The Grand Union Canal

Grand Union Canal at Berkhamsted

The Grand Union Canal cuts through the heart of the town. Francis Egerton, Duke of Bridgewater (the Canal Duke), father of the inland waterway system, lived in Ashridge, near Berkhamsted. The national monument to the canal system, which now stands in the middle of the Ashridge National Trust parkland, was built in his memory.

The Grand Junction Canal from the Thames at Brentford to Berkhamsted was completed in 1798 and continued all the way to Birmingham in 1805.

Berkhamsted then linked the estuaries, ports and industrial centres of the country. Canals in the 18th and 19th centuries provided a faster and cheaper method of transporting raw materials and manufactured goods. Under its more familiar name, The Grand Union Canal, it continued to be used as a trade route until the early 1960s.

The south side of the canal between Ravens Lane and Castle Street, which is known as Castle Wharf (The Port of Berkhamsted) was the centre of the town's canal trade, navigation and boat building activities. This was an area of vibrant waterway activity. Colourful boats, originally mule drawn, were a constant sight.

Main activities included the transport of coal, grain, building materials and manure. Timber yards, boating wharves, breweries, boat building and chemical works and all the people that served these industries, flourished as a result of the canal.

Canals were very successful but competition soon came with the "Iron Road" (the railway). With over 700 workers employed locally, ironically most of the raw materials used to build the railway were transported by canal.

The canal today

The canal is now a timeless, attractive thoroughfare. The canal is still Berkhamsted's gateway to over 2,000 miles of navigable waterways. The charm of our canal system is that it has changed very little in two centuries. The locks, bridges, well-worn steps and tunnels are still there.

The Canadian totem pole 

The Canadian Totem Pole on the Grand Union Canal at Berkhamsted

Red Indian myth can also be found in Berkhamsted. Situated next to the canal is a genuine Canadian totem pole. It was given as a gift to John Alsford when he owned the timber yard that was originally on the site where it stands.

The carving is a fertility symbol and legend has it that women wishing to conceive should visit and make three wishes for the child they dream of!