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Limestone Transportation Gives a Glimpse of Times Past on the Wey

Published on: 14 Jul, 2020
Updated on: 16 Jul, 2020

The barge, laden with limestone, on the Wey.

The 300-year-old River Wey and Godalming Navigations are being used for their original purpose in recent days. Eighty tons of limestone to be used as infill in the restoration of the towpath between Unstead and Tilthams is being transported by barge from Cartbridge, Send.

The latest Harry Stevens narrowboat (built in Holland) pushing the barge with limestone on the Godalming Navigation passing under the railway viaduct which carries the Guildford to Redhill railway line.

The unpowered barge carrying the limestone cargo has been observed being pushed by a short Dutch narrowboat the latest “Harry Stevens”, named after the owner of the navigation until the 1960s.

In 1964, Harry Stevens offered the Wey Navigation to the National Trust. In 1968 the Godalming Navigation also passed to them. For the first time both navigations were under a single ownership.

The limestone ready for use at Unstead Lock.

Barges on the River Wey and Godalming Navigations were towed by horses which would be led along the towpath. For around 300 years they carried a wide range of cargos to and from the London docks, including grain, timber, limestone, coal, as well as ginger beer, gunpowder and gold bullion!

A River Wey barge working the navigation in the 1950s, possibly at Bower’s Lock.

Harry Stevens.

The section or “pound” in navigation parlance, between St Catherine’s and Millmead Lock, was only reopened in June following the collapse of the Tumbling Bay Weir which caused water levels to drop.

A sequence of barges named Harry Stevens, fitted out for river tours, used to be a regular sight on the Wey around Guildford until the closure of the Guildford Boathouse in November 2013.

The Harry Stevens river tour barge by Ferry Lane, St Catherine’s in 2011.

Discussions about the repair of collapsed piling in areas of the riverbank continue between Guildford Borough Council and the National Trust as part of the negotiation on who is responsible for the costs associated with the weir collapse.

A notice by Broadford Bridge, Shalford reminds recreational river users of the need for a licence.

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Responses to Limestone Transportation Gives a Glimpse of Times Past on the Wey

  1. Aubrey Leahy Reply

    July 14, 2020 at 11:02 pm

    I remember seeing horse-drawn barges along the Wey at Guildford. Anyone know in which year the last commercial horse-drawn barge worked the towpath?

    • John Lomas Reply

      July 16, 2020 at 12:04 pm

      It depends on what you mean by “commercial” if you include the tourism/ leisure sectors it was last year, and though closed this year one must hope that the Godalming Packet Boat will be running again next year.

      I seem to remember seeing barges down at Stoke Mill in the 50s

    • John Charles White Reply

      June 11, 2021 at 6:35 pm

      Horse towage finished 1960. The last carter was Ernie Eggar.

      I worked for Harry Stevens as a carpenter and as a bargemaster.

  2. Juliet Hills Reply

    July 15, 2020 at 9:57 pm

    I went to Horsell Primary School with two sisters who lived on a barge by a bridge near the Goldsworth Road on the Basingstoke Canal.

  3. Ray Mitchell Reply

    August 11, 2020 at 10:57 am

    My great aunt, Jessie Ede, worked for Harry Stevens at his home Castle Cliff on Castle Hill. I believe it is a Nursing Home now. Harry had an office in Friary Street which was near to the original site of the old water wheel now further down on the River Bank.

  4. John Lomas Reply

    August 12, 2020 at 4:36 pm

    I have just found on YouTube a recently added film from 1965 of the Wey Waterbourne Co trip narrowboat Arcturus II from Berkhampstead to Guildford. The Wey Navigation section starts about 26 mins in.

    At the end it shows Arcturus II doing visitor trips from Millmead opposite Debenhams. So there was certainly some commercial use in ’65.

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