This week, we are introducing a new monthly history column from The Basingstoke Canal Society.

Basingstoke Canal has always been part of the town's heritage. It was built in 1794 to connect Basingstoke with the River Thames at Weybridge and mainly used to transport commodities. The canal was thirty-one miles in length when built and has 29 locks. While generally people think of canals as moving coal and iron ore, the Basingstoke Canal built to transport agricultural produce from Basingstoke to the big city of London.

One of the main commodities transferred from Basingstoke at the time was timber. The canal used to start from the centre of Basingstoke in fact you can locate it close to the cinema in Festival Place flowing through Eastrop Park up towards to Old Basing. The Basingstoke Canal Heritage footpath follows the Canal from Festival Place to Basing House.

The canal was never a commercial success and in 1913 a barge named Basingstoke tried to navigate the canal all the way through to Basingstoke. The background to this was that the Railway & Canal Traffic Act specified that if a line wasn’t used for 3 years, an Abandonment Order could be applied for. The last boat left Basingstoke in 1910, hence the attempt by Alec to try to get a boat to Basingstoke at the Canal owner’s (Willian Carter) request. It didn’t quite make it and got stuck in Old Basing, as you can see in the above photo!

In fact it rained heavily in the following months and in January 1914 he managed to refloat the boat and turn round at Broadwater and return to Ash Vale; possibly the last boat of that size to pass through Greywell Tunnel.

Alec Harmsworth wanted the canal to stay open and the law stated that if the canal was not used for 5 years the land would be returned to its original owners. But during the First World War the Royal Engineers took over the running of the canal and used it to transport supplies to Woolwich.

Unfortunately, over the years the section between the Greywell Tunnel to Basingstoke has now fallen in total disrepair. The Greywell tunnel is now occupied by a protected Bat Colony and the canal basin in Basingstoke has disappeared under all the new development in the town.

Areas of the canal are deemed Site of Specific Scientific interest with all the countryside around the canal it is good place to spot much birdlife and small reptile animals such as lizards. Odiham Castle can be viewed from the Canal tow path which still exists in many areas of the canal route providing excellent walks.

The Basingstoke Canal Society was formed in 1966 by a group of passionate volunteers who had an interest in Canals and recognised that action needed to be taken to protect and restore the Cansl. In conjunction with the Surrey and Hampshire County Councils who bought the land, and the support of the local councils, the Canal restored and reopened in 1991. The Basingstoke Canal Society continue to look at projects to improve not only the facilities alongside the canal but the canal itself and keeping it alive and part of the Basingstoke heritage.

Anyone can join and help the Basingstoke Society and contribute to it’s ambitious plans on our canal. We currently have just under 1000 members and are looking to double this number in 2021 - so please help us do this by joining us. It’s easy, just go to our website By becoming a member you this will help the canal ‘stay alive’, along with getting regular updates on the progress we are making. So please help us to conserve local history and make a difference to Basingstoke.