Photo: Michael Askin
By the late eighteenth century, the town of Rickmansworth had emerged along the adjusted route of the Grand Junction Canal that carried cargo from West London towards the Midlands. Branches were then built to serve other local businesses.
One branch was once part of the River Chess but changed in 1804 to serve the former Salters Brewery. It ran for 540 yards from the brewery, though Chess Lock next to the Canal Centre and on to Town Wharf. Its traffic with hundreds of barrels of beer made its way to Uxbridge and back! Next to it stands what is now Batchworth Canal Centre – once part of an old stable block.
Another was a 150-yard cut built in 1818 to serve Batchworth Mill, which had just become part of the growing John Dickinson paper making empire and is now used by Affinity Water.
The cut actually comes off the River Colne as it heads to cross the canal having come through the mill, having powered the machinery until 1910 or so.
A third branch next to St. Mary's Church in the town centre travelled 300 yards through Bury Grounds to deliver flour to John Taylor’s bakehouse.
John Dickinson opened in 1830 another paper mill next to the Grand Union Canal at Croxley. This later became the largest paper pulp mill in Europe and depended largely on the canal for supplies of coal from the Midlands, as well as raw materials like esparto grass brought up, often by barge, from London Docks.
Trade on the canal was a multi-million pound industry and continued for many years. A particularly prominent local canal business was WH Walker and Brothers Ltd, once standing at Frogmore Wharf where the town’s Tesco supermarket is now. Opened in 1905, the yard built and repaired very large numbers of distinguished and hard-working wooden boats.
Canal work slowly declined to virtually nothing when speedier planes, trains and automobiles were introduced and took over. The paper mill at Croxley finally closed its doors in 1980 followed by WH Walker and Brothers Limited in 1988.
A team later formed to preserve the heritage and history of canals around the town and remind people of its place as a once great transport mecca – and so Rickmansworth Waterways Trust was born.