Heritage volunteers at Hincaster horse path
Britain’s canals are notable for their many locks and
bridges. These bear testament to the skill and persever-
ance of the engineers and navvies who drove these
water highways through the landscape during the late
18th century, revolutionising transport and industry. A
plethora of lesser-known features is often overlooked
when the heritage significance of a canal is considered.
Hincaster horse path is one such feature and its
significance has been recognised by its designation as
a scheduled monument. The horse path stands on the
un-restored section of the Lancaster Canal, and is not
highly visible. Over time, the path and its associated
structures had started to deteriorate. The invasion of
rapidly growing vegetation threatened the integrity of
the structures and increasingly screened them from
public view.
Hincaster Tunnel is 346 metres long. It was con-
structed in 1813–1819 to divert the canal alongside
the Sedgwick gunpowder works. Passing through the
tunnel, the water level is 23 metres below the summit
of the hill. When the tunnel was constructed, boat
propulsion was achieved by the use of a towing horse.
In order to save money, and in common with most
canal tunnels, Hincaster was constructed without a
towpath. Instead, boat horses had to be led over the
hill, and across agricultural land not owned by the
Lancaster Canal Company. For this purpose, a narrow
lane was constructed over the hill between the two
tunnel portals. The lane has drystone walls on either
side, and is lower than the surrounding fields. Small
accommodation bridges were constructed to allow
farm traffic to cross between fields. The bridges have
a delightfully simple character, being constructed on
similar lines to those crossing the canal itself. The
arches of these bridges are extremely narrow, only wide
enough to permit the passage of a single horse.
Hincaster horse path is a scheduled monument. One
of the bridges that crosses the path is separately desig-
nated as a Grade II listed building. British Waterways
had been concerned for a number of years with the
encroachment of vegetation on the structure, and the
damage this caused. It was fully aware of its com-
mitments under heritage legislation to maintain the
structure in good order. But there are over 100 listed
buildings and three further scheduled monuments on
the Lancaster Canal. The majority of these are now
nearly 200 years old, and have to be managed to meet
modern safety and access standards.
In late 2006 the Lancaster Canal Trust put forward
the idea of its members undertaking repair works
to the scheduled horse path. This was part of the
trust’s remit to increase awareness among all users
of this historic and beautiful waterway. The trust is
Site plan showing the
extent of SAM and British
Waterways’ management
© Crown copyright. All
rights reserved British
Waterways 100019843 2007
Annexe 1 and Annexe 2
committed to the continuing maintenance of the
canal’s heritage. It pursues a collaborative approach,
working in conjunction with various bodies including
local authorities, county councils, British Waterways
and representatives from canal user groups.
Following initial discussions between British
Waterways, the trust and English Heritage, a proposal
was formulated that would secure remedial works in
the short term. It would involve signing a five-year
management agreement relating to the structure under
section 17 of the Ancient Monuments and Areas Act
(1979) which would mean that a range of operations
normally requiring formal scheduled monument con-
sent could be facilitated.
The first stage of the process was to prepare and
agree the content of the management agreement. This
included a technical specification for works that could
be performed under its terms. The drafting process
recorded the significance of the historic horse path,
using British Waterways’ adopted heritage standards
to form the basis of the working specifications. The
initial drafting concluded that the management agree-
ment would be accompanied by two distinct annexes.
The first contains specifications to be followed when
undertaking remedial and repair works including
monitoring and general principles, graffiti and paint
removal, re-pointing, grouting, repair and replace-
ment, vegetation clearance and re-surfacing.
English Heritage suggested that, as the trust had
C O N T E X T 1 1 2 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 0 9
Left: The area to the west of
the accommodation bridge
before vegetation clearance
Right: Repairs under way
Left: The area to the west
of the accommodation
bridge after the
completion of phase 1
Right: Completed
parapet repairs
confirmed that it wished to complete the immediate
repair works to the structure, it could be included in
the legal element of the management agreement and
become a signatory to it. The trust would commit to
undertake the shorter-term remedial works, and ensure
the management of vegetation on the monument for
the five-year period of the agreement. This introduced
a degree of formality into the relationship, placing
commitments on all sides to maintain and protect
the structure. The legal agreement was amended to
incorporate the commitments that the trust has agreed
to take forward.
During the preparation of the formal documents
a parallel process was being developed by the trust
in association with British Waterways. This aimed to
deliver the identified short-term remedial works to the
structure, and secure its long-term protection. The
delivery of this process was assisted by a grant from
Cumbria County Council Archaeology Service. This
was put towards the cost of securing the assistance of a
trainer from the Dry Stone Walling Association.
The initial phase of the remedial works was under-
taken during September 2008. It was limited to
initial clearance of vegetation from the structure, in
preparation for the physical works to be undertaken
in accordance with the specification held within the
first annexe to the agreement. These works were
undertaken by trust members, with British Waterways
trained staff undertaking works requiring chain saws
and other mechanical means. Once the vegetation was
removed, a more detailed assessment of the required
repair works was carried out. These were essentially in
accordance with the scope previously prepared.
Phase 2 of the works was undertaken in October
2008 by trust volunteers working with the voluntary
Waterway Recovery Group. Some on-site assistance
and guidance was provided by British Waterways. The
volunteers repaired collapsed areas of walling using
traditional methods and materials.
Towards the completion of the volunteer works to
the western accommodation bridge, it was discovered
that the coping stones were too large to be installed
using manual labour. British Waterways agreed to
undertake these works using a contractor to carry out
the lifting. A British Waterways mason completed the
dressing and bedding of the coping stones.
The delivery of these works at Hincaster horse path
has created opportunities for British Waterways to
look at innovative ways to manage its heritage estate
through working with third parties and volunteers. At
a time when British Waterways budgets are becoming
stretched, such methods to deliver remedial works to
heritage structures could prove invaluable. The success
of the project has led to British Waterways looking for
further opportunities to work with volunteer organisa-
tions to carry out repairs to its historic estate, and
to build closer relationships with local communities
through which canals pass.
Andrew Tegg is heritage
adviser, British
Waterways, north west.
C O N T E X T 1 1 2 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 0 9