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Foxton Locks is a landmark location on England’s waterways, noted not only for its famous flight of locks but also as the site of the Foxton Inclined Plane – a pioneering boat lift that was opened at the start of the 20th century to speed the flow of traffic.

Foxton Locks consists of two ‘staircases’ each of which has five locks purpose built to help the canal climb the steep hill. A ‘staircase’ works with the system that each lock opens directly into the next, so that the bottom gates of one lock form the top gates of the next. This particular staircase flight is the largest of its kind in the English canal system.

Benjamin Bevan was the man given the job of designing the locks at Foxton, but in doing so he came up against two problems. The first being the shortage of water in the 20 mile stretch of canal and the second was the steep, 75 foot hill that he needed to build on. His solution was to build the lock flight in 1810. The journey took 45 minutes and its only competition at the time was horses, making this system revolutionary due to the transportation of goods being much quicker.

Nevertheless, competition increased in the 1900s when the railways were being installed, by this time the canals were in poor condition. Fellows Morton and Clayton (FMC) the largest canal transportation company in England wanted to use bigger boats to take larger amounts of coal from the north to the London factories. The result was that wide boats and barges were to be used.

To allow for this advancement, Gordon Cale Thomas designed the “Thomas Lift” which opened in 1900. It consisted of two tanks that were each capable of holding two narrow boats or one barge, was balanced by two tanks of water and powered by a 25 horsepower steam engine. The journey time in the lift was only 12 minutes and saved on water because the same water went up and down the hill every day. Although the lift worked well at Foxton, the locks at Watford Gap were not widened so traffic did not increase and ultimately the lift was uneconomic.

In order to compete with the railways FMC wanted to introduce ‘fly runs’ which would mean non-stop boating whereby the men would work in shifts on the boat. In 1911 in a bid to increase the traffic that had been lost through the introduction of the lift, it was made redundant and in 1928 the machinery was sold for scrap.

In the 1980s The Foxton Incline Plane Trust was formed and their aim is to restore the lift back to its original purpose, they have already had success in restoring the boiler house.

The Foxton Locks Inn is situated at the base of the Foxton Locks inclined plane. It makes an ideal location to stop off for a drink or meal if you decide to visit the location to see the remains of the site of the included plane or watch today’s canal boats take the journey up the locks themselves. There is parking close by with the inclined plane, Foxton Locks themselves and the Foxton Locks Inn all within a very short walk of the car park (which is free after 5pm)

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Additional Photos by marion morgan (jester5) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 96 W: 66 N: 583] (1968)
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