The Wey Navigation

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The attractive cottages at Dapdune Wharf, Guildford.

The Wey navigations begin their story when wealthy landowner Sir Richard Weston of Sutton Place near Guildford began to think of ways to improve agricultural and land management. Apparently (but see the notes later on) Weston had seen methods in use in Holland during his younger years and he decided to implement some measures on his own lands in Western Surrey. The work began in 1618, and the scheme included an experimental lock at Stoke.

The Stoke lock was one of the earliest pound locks in England, though not the very first. It was not the first on the Wey – there is evidence that a lock was built near New Haw at least a century before as part of an earlier scheme.

Water was ushered down channels into Weston’s fields, maintaining moisture and also keeping ground tempertatures from freezing in the winter months. Stoke lock was simply at best a water control structure, however it is possible that Weston floated his produce to Guildford on perhaps rudimentary vessels which might have used this lock.

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A bit of history: William Stevens & Sons’ barge ‘Hope’ en route to Guildford. Thames Lock 1950. Note the pairs of horses. The hefty tiller had a purpose – it could be lifted up to enable the rudder to be folded back out of the way. It was an ingenious way of enabling larger sized barges to be used on the navigations (Photo copyright of National Trust)

The explanation for the length of time between the intital works and the grander navigation was the English Civil War. During those years the water management scheme remained was in use, and evidence clearly shows Weston’s scheme was still in use 150 years AFTER the Wey Navigation had been completed.

There are still a number of traces of these channels around the Stoke area and throughout the adjacent area right up to its latter outfall at Triggs Lock, including the remains of a very early aqueduct.

Weston met considerable opposition as well to his ideas of a navigation and it was only when attitudes began to soften that he gained royal backing from King Charles 1st. He is the king who lost control of the country, whose regal powers were forcibly handed over to Oliver Cromwell.

Weston fled the country in fear of persecution from Cromwell’s puritians. Whilst abroad Weston began to learn about drainage management schemes and agricultural husbandry in Flanders and Brabant.

After the civil war Weston returned to England. His plans for a river navigation were finally given the parlimentary go-ahead in June 1651. Unfortunately Weston died in 1652, before the navigation was completed. Perhaps this was somewhat fortunate as the costs for building the navigation totally bankrupted Weston’s estate and his son George Weston was jailed for being a bankrupt.

The actual building of the navigation was not a straightforward affair and the 1651 act was revoked as for was drawn up under the pretended parliament of Oliver Cromwell. Legal battles ensued and the navigation proprietors were forced to establish a new act in 1671 by which the Wey Navigation’s legal status was finally established and recognised as having been established by a proper act of parliament

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The prospectus for the Wey Navigation’s 1671 act. Used with acknowledgement from Surrey History Centre, Woking.

After 1671, The Wey Navigation (and the later Godalming Navigation) were managed by various trustees. They eventually passed to the Stevens family of Guildford, and Harry Stevens bequeathed the navigations to the National Trust in 1964. The Wey navigations office was sited near the Town Wharf in Guildford, and many who visited the navigation offices say that the building was like something out of a Charles Dickens novel! Sadly this (and other buildings in the same street) were demolished to make way for the new road that runs between the town centre and river.

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Postcard showing Thames Lock in Edwardian days.

The Wey Navigation – Thames Lock to Weybridge Town

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This is the entrance to Thames lock. It is unusual in being a sort of staircase lock, but not quite like the staircase locks we know. Some would say it was more like a flash lock, though I wouldnt agree as then it would have to allow a flow of water through the opening. The extra gate (seen here) is a water gate which simply serves to regulate the amount of water available over the cil of the main lock chamber which commences by the footbridge.

Thames lock’s curved chamber wasnt planned as such, but sort of evolved. Until at least 1800 boats locked directly onto the Thames right here. A persistent sandbank forced the navigation’s entrance channel to migrate further north and the use of deeper draughted boats meant an extra gate was needed to increase the depth over the bottom cill.

As noted the lock originally led directly into the Thames. The river in fact runs just a few feet away from the lock. During major flooding in February 2013 the old arrangment of locking directly into the River Thames was to all purposes and intents back in use as the picture below shows.

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Thames Lock keeper opening the gates with his trusty pole! This is Brian, who took over lock keeper duties here for a few months.

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Just upstream from Thames Lock are two weirs. These split the river into two branches around Thames Lock. One is the Tumbling Bay at Bulldogs and the other is Colsons Bay Weir. The latter, pictured here, was a later addition sited on the towpath side & has a spectacular cascade.

Weybridge Town Lock is the first of the manual locks and the start of the long canal section to Walsham gates.

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This view shows the wide stretch of water where the navigation turns for Town lock. This is through the bridgehole on the far right. From here it looks an easy turn in reality its a sharp one!

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Pleasure boating below Weybridge Town Lock in 1924

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Weybridge Town lock with Tagaruga descending in torrential rain at end of May 2007

The weir at Weybridge Town once had an engine house as shown on maps but its use is not known.

In a short distance is Coxes Mill, which has the fairly unusual distinction of being sited on a canal rather than a river and its imposing structure can be seen towering on the skyline.

Next: Coxes Mill to Parvis Wharf

Wey Navigation Pages:

Thames Lock – Weybridge Town / Coxes – Parvis Wharf / Parvis – Walsham Gates / Newark – Worsfold Gates / Worsfold – Stoke / Stoke – Guildford Wharf / Town Mill – St Catherine’s / Shalford – Godalming / Harry Stevens

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