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Sunday, December 08, 2013

A Look at Cow Roast our Temporary Home

The wet foundations below our home date back some 216 years but if you go back another 1700 years the surroundings would be Roman. Much the same as the canal and railway builders did the Romans built Akeman street through the Chiltern hills.
 It left the Roman Watling street, a major route into London, at St. Albans and passed through Hemel Hempstead, Tring and Aylesbury on it`s way to Cirencester. Much of this route is still part of our 21st century road system and parts of Akeman street is now below the present day A41.

Archaeologists have shown that Cow Roast was the site of a Roman settlement just off Akeman street and coins have been found both near the pub and the marina.  Also when the canal was dug a Bronze helmet of Roman origin was discovered which is now in the British Museum.

Now back on board our bloggers time machine and we are going to the mid 1700`s and the Sparrows Herne TurnpikeThe art of Roman road building had been lost a thousand plus years in the past and road maintenance laws were passed onto Parishes without success and now the Turnpike with it`s tolls was born. This turnpike ran from Bushey, near Watford, to Aylesbury.

At New Ground, the first bridge north from Cow Roast lock, a toll gate was set up by local landowners who maintained the road across their property and charged a toll according to what was passing through. The link will give you toll fees but our interest is in cattle at 10d per score. Now converting the old £ s d into not only modern day decimal but also the U.S. $ is a challenge.

First the easy part, a score is 20. Then the 10d converts to just over 4p which is about 6 cents.
Our interest in cattle is because the name of the local pub, Cow Roast Inn, is probably a corruption of Cow Rest. This area was a stopping point to graze and rest cattle being driven long distances into London for butchering. So I think that is a very reasonable explanation of how Cow Roast got it`s name.

Leaving the turnpike investors to make a fast buck, remember the birth of canal and  railway are fast approaching, we return to the wet road of the Grand Junction Canal.

In 1793 the Parliament passed the act that enabled a canal of 90 miles and 121 locks to be built from Brentford to Braunston. Now as many will know the present canal has 101 locks.
One day I`ll try to work out where the 20 locks were done away with. Some obvious savings were the Buckby flight that was to be 10 but ended up as a flight of 7. Also the original route south of Hemel was to be lock free via a tunnel at Langlebury (west of Hunton bridge) ending in an undisclosed flight of locks into Rickmansworth.
The flight into Marsworth that was to have been far to the East and might account for some or perhaps the eight at Cosgrove that took the canal across the Great Ouse before the aqueduct was built. Fascinating subject, canals and their history.

Early starting points on the canal were Braunston, Brentford, Blisworth Tunnel and Tring Cutting. by the end of 1793 some 3000 men were at work along the route. A year on and the canal reached Uxbridge from Brentford and in 1799 it reached Berkhamsted just 3 miles from the Tring summit level that had been completed in 1797. The summit crossed the Chiltern hills and it was decided to drive a deep cutting 1.5 miles long and in places 30 feet deep.

The biggest problem was water supply and this led to the Wendover arm being the first of the branches to be built. Springs at Wendover provided a steady flow into the summit and Mills were purchased solely for their water supply and by 1796 the arm was in use. water supply was always a problem and by the early 1800`s the canal company was building reservoirs to help the situation. These were extended and linked together by underground culverts that used pumps to feed the summit.
The Wendover arm was to become a serious problem when the water that should have flowed to the summit started to leak away through the bed of the canal. Attempts were made to rectify this but eventually so much was leaking that it was draining the summit instead of topping it up. The canal company piped the water supply from the springs at Wendover into the reservoir at Wilstone and closed the canal to boats.

 Nowadays the Wendover Trust is relining the canal bed and slowly the canal is being re-watered in sections.

In 1848 pumps were installed at Cow Roast and Dudswell to pump water from wells sunk deep into the ground. The Dudswell site was not a success but Cow Roast was and in 1902 a new pump and engine were installed there. This was also the year of a severe drought that even the extra pumping could not overcome. This meant a reduction of 50 boats per week crossing the Tring summit causing a shortage of coal and iron reaching London from the Midlands and return loads of sugar, tea and other supplies to the Midlands.

Water shortage is still a problem in modern times and as recently as two years ago lack of rain caused the summit to be closed and the water level along it reduced. Every time a boat heads to the summit from either direction about 56,000 gallons of water is lost from the summit. This is replaced from reservoirs by pumping but in times of drought there can be nothing in reserve to pump.

Of course by now the London and Birmingham railway was in place having reached Tring in 1837 it also reached into the midlands and delays of boats crossing the summit  just drove more freight onto trains.
It was a tribute to the canal builders that the railway shadowed the route of the canal for many  miles crossing it in six places. They had similar problems getting over the Chilterns and also chose a cutting. On the left is the railway cutting under construction using horses to pull a barrow of earth up the plank with the navvy steadying it.

Cruising along the summit level through the cutting is pleasurable at all times of the year. Spring is when it comes to life as new tree growth begins to block the light that has broken through the treetops since Autumn. In places this gives  a feeling of cruising through a green living tunnel.

Tring cutting
On a hot summers day the tall trees all along the cutting give welcome shade with gaps that let the sun illuminate the many greens of the trees and shrubs. Apart from the odd train passing through it`s own nearby cutting the journey is one of peace and quiet.
Come Autumn the falling leaves drift down like a dark coloured snow. A truly remarkable journey year round and the best way to enjoy it is at a very slow speed. If cold make sure you have a hot drink as you enter the cutting and just enjoy. I have seen Muntjac deer on the towpath as well as rabbits and herons.

I did hear of a wartime crash of a B17 fighter plane returning to it`s base crashing at Cow Roast but can only find reference to a B24 based at Cheddington coming to grief at Cow Roast. It seems likely the B17 came down on Ashridge estate.
Some interesting reading can be found at this link.

Not a complete history but just a look at the area around our enforced temporary home.

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NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs