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The Basingstoke Canal, The Nately Brickworks and “Seagull”

The original Basingstoke Canal Company declared itself insolvent in 1869 and the canal then passed through the hands of a series of owners, with long periods in between when it was in the hands of the liquidator sorting out the previous bankruptcy.  One of these periods ended in 1895 when the canal was purchased by Sir Frederick Seager Hunt, who was a Tory MP. He was also something of an entrepreneur and most of his income came from gin. His company Seager Evans  & Co subsequently became Long John International in 1988.

Sir Frederick formed the Woking, Aldershot & Basingstoke Canal & Navigation Company and set about reviving the canal. He also bought a small brickworks next to the canal in Up Nately and invested a considerable amount of money in expanding the operation there.  A  100 yard long arm was built to allow boats direct access to unload coal and other materials and to load bricks; about 50 tons of coal a week was brought from Basingstoke to fire the kilns. Around this time the wooden huts of the Aldershot Military Camp were being replaced by brick barracks, not only in Aldershot but also Deepcut, Pirbright and Bisley, and towns like Fleet were beginning to expand so there was a considerable demand for bricks locally.

In the decade after its founding in 1897 the Hampshire Brick and Tile Company produced some eight million bricks. It owned a small fleet of boats, the remains of one of which are still in the Brickworks Arm.” Seagull”, as it was called, was a 70ft long, steam-powered narrow boat. About 35 years ago, the Surrey & Hampshire Canal Society received a grant to investigate the remains.

Seagull recovery. Brickworks Arm, Nately. 1985. Credit The Basingstoke Canal Society

The boat proved to be of unusual “long bottom” construction with the bottom planks running fore-and-aft and this dates it to about 1860, after which side-to-side planking became the usual practice.

Credit The Basingstoke Canal Society

The single cylinder steam engine was removed and is now on display at the Waterway Museum in Gloucester. It was rated at 10/12 HP and was made by A J Bignall, Engineers and Boilermakers of Stony Stratford. The boiler had apparently been removed during the Second World War for its metal content.

Credit The Basingstoke Canal Society. Copyright, 2009

Nowadays, the boat has sunk back into the mud and all that can be seen when water levels drop are the metal frames or “knees” and the propeller and its drive shaft.

Credit The Basingstoke Canal Society

The Basingstoke Canal Society has a vision to establish a Basingstoke Canal Museum one day and Seagull and its engine would surely be one of the prize exhibits.

Credit to Roger Cansdale of The Basingstoke Canal Society
May 2021

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