There was dramatic progress when volunteers returned to complete their preparations for the reconstruction of Schoolhouse Bridge on the Montgomery Canal south of Crickheath, near Oswestry.
After the crops were harvested, the restoration team were able to access the final field by the bridge site thanks to generous agreement from the farmer. The field was fenced and the track to bypass the construction site was completed.
The work involved volunteers using the machines on site to drive fencing posts, lay the track and roll the track surface. The materials for this work were generously supplied by the Tudor Griffiths Group at cost as will be those for the bridge itself next year. Tudor Griffiths himself has been interested in the restoration for a long time: he has provided the land for the nature reserves by Aston Locks, near Queen’s Head, and many years ago he volunteered when the Inland Waterways Association’s Waterway Recovery Group was restoring the locks themselves.
A further development at the bridge site was the arrival of a welfare cabin, transported from the Pocklington Canal restoration in Yorkshire.
In the coming weeks the water main in the lane will be diverted through the fenced area with the kind permission of the landowners. In the first week of November contractors will be drilling an underground route through the fields and under the canal bed, avoiding the bridge site, ready for Severn Trent Water to visit later in the month to make the connection to the existing main and to cut off the supply across the bridge site.
The project to reconstruct the bridge is scheduled to start in spring 2021 and will involve closing the highway through the summer while the bridge is rebuilt to modern highway standards.
Speaking for the Restore the Montgomery Canal! group, Chairman Michael Limbrey said, “This final stage of this year’s volunteer effort at Schoolhouse Bridge has been a modest project compared with what we shall be undertaking next year but it has shown what skilled and other volunteers can do. Each day substantial pieces of equipment were used by qualified drivers. And each stage finished early.
“The main work starts next year. In the spring we have to excavate the old embankment across the canal and construct the reinforced concrete base and abutments for the bridge. Contractors will then install the bridge arch – and it will be really exciting when they crane the arch into position. The final stages will involve building up to road level, surfacing, kerbing and landscaping. This will be one of the major canal restoration projects of 2021 and it has to be completed in a matter of months. We shall be using contractors for the specialised works but to keep the cost down will use volunteers where we can.
“We have had a really good group of volunteers from local canal teams for these two weeks of preparation. Qualified volunteers were driving the machines we hired, from the big 13 tonne tracked digger/excavator to the smaller compaction roller used to finish off the surface of the track.
“We are always on the lookout for more volunteers to help us next year, especially anyone with construction site experience – though that’s not essential. With enough volunteers signed up we would not need everyone on site every day and of course the project will only be running for a limited period. It would be great to hear from anyone who would like to help this exciting project.
“We are particularly keen to bolster the site management team for next year: this could be valuable experience for a younger person looking to build up a CV, or an opportunity for someone between jobs or retired or approaching retirement.
“Over the years we have been planning this project we have had a great deal of support and help from local residents and from Shropshire Council and the Canal & River Trust. The rebuilt bridge will remove a major obstruction to our ambition to reopen the canal to Llanymynech and into mid-Wales, restoring the connection to the national canal network that was lost over eighty years ago.”
The Restore the Montgomery Canal! appeal is run by the local canal charities supporting the Montgomery Canal restoration: the Friends of the Montgomery Canal, Shropshire Union Canal Society and the Inland Waterways Association.