Every time a lock is opened, water is lost from the waterway and must be replaced. Some canals can replenish easily from nearby rivers or water sources, but for many of these waterways, water must be pumped from local reservoirs, wells or rivers in order to maintain the water level and ensure the canals continue to be navigable. The earliest examples were water- or wind-powered, and to house these pumps, pumping stations or pump houses were built. Many of these structures still stand today; some still operating as pumping stations and others converted into houses, cafés or museums.
The Kennet & Avon is an 87-mile waterway that was completed in 1810. The canal suffered from water supply issues and so the Claverton Pumping Station was built, constructed from the local Bath Stone and finished in 1813. The pumping station had some unexpected quirks – not only did the River Avon provide water for the canal, the flow of the river also provided the power source for the pump by driving a water wheel. The 24ft-wide wooden breastshot water wheel drove two cast iron beams that pumped water an impressive 48ft to reach the level of the canal. However, the canal struggled to make a profit, partly due to the opening of the Great Western Railway train line in the 1840s, and by the 1950s parts of the canal were unnavigable. In 1952, the maintenance of the pump house was deemed uneconomic and the station closed.
But that’s not the end of the story. In the 1960s and ‘70s, a team of dedicated volunteers (including engineering students from the University of Bath) worked to restore the pumping station and preserve this important piece of industrial heritage, which formally reopened in 1978. The station is now maintained and operated by The Claverton Pumping Station Group, a group of volunteers who were involved in the original restoration of the wheel. It is open for visits every Saturday between mid-April and the end of October.
Plan your visit along the Kennet & Avon Canal with our online guide.
Canal & River Trust