Flights of fancy: Foxton Locks – South East

Take a trip to the country’s busiest lock flight, which also happens to be the location of an engineering rival

Photo: Tim Ellis


Foxton Locks are something close to the epicentre of the national canal network, making the staircase locks here a focal point for gongoozlers, nature lovers and those with an interest in industrial history. Lock flights are among the most visually impressive elements of canal infrastructure, providing a spectacular-looking solution to the straightforward problem of getting boats up or down a hill. The flight at Foxton is particularly interesting as it consists of two separate staircases, each of five connected Grade II-listed locks. These encompass the largest flight of staircase locks on the English canals and around 4,000 boats a year travel through the locks, making it one of the busiest on the network.

The locks were built over four years from 1810 to provide the quickest and most practical method for navigating the hill on the way into Market Harborough. A trip through the ten locks can take more than an hour, with boats climbing around 75ft and using 25 thousand gallons of water.

While flights are a great solution to the problem of hills, engineers often looked for faster alternatives and the remains of one of these can be seen at Foxton. In 1900, the Grand Junction Canal Company decided to construct an alternative solution to the locks that could be used for wider cargo boats.

The Foxton Inclined Plane was located alongside the locks and featured two caissons, or tanks, that could carry a boat up the hill in 12 minutes, powered by a steam engine. It worked well but became increasingly costly as canal use declined and was eventually dismantled in 1926.

The remains of the plane can still be seen, and further information about the inclined plane and the locks can be found at the Foxton Canal Museum, which is located in the steam engine’s former boiler house. As a result, the site has been recognised as a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The locks themselves remain a popular attraction, and there is plenty to do in the area for visitors, including cafes, pubs, a shop, boat trips and walks. It’s also a good spot for nature lovers. For more information, head to our website.