200 year anniversary of ‘important’ North Walsham canal

On a autumnal September day 200 years ago a group of enterprising businessmen gathered in an unlikely setting to spearhead a project, which would change the landscape of north Norfolk - and create one of the county's most historic and original landmarks.

The group of 40 plus entrepreneurs - including a lord - met at the King's Arms pub in North Walsham on September 14, 1811 to discuss a plan to build what would become Norfolk's only canal.

As others around them supped pints they decided to go ahead with the proposal and set about building the channel from Dilham to Antingham.

It was a grand scheme that required a parliamentary bill to be granted before work could begin, but resulted in the addition of majestic wherries amongst the landscape as they sailed the nine mile stretch transporting wheat, coal, barley and other supplies.

But the canal's prosperity was short lived as a delay in it being built meant it was soon overtaken by the advent of the railways.

Despite its early demise however, a group of enthusiasts gathered today at the King's Arms to celebrate the landmark anniversary - as 200 years later the canal is now undergoing a rejuvenation as volunteers work to restore the waterways which have slowly been overtaken by nature.

Town crier Roger Hopkinson and North Walsham mayor Vivienne Uprichard were joined by members of the North Walsham and Dilham Canal Trust to mark the date and unveil a commemorative plaque detailing the pub's importance in the canal's history.

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Mrs Uprichard said: 'Hopefully this is the beginning of a new cycle of life for the canal. The trust is doing a wonderful job and I hope in a few years time when I go down there we'll be able to see people sitting on the banks fishing and going up and down in their canoes. It will be a wonderful resource to have restored in North Walsham and the surrounding parishes.'

Volunteers from the trust and the East Anglian Waterways Association have been running regular working parties for several years to clear weeds, reeds and undergrowth and rebuild and restore the canal's six locks, millponds and bridges.

And their work is beginning to pay off as sections that have been transformed to their former glory are now attracting people and wildlife back to its banks.

Brian Wexler, the trust's wildlife officer, said canoeists were regularly seen on the Honing stretch. He added: 'We're also starting to see ducks coming back herons, kingfishers even the little egrets and sandpipers.'

David Revill, who is in charge of organising the working parties - and has upped them to twice a month - has also noticed the difference.

'It's an industrial archeologically important part of Norfolk in my view, because it's 200 years old, and it's very important for nature,' he said. 'The places we have opened up, like Ebridge millpond and Briggate millpond, were totally clogged up and nothing lived there.'

Members who gathered also noted the remarkable achievements of the team of 'bankers' all those years ago who managed to complete the project in just 18 months.

Mr Revill said: 'They dug the canal, built six locks with no machinery - they must have really worked. Mind you they were fed real ale and copious quantities of it!'

* To find out more about the work parties and get involved call Mr Revill on 01603 738648, Chris Black on 01508 492025 or visit www.eawa.co.uk