Without a steady input of water, the water levels in our canals would drop every time a lock gate opens to allow a boat to pass through. Some waterways have nearby natural water sources that they can draw from, but others must pump water from nearby rivers or reservoirs. Many of the earliest pumps were wind- or water-powered, but as industrialisation took hold, many were replaced with steam-powered or diesel engines. Pumping stations were built to house the pumps and the engines to drive them, with many of the steam powered buildings identifiable by their towering chimneys. Many of these buildings still stand today – some are still in use whereas others have been converted into museums, cafés or unusual dwellings.
The Wendover Arm was originally designed as a feeder canal to carry water from the natural springs of Wendover to the 390ft summit of the Grand Union Canal at Bulbourne. However, the natural supply of water was found to be insufficient, so at the turn of the 19th century a series of reservoirs were dug and a pumping station was built at Whitehouses.
In 1918, famous canal engineer Thomas Telford built a second pumping station at Tringford, superseding the Whitehouses station. Originally equipped with a single steam powered engine, a second was added when the Whitehouses pumping station closed, which were later upgraded to diesel and finally electric pumps. The pump house is still operating today with three pumping wells, retaining much of the original infrastructure, testament to the quality and design of the original construction. It supplies more than 2,393 million litres of water to the Grand Union Canal per year (that’s almost 800,000 Olympic swimming pools).
While the pump house is operational, the Wendover Arm has not been navigable since the end of the 19th century. But restoration is underway and the first 1.3 miles are now navigable. In 2016, the People’s Postcode Lottery awarded £100,000 towards the restoration of this unique Grade II-listed building to ensure the pump house can continue functioning for years to come. As the pumping house is operational it is not generally publically accessible, but it does open occasionally for open days.
Plan your visit along the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal with our online guide.
Canal & River Trust