The Graham Greene Canal Trail
Part III—The 'Port of Berkhamsted'
Part I—Entering Berkhamsted at Bank Mill to the 'Port of Berkhamsted'
Part II—Cooper's Quay at 'Lower Works'
Part III—Castle Wharf, the Port of Berkhamsted and Castle Street
Part III—Castle Wharf, Port of Berkhamsted
'The Warehouse', now the family home of Lindy Foster Weinreb, joint founder of Bridgewater Boats and proprietor of Castle Wharf Promotions, once provided stabling for the horses and warehousing facilities on the first floor. Until very recently, this site continued the tradition of boat-building in Berkhamsted, which started when the canal arrived.
Peacock and Willetts opened the first boat yard at Castle Wharf in 1799 and launched a boat called 'Berkhamsted Castle' in 1801. This was registered in 1802 in the Grand Junction Gauging Register. The boatyard was then run by Costins, followed by Keys and later by Bridgewater Boats.
The once thriving Port of Berkhamsted has now lost all it’s many working wharves, Castlewharf being not only the last one in Berkhamsted, but the oldest recorded canal boatyard remaining in the South East of England.
Bridgewater Boats, which designed and built its own hire fleet, was one of several providers of leisure cruises throughout the country. Hire cruising is just one of many sources of revenue needed to meet the massive costs of maintaining our inland waterways. These were the original arteries of our national trade, as essential in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as the railways were in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, as are our motorways today.
Look at the willow tree in the middle distance of 'The Warehouse' picture above. Behind 'The Warehouse' lies Castle Street and Berkhamsted School. The picture below looks straight upstream towards 'The Crystal Palace'. On
Berkhamsted Castle is unique in that it had three moats, the outermost being drained by the arrival of the canal at this point and ultimately destroyed (as was the main gatehouse) by the arrival of the railway and subsequent development.
The Totem pole was carved by a member of the Kwakiutl tribe as a memento of the years of trading between this wharf and Canada. This area was the hub of boat building, wood-working and cabinet-making, to name just a few of the diverse industrial activities that were at the heart of the Berkhamsted economy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
William Key (W. Key and Son Ltd.) was a fencing contractor for the London and Birmingham Railway. Alsford's, another family timber-yard, based at Rye, later acquired the yard and traded as timber merchants here for many years before selling to a property developer.
To the hard right of the photographer taking the picture above is 'The Crystal Palace' pub (pictured below), which was designed by Jeremy Paxton, who also designed the London Crystal Palace which housed the Great Exhibition. The pub was used regularly by canal boatmen until the 1970s, when the industrial narrow boat trade ceased through Berkhamsted. In those days the floors were still covered with sawdust and there was clog dancing and an accordion player.
In The Captain and the Enemy, Greene uses memories of Berkhamsted when the family nursemaids would not take the Greene children for a walk 'along the towing path by the canal' because of the bad language directed at them by the bargees and their children.
'The Crystal Palace' was referred to as the 'Swiss Cottage pub' in The Captain and the Enemy, where the Captain refreshed himself and Baxter 'loitered by a timber yard [Keys, across the way where the Totem pole now stands] … and stared at the green weeds of the canal.'
To the right of the picture above, behind the Totem pole in the previous picture, is 'The Boote', pictured below in Castle Street.
Regretfully, a modern sanatorium replaces the 'sunken' cottages, picture courtesy of the Dacorum Heritage Trust. Greene would have known these and recounts his awareness at the age of five of the suicide that took place in one of them. The 'sunken' aspect was caused by the need to raise the road level to the height of the bridge required to cross the newly built canal.
|Part IV—Castle Street and Mill Street to Lower King's Road|
Pictures and text © 2002, 2004 Peter Such