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Iron Trunk Aquaduct
Grafton St Aquaduct

The Story of the Iron Trunk Aquaduct
Iron Trubk Aquaduct
The Grand Union Canal, or Grand Junction Canal as  it was called until 1929, was built between 1793 - 1805 to provide a vital link  between London and the industrial Midlands.

The lowest point between the  canal's two summits at Tring and Braunston was here at the River Ouse in  Wolverton. William Jessop, the engineer for The Canal Company decided to cross  the valley on an embankment with an aqueduct across the river. This avoided the  need to build a large number of permanent locks which would have been time  consuming wasteful of water and still would have required a special bridge or  ferry for the horses.

A temporary flight of wooden locks was built  between Wolverton and Cosgrove so that the new canal could be used during the  construction of the aqueduct. The site of these old locks can still be found in  the copse to the west of the canal and south of the river. The present Cosgrove  Lock was part of that original flight.

The first aqueduct was built of  brick. Work on it proceeded slowly and it was plagued with problems even before  it opened in 1805. It was, perhaps, no surprise when it collapsed on the night  of February 18th 1808 and the temporary locks had to be brought back into use to  prevent interruption of trade.

As a result of these problems it was  decided to replace the brick aqueduct with a cast iron trough. This construction  technique was first used only fifteen years earlier for a single span aqueduct  for the Derby Canal and was, therefore, a relatively new and advanced method.  (In between the copse of the brick aqueduct and the construction of the iron  one, a temporary wooden aqueduct was use, built by a local  carpenter).

Benjamin Bevan of Leighton Buzzard, an engineer with the  Canal Company, designed the aqueduct and it was manufactured by Reynolds and  Company at their Ketley Iron Works in the West Midlands. It was a success. The  structure has remained solid since 21st January 1811. There have only been two  'stoppages' for maintenance work to be carried out - first in 1921, and again in  1986.

One hundred and eighty years later, in March 1991,  another complicated piece of civil engineering resulted in the opening of an  impressive new aqueduct in Milton Keynes. It was needed to carry the canal over  Grafton Street to improve the access from New Bradwell and Wolverton in to the  south of the city.

There is a short canal branch at Cosgrove which is  all that remains of the Stratford and Buckingham Arm. This canal was opened in  the early 19th century to link Buckingham with the main line of the canal. The  most important cargoes were hay and straw for London, where horse fodder was in  short supply. The best known cargo on the Arm came from the Edward Hayes  boatyard at Old Stratford where steam boats and river launches were built for  export all over the world. It was an amazing sight to see them being transported  down Stony Stratford High Street to the canal.

The Grand Union Canal  runs for a distance of 13 miles through the new city, following the river  valleys of the Ouzel and Great Ouse. Some lengths flow through the City's linear  parks, others border the new housing areas, two of which are named after canal  landmarks - Tinkers Bridge and Peartree Bridge.

The Grand Union Canal is  part of a network of inland waterways that covers the length and breadth of  England. From Milton Keynes the canal extends south to Brentford where it joins  the River Thames, and on to Birmingham, the centre of the canal network.  Originally the building of this network was an important part of the Industrial  Revolution. The poor state of the roads in the 18th century meant that transport  of goods by water was much quicker and therefore cheaper. A vast range of goods,  from bricks to barley, was carried by the horse-drawn narrowboats. The canal  thrived during the first has of the 19th century, but with the coming of the  railways in the 1840's and 50's there began a slow decline.

Freight  carrying continued to decline during the first half of the 20th century as the  network of roads improved. When transport was nationalised in 1947 ownership of  the canals passed first to the British Transport Commission and then in 1963 to  the newly formed British Waterways. By this time construction of the motorway  system had contributed to the end of profitable waterborne transport on the  Grand Union Canal. Today leisure activities such as boating, angling,  birdwatching, sketching, walking, or just sitting have taken its place, and the  canal is as busy during the summer as it was in its commercial heyday.

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