Survey unearths canal towpath history


THE Canal & River Trust, is working with a team of local metal detectorists on a one off project to help uncover the 200-year history of the Grand Union Canal in Aylesbury.

Volunteer detectorists, engaged through the British Museum’s Portable Antiquities Scheme and under special licence from the Canal & River Trust, are working along the stretch of the Aylesbury Arm Canal towpath whilst it is currently being resurfaced.

The towpath works are being carried out by the Canal & River Trust thanks to funding received from Buckinghamshire County Council. Once completed local people will have easy access to their local waterways and enjoy a puddle free commute to work or walk to school.

By removing layers of the existing towpath, the detectorists, working in a strictly controlled environment to ensure services running within the towpath aren’t damaged in any way, search for any metal items that have been accidentally dropped or deliberately discarded throughout the life of the canal from its construction in 1815 to today. From analysis of these finds, heritage experts from the Canal & River Trust will build up a picture of how the towpath was used in the past, and by whom.

Phil Emery, heritage advisor at the Canal & River Trust, said: “This project is providing a fascinating insight into the canal’s rich history. There is a great sense of anticipation as we simply don’t know what we will find. We have already recovered an early chisel, possibly used for repairs to a narrowboat, a number of coins, and a cap-badge of the Royal Green Jackets. This last find begs the question: were soldiers from this infantry regiment training on the towpath?”

“Whilst of no monetary value these items are of archaeological interest because they tell us about everyday life on the towpath. Each find is helping us to unlock the social history of the waterways.”

“We don’t want people taking it upon themselves to dig up and damage the towpath but we would be keen to hear from local people if they have found items when visiting the Aylesbury Arm. Each archaeological find is another puzzle piece of canal history and we are keen to try and piece this jigsaw together.”

Once the project is finished it is hoped to display the finds in a local museum.