Watford Locks

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The 4-lock staircase, part of Watford Locks on the Grand Union Canal Watford Locks.jpg
The 4-lock staircase, part of Watford Locks on the Grand Union Canal

Watford Locks (grid reference SP592688 ) is a group of seven locks on the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal, in Northamptonshire, England, famous for the Watford Gap service area.

Ordnance Survey National Grid System of geographic grid references used in Great Britain

The Ordnance Survey National Grid reference system is a system of geographic grid references used in Great Britain, distinct from latitude and longitude. It is often called British National Grid (BNG).

Grand Union Canal part of the British canal system

The Grand Union Canal in England is part of the British canal system. Its main line starts in London and ends in Birmingham, stretching for 137 miles (220 km) with 166 locks. It has arms to places including Leicester, Slough, Aylesbury, Wendover and Northampton.

Northamptonshire County of England

Northamptonshire, archaically known as the County of Northampton, is a county in the East Midlands of England. In 2015 it had a population of 723,000. The county is administered by Northamptonshire County Council and by seven non-metropolitan district councils. It is known as "The Rose of the Shires".

The locks are formed (looking from the south), of two single locks, a staircase of four, and a final single lock. Together they lift the canal 16 m (52 ft 6 in) to the "Leicester Summit", which it maintains all the way to Foxton Locks.

Foxton Locks canal locks

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. They are named after the nearby village of Foxton.

The locks were built to carry narrowboats, and the system was opened in 1814. In the early 20th century there were plans to build an inclined plane similar to that at Foxton as part of a scheme to allow the passage of barges, but the plan was abandoned when the inclined plane at Foxton proved uneconomic.

Narrowboat type of English boat, designed to fit in narrow canals

A narrowboat or narrow boat is a boat of a distinctive design, made to fit the narrow canals of the United Kingdom.

Canal inclined plane

An inclined plane is a system used on some canals for raising boats between different water levels. Boats may be conveyed afloat, in caissons, or may be carried in cradles or slings. It is a type of cable railway.

Barge flat-bottomed boat, built mainly for river, canal transport of heavy goods, usually pushed by tugboats

A barge is a flat-bottomed ship, built mainly for river and canal transport of heavy goods. Some barges are not self-propelled and must be towed or pushed by towboats, canal barges or towed by draft animals on an adjacent towpath. Barges contended with the railway in the early Industrial Revolution, but were outcompeted in the carriage of high-value items due to the higher speed, falling costs and route flexibility of railways.

When the Grand Union Canal was formed in 1929, there were further proposals to widen the flight as part of the modernisation going on elsewhere on the Grand Union's network, but these plans did not develop further.

The locks are hemmed in by the Roman Watling Street (now the A5 road), the M1 motorway, and the West Coast Main Line railway, which all fit through the narrow Watford Gap, between two hill systems.

Watling Street ancient trackway

Watling Street is a route in England that began as an ancient trackway first used by the Britons, mainly between the areas of modern Canterbury and St Albans using a natural ford near Westminster. The Romans later paved the route, which then connected the Kentish ports of Dubris (Dover), Rutupiae (Richborough), Lemanis (Lympne), and Regulbium (Reculver) to their bridge over the Thames at Londinium (London). The route continued northwest past Verulamium (St Albans) on its way to Viroconium (Wroxeter). The Romans considered the continuation on to Blatobulgium (Birrens) beyond Hadrian's Wall to be part of the same route, leading some scholars to call this Watling Street as well, although others restrict it to the southern leg.

A5 road (Great Britain) major road in England and Wales

The A5 London Holyhead Trunk Road is a major road in England and Wales. It runs for about 275 miles (443 km) from London to the Irish Sea at the ferry port of Holyhead which handles more than 2 million passengers each year. In many parts the route follows that of the Roman Iter II route which later took the Anglo-Saxon name Watling Street.

M1 motorway motorway in central England connecting London and Leeds

The M1 motorway connects London to Leeds, where it joins the A1(M) near Aberford, to connect to Newcastle. It was the first inter-urban motorway to be completed in the UK; the first motorway in the country was the Preston By-pass, which later became part of the M6.

The locks are usually supervised during the cruising season from Easter to October, with the locks padlocked outside permitted hours. This is done to prevent problems arising from misuse and to ensure that queues are kept to the minimum. Boaters operate the locks themselves under the lock keeper's supervision. On arrival at the top or bottom boaters should report to the lock keeper to register their arrival before attempting to operate the flight. At busy times there can often be a delay of two hours or more but transit of the flight takes approximately 45 minutes; it is made quicker by the fact that the locks are narrow beam and the gates are light.


Access from the A5 Watling Street is difficult and not suitable for wheelchairs or prams.

Going northbound, parking can be found on a hard standing outside a large caravan sales-shop situated on public land, between two turnings that are signposted as going to Watford. Upon arriving, the locks can be found by walking across a frontage following signposts for the Jurassic Way footpath. The locks can be reached by crossing over a stile.

Coordinates: 52°18′50″N1°07′54″W / 52.3140°N 1.1318°W / 52.3140; -1.1318

See also

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Watford Gap

Watford Gap is a low-lying area between two hills, close to the village of Watford, Northamptonshire, England. Engineers from Roman times onwards have found it to be an ideal route for connecting the Midlands with South East England. The A5 road, the West Coast Main Line railway, the M1 motorway and a branch of the Grand Union Canal traverse in parallel a space about 400 metres (1,300 ft) wide. It has been written and spoken of as marking the divide between Northern England and Southern England.

Foxton Inclined Plane canal inclined plane located on the Leicester line of the Grand Union Canal

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Grand Union Canal (old) former canal in England

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Foxton, Leicestershire village in Leicestershire, England

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Tardebigge Locks

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Foxton Inclined Plane Trust

The Foxton Inclined Plane Trust is a waterway society and a registered charity on the Grand Union Canal at Foxton, Leicestershire, England, UK. It was founded in 1980 to promote the restoration of the Victorian boat lift or inclined plane, a unique and famous piece of canal history.