Foxton Locks are ten canal locks consisting of two "staircases" each of five locks, located on the Leicester line of the Grand Union Canal about 5 km west of the Leicestershire town of Market Harborough and are named after the nearby village of Foxton. They form the northern terminus of a 20-mile summit level that passes Husbands Bosworth, Crick and ends with the Watford flight. Staircase locks are used where a canal needs to climb a steep hill, and consist of a group of locks where each lock opens directly into the next, that is, where the bottom gates of one lock form the top gates of the next. Foxton Locks are the largest flight of such staircase locks on the English canal system. The site is popular with gongoozlers (a gongoozler is a person who enjoys watching activity on the canals of the United Kingdom).
Building work on the locks started in 1810 and took four years. Little changed until the building of the inclined plane resulted in the reduction in size of some of the side pounds. While the inclined plane was in operation the locks were allowed to fall into decline to an extent and in 1908 the committee released £1,000 to bring the locks back into full (nightly) operation. In 2008, the locks became part of the European Route of Industrial Heritage, a network which seeks to recognize the most important industrial heritage sites in Europe. The locks are usually manned during the cruising season from Easter to October and padlocked outside operating hours. This is done to prevent water shortages due to misuse and to ensure a balance between those wishing to ascend and descend. There can be lengthy delays at busy times but the actual transit should take approximately 45 minutes to one hour to complete; it is made quicker by the fact that the locks are narrow beam and the gates are light.
By 1897, the Grand Junction Canal Company had acquired several of the canals comprising the Leicester line, and was keen to meet demand from carriers seeking to use wider beam (14 ft) craft, rather than the traditional narrow beam boats, which were the only type the locks could accommodate. Their solution was to build an inclined plane to the side of the locks. Initially, the company had planned for the plane to replace the locks, rather than having it act as a second, faster option. Construction began in 1898 and was finished by 10 July 1900. The Plane had two tanks, or caissons, each capable of holding two narrowboats or a barge. The caissons were full of water, and so balanced each other. The caissons' vertical guillotine gates created a watertight seal. The lift was powered by a 25-horsepower (19 kW) stationary steam engine. The land for the Plane was purchased for £1,595 and total expenses for the project came to £39,244 by 24 June 1900.
The inclined plane had a journey time of 12 minutes for two boats up and two down, compared with 1¼ hours through the old lock system, thereby improving the speed of passage up the hill tremendously. During a 12-hour day, 6,000 tons of cargo could pass through the upper and lower level. Unlike the locks, where water flowed downhill every time a boat passed through, on the inclined plane almost the same amount of water went up and down the hill. Only the displaced water is moved, thus saving a great deal of water and giving better control of this vital resource. An initial problem with the plane was the stress on the tracks by the caissons. The need to continually maintain a supply of steam for the plane's engine – in expectation of traffic – also proved to be a drain on finances. Thus, despite its obvious effectiveness, the Foxton Inclined Plane was mothballed in 1911 to save money. After that date it saw occasional use when the locks were undergoing maintenance. In 1926, dismantling of the incline's machinery began, and it was sold for scrap in 1928 for a mere £250.
The Foxton Canal Museum (now referred to simply as the Boiler House) is located in the former boiler house for the plane's steam engine. The museum covers the history of the locks and the plane, the lives of the canal workers, and other aspects of the local canal. There is also a collection of Measham pottery. The BoilerHouse is fully Accessible, however parts of the site are steep and assistance may be required. There are disabled toilet facilities. Assistance dogs are welcome (as are other dogs provided they are on a leash).
Location : The Boiler House, Middle Lock, Gumley Road, Foxton, Leicestershire LE16 7RA
Transport: Market Harborough (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : 44 and Rural Rider 2 stop close by.
Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 17:00. Saturday opens at 11:00. Locks always open to the public.
Tickets : Adults £4.00; Children (5 - 15) £1.00
Tel: 0116 2792 657