The ‘Bulleid Lock’?

Growing up in Hounslow in the 1960s, I had plenty of opportunity to see a curious locomotive pulling freight trains from Feltham Marshalling Yard over the bridge in Isleworth as I was on my way to or from school. At the outbreak of WWII, the Southern Railway needed a powerful engine with high route availability and high tractive effort. Its Chief Mechanical Engineer Oliver Bulleid came up with a functional design known as the ‘Q1’. It wasn’t pretty; indeed, its design suggested sheer brute force in preference to good looks.

Here’s a photo (c/o Wikipedia Creative Commons) of the only example in preservation, at Sheffield Park, with acknowledgements to Barry Lewis.


I was reminded of this innovative engine – and the related 4-6-2 ‘West Country’ and ‘Battle of Britain’ Pacifics that took us on our holidays to Devon in the early 1960s – when I had the opportunity to help move the ‘Twelfth of Never’ from Woolhampton to Tyle Mill on Thursday.

It was only a short trip, but it took in five locks, four swing-bridges and one lift-bridge. I took the boat through the unconventional Towney Lock, rebuilt in the 1970s to replace two locks and therefore much deeper than usual. This view shows its brutish but functional design, composed of steel piling:


Most locks have recesses where the opened gates are flush with the lock sides. Not Towney Lock. The simple solution was to build pillars that jut into the lock, meaning that the width of the lock is greater than similar brick-built designs. Water’s not usually a problem on this section because for much of our short journey we were on the Kennet Navigation with a reasonable water flow – not least through the top gates:


The piling continues on the wing-walls below the lock:


Despite the murky weather, we had a pleasant cruise ending at Tyle Mill, which we first encountered in the mid 1970s when it was the limit of navigation. The swing-bridges here and upstream were all electrically operated, as was the lift-bridge at Aldermaston; just insert the security key and follow the instructions…


Actually, in the case of these hire-boaters, they took an extra piece of advice from me: “Don’t work the swing bridge unless the lock’s ready to take the boat, otherwise there could be queues of angry motorists”.



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