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The Graham Greene Canal Trail
Part I—Entering Berkhamsted at Bank Mill to the Cooper Quay of 'Lower Works'

The Storyline
Part I—Entering Berkhamsted at Bank Mill to the Cooper Quay of 'Lower Works'.

This is the first in a series of views of Great Berkhamsted created for The Graham Greene Birthplace Trust. The theme is to present the town that Graham Greene knew, or used in his writings, or which bore some significance in his life. It is also for those curious about the town that played a major influence in Graham Greene's life and work, especially if they cannot visit.

This initiative is also aimed at the general tourist, interested in the history of an English market town and one with the special attraction of being the town where William the Conqueror was finally offered the crown of England after the battle of Hastings in 1066. Perhaps these offerings will encourage overseas enthusiasts of Graham Greene in particular that Great Berkhamsted has much to offer the long-term tourist, encouraging them to combine a wider-ranging holiday with a Festival visit.

Berkhamsted has been exceedingly fortunate in having its history well documented. Percy Birtchnell will be of particular interest to Graham Greene enthusiasts as his outfitters was the official clothing shop to Berkhamsted School. His High Street shop was portrayed in this role in the film version of The Human Factor. He wrote two books: A Short History of Berkhamsted, which has been continually reprinted and Bygone Berkhamsted, a compilation of historical photographs.

Another promoter of the town is former Town Mayor, John Cook, who has contributed widely and frequently to the Parish magazine, as well as writing Berkhamsted's Story, one of the Town Council's Millennium projects. This was distributed free to all middle-school children and is still on sale. A version of the original text and pictures is planned to be available on the Town Council's web site.

Scott Hastie, a librarian, has been responsible for the latest historical works. Two beautifully produced cased editions 14" x 10": Berkhamsted: An Illustrated History (produced with considerable help from the Berkhamsted History and Museum Society which receives £2 from each book sold) and A Hertfordshire Valley. Matt Wheeler is the fulltime curator of the Dacorum Heritage Trust which has a store behind the Civic Centre, opposite the Town Hall. The store acts as a depository for many local history societies where modern techniques are used to preserve photographs and archival records. The Trust has produced a number of pamphlets on Dacorum history. 

Another former Town Mayor, Lindy Foster Weinreb (who has a national reputation regarding canal lore and is a prominent lobbyist at Westminster for a modern use of our inland waterways) is responsible for the superb series of educational boards and traditionally painted bridge signs along the canal, which detail the history of the canal and of Berkhamsted. This achievement not only won an East Of England Market Towns Heritage Award, but was fourth out of more than 100 contenders for a major national environmental award—the three other finalists each having access to multi-million pound budgets! During her mayoralty, Lindy was also responsible for the planting of over 70,000 bulbs along the towing path, making a delightful spring walk (see pictures in this series).

To all these I pay tribute for their past work, as a safeguard. I am a Berkhamstedian, born and bred. In writing anything about my home town, it is very difficult to know from where comes my 'innate' knowledge. Certainly it is to the writings of those mentioned that I have turned for corroboration of fact in compiling this text, while the photographs are entirely my own. My thanks too, to Ken Sherwood and his wife Jenny, currently chairman of the Berkhamsted Local History and Museum Society and a director of the Dacorum Heritage Trust, for their able monitoring of my intentions.

In conclusion, one technical matter. While having due regard for those using dial-up access I have chosen to insert pictures at full size, rather than provide thumbnails with access to the larger picture. Consequently, the logic of the division into parts has as much to do with speed of load (under 60 seconds for most pages at 56k) as the logic of the text. The complete canal walk described here is a little over two miles along a well reconstructed towing path.

Peter Such © text and pictures 2002, 2004

Part I—Starting the Trail
rom The Thames to Birmingham, the Grand Union (formerly Junction) Canal wends its way to Berkhamsted, the home at Ashridge of the father of our canal system, the Duke of Bridgewater.

The first 'port of call' is Bank Mill, originally called 'Lower Mill' when the first mill there was established around 1,000 years ago.

Bank Mill Bridge looking downstream towards London

Bank Mill Wharf today, on the site of 1,000 years of mill history

The Mill House Restaurant, the latest building on a 1,000 year site.

On the hillside behind the photographer is Sunnyside Allotments. The tradition of allotments of rented communal (now civic) land dates back centuries. As the photographs on the Sunnyside link show, allotment holders can and will grow almost anything very successfully!

Travelling upstream from Bank Mill the Lower Works of Cooper, McDougall and Robertson (CM&R) is the next major quay. Always known as Cooper's, it was the home of the world-renowned manufacturers of sheep dip. So renowned was this product that when the third baronet, Sir William Cooper, visited Uruguay in the 1930s a massive display of 100,000 head of cattle was laid on for his visit. 'I don't suppose you do this very often?' Sir William enquired of his hosts. 'No señor,' came the reply. 'The last time we did this was for the Prince of Wales.' Such was the esteem in which this family-created Berkhamsted company was held.

Cooper's was bought by Wellcome, which became GlaxoWellcome, to be finally submerged into GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Now a housing estate, the picture below shows where the canal boats would have delivered coal, sulphur and arsenic and taken away the finished product to the farmers up North and to the Port of London for overseas shipping.

Part II—Cooper's and the 'Rising Sun'.

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Pictures and text © 2002, 2004 Peter Such