath each year for the health and wellbeing.

“After 40 years of service, the 1980’s electric pumping system has become unreliable and less efficient.  With the Kennet & Avon Canal more popular with people and boats than at any time in history, the new pumping system will increase efficiency and the amount of water that can be pumped into the canal.”

Mark Evans, the Canal & River Trust’s director for Wales & South West, adds: “The Kennet & Avon Canal links the Bristol Avon outside Bath to the River Thames at Reading.  Built to transfer goods and materials between Bristol and London, today the Kennet & Avon Canal is used for leisure.  With over 5,000 boats using the Kennet & Avon Canal each year, it’s one of the most popular canals on the inland waterways network.

“The Canal & River Trust wants to make its canals more welcoming, safe and clean to encourage more people to use them, and enjoy the health and wellbeing benefits of walking, boating and cycling, and being by the water.  The upgrade to the water pumping system at Crofton will help to improve resilience in our network and the maintenance of water levels, so that the Kennet & Avon Canal can continue to provide benefits for people and wildlife.”

As well as upgrading the pumping system at Crofton, as part of the Canal & River Trust’s winter maintenance programme, the following works will be carried out along the closed section of waterway:

  • Lock 52 (Heathy Lock) the bottom lock gate will be replaced and repairs made to the offside top anchor point, waterway wall at the lock landing and quoin offside;
  • Lock 55 (Crofton Top Lock) the top lock gate will be refitted to reduce leakage;
  • Lock 57 (Crofton) the top gates will be repaired;
  • Lock 60 (Crofton flight) the bottom gate quoin masonry will be repaired;
  • Lock 61 (Crossing Lock) the top and bottom gates will be replaced, and masonry repairs will be undertaken in the lock chamber;
  • Lock 64 (Church Lock) the top and bottom gates will be relined; and
  • Lock 65 (Burnt Mill Lock) the bottom gates will be refitted.

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