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"Grand Junction Canal Construction of Foxton Lift 1898-9"


Photograph album consisting of 60 black and white and sepia photographs documenting the construction and opening of the Foxton Inclined Plane. The album belonged to Gordon Cale Thomas who was the designer of the inclined plane.



Reference code


Administrative /​ Biographical history

In 1893 the 'Grand Junction Company', with the backing of 'Fellows, Morton and Clayton Limited' purchased canals between Norton and Leicester in a bid to regain the Derbyshire coal traffic which had almost collapsed by this period. Between 1896 and 1897 plans were drawn up to improve canals and increase transport levels on them in order to compete with the increasing popularity of the railways. These plans included widening the locks at Foxton and Watford Gap to accommodate wide boats which could transport larger amounts of coal, and constructing an inclined plane at Foxton which could take a 70 ton barge or two narrowboats and would bypass the flight of ten locks, making travelling through this section of the canal simpler and quicker. A decision on the widening of the locks was deferred but the company agreed to build the plane and construction started early in 1898. The development of the plane was entrusted to Gordon Cale Thomas and it was built by W. H. Gwynne of Hammersmith, London, for £14,130. The plane was completed in June 1900 and was opened to traffic on July 10th, with the first boat to use it being the steam inspection launch 'Gadfly', and the first working boat through was reported to have been the 'Fellows, Morton and Clayton Limited' steamer 'Phoenix'. The plane has been known under a number of names, including the 'Foxton Lift', the 'Thomas Lift', and the 'Foxton Inclined Plane'. The completed plane was 75 feet high, 307 feet long and had a gradient of 1:4. The construction consisted of two caisson tanks which acted as two balancing weights positioned on the plane and suspended by a connecting rope passing over pulley wheels at the top. The effect of gravity would take one of the tanks down whilst at the same time the other tank would be travelling up. The only power that was needed for the plane was to overcome friction and the inertia of the moving parts, which was provided by a steam engine at the top. The journey time for boats on the plane was about 12 minutes, compared to around 45 minutes that it would take to pass through the locks. This method saved time and also water, as the same bit of water went up and down the incline all day so there was little wasted. Although the plane reduced travelling times considerably, in the long term it proved not to be cost effective and was ultimately unsuccessful. Traffic on the canal did not improve enough and was too irregular to justify keeping the plane running and paying the three staff that were needed to run it. The locks at Watford Gap and Foxton were never widened, so even though wide boats could pass through Foxton on the lift, they could not travel much further south, to places such as London. The Grand Junction company was becoming disillusioned with the plane and felt that it had spent a large sum of money and was getting little return. On 26th October 1910 it was announced that that the plane would close down in a fortnight, and that all traffic was to use the locks. The plane continued to be used occasionally after this, but in 1914 part of it was dismantled and the rest was taken down between 1924 and 1926. The machinery was sold for scrap in 1928. In 1980 a trust was founded to work towards the long term restoration of the plane. British Waterways is currently developing the site with members of the Foxton Locks Partnership and with English Heritage to preserve the remains. There are plans for a full restoration in the future. For more information, see Alan H Faulkner 'The Grand Junction Canal' (WH Walker & Brothers Limited, 1993) and Edward Paget-Tomlinson 'The Illustrated History of Canals & River Navigations'.

Extent & medium

1 album

System of arrangement

The photographs are contained in an album therefore the original arrangement has been kept.

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