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Lock Keepers at Gloucester

This page gives brief notes about the life and times of the lock keepers at Gloucester, highlighting instances of long service, drunkenness, embezzlement, shipwreck, flood and dramatic changes in traffic.

Gloucester Lock c1850Gloucester Lock Keeper
     The lock keeper lived in the house beside the lock and was responsible for collecting tolls on boats passing through. Because he would be handling money, before being appointed, he had to arrange a surety who would pay up if he ever defaulted.

     For each vessel which passed, the lock keeper recorded the vessel and cargo in a ledger and collected the appropriate toll. At the end of each day, he paid the money he had collected into the Canal Office. For regular carriers having an account with the Canal Company, he only had to record the traffic, and the account was settled monthly.

John Jones to 1825
     John Jones lived in a house on the site where the Canal Office was later built. During his time, the canal was not fully open, and the lock provided the only access to the basin. In 1819, he was relieved of his toll collecting duties because he was not performing properly, and six years later he was dismissed for frequently being intoxicated.

Thomas Cox 1825-1840
     Thomas Cox was the first resident of the house beside the lock which was built in 1826. As well as collecting tolls on traffic through the lock, he was also responsible for collecting wharfage dues on goods left on the public wharves around the basin. Due to ill health, he retired with a small pension, aged 73.

Richard Goscombe 1840-1871
     Richard Goscombe had been sergeant in charge of the Canal Company's watchmen. He served as lock keeper for over 30 years before retiring with a pension, aged 75.

Henry Long 1871-1880
     Henry Long had been bridgeman at Hempsted. In his first year a new office was built at the north end of the lock house, replacing a former office at the south end. In 1880, the Canal Company management became concerned about some irregularities in Henry Long's accounts, and he immediately admitted that he had not recorded all the money he had received. He was taken before the magistrates on a token charge of retaining 6 paid when the Severn Commission's dredger had passed through the lock after repairs in the dry dock, and he was sentenced to three months hard labour.

Charles Edwards 1881-1916
     Charles Edwards was in charge when the lock was modified in 1892 to accommodate larger barges. Previously, vessels had passed through two locks separated by an intermediate set of gates, the recesses of which can still be seen. As part of a larger scheme to improve the Severn navigation, the lower chamber and part of the upper chamber was deepened so that larger barges could be passed through. In the same year, the lock house was enlarged by adding a second storey to the rear part of the house. Evidently inspired by the sight of the vessels that visited the docks, Charles Edwards bought the schooner Flying Dutchman, 47 tons reg, but sadly she was lost with all hands on a voyage from Liverpool to Bridgwater in February 1902. Later, after 35 years as lock keeper, he died in service aged 63.

Tomas Pilkington 1917-1946
     Thomas Pilkington was toll clerk at Gloucester before being promoted to lock keeper. During his time, there was a huge growth in traffic on the river from 139,518 tons of cargo in 1925 to 435,934 tons in 1945, mainly due to the dramatic development of the transport of petroleum products. By the time of his retirement, he had been lock keeper for almost 30 years.

Colin Turner 1947-1957
     Soon after Colin Turner took over, the lock and lock house were threatened by the biggest river flood since the canal was constructed. The stop gates at the river end of the lock were closed to prevent the dock being flooded, and as the water level continued to rise, additional planks were fitted on top of the gates and sandbags were laid on top of the stonework. In the event, the level peaked just below the top of the stonework and the flood-water was just kept out of the dock. Colin Turner became a manager in the Dock Office.

Sidney Eades 1958-1962
     During Sidney Eades's time as lock keeper, the number of tanker and dry-cargo barges passing though each day was so great that delays became significant. To ease the bottleneck, a new road bridge was built across the lock, only the second aluminium bridge in the country, and hydraulic equipment was installed to speed up operation of the lock. With a further increase in traffic expected, plans were drawn up for a second lock which would have required pulling down part of the North Warehouse, but in the event this was not required.

John Jones 1962-1990
     During the 1960s, there was a dramatic run-down in the transport of goods by water due to strong competition from rail and road transport, and daily life for John Jones became much easier than for his predecessors. The decline in commercial traffic was to some extent offset by an increasing use of the lock by pleasure craft, and this set the pattern for the future.

Gloucester Lock 2005Recent Years
     Although barges carrying wheat to Healing's Mill at Tewkesbury continued into the 1990s and some aggregate traffic is expected to start in 2005, the main use of Gloucester Lock is now by pleasure craft. Rather than paying for each passage, pleasure craft pay an annual licence fee administered nationally, and it is only very occasionally that the lock keeper has to collect money when a boat with only a river licence wishes to use the canal.

     Since John Jones retired, the lock keepers have been Pat Burke to 1995, John Brand to 2003, Michelle Crowther to 2004, Johnathan Chater to 2007 and currently Simon Clutterbuck. Lock keepers are no longer expected to live in the lock house, which has been sold.

Principal sources: Minute books of the Canal Co in the National Archives; Electoral Registers; Embezzlement GC 8 Jan 1881; Shipwreck GJ 8 Mar 1902; Tonnages D2460 Box 53.

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