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Historic working boat called into action for emergency inspection of Blisworth Tunnel

Author: Canal and River Trust Published: 7th April 2020 12:13

Sculptor, which is ordinarily moored outside the Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne, was called into action by the Canal & River Trust after a suspected sinkhole was reported near one of the tunnel’s construction shafts.Sculptor, which is ordinarily moored outside the Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne, was called into action by the Canal & River Trust after a suspected sinkhole was reported near one of the tunnel’s construction shafts.

An 85 year-old canal boat which played a key role in fighting fires in London during WWII has once more come to the rescue to help with an emergency inspection of Blisworth Tunnel.

Sculptor, which is ordinarily moored outside the Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne, was called into action by the Canal & River Trust after a suspected sinkhole was reported near one of the tunnel’s construction shafts.

The Trust’s engineers needed a boat to inspect the tunnel from the inside and Sculptor, moored just along the towpath, seemed an ideal option for a quick response. Being part of the Trust’s museum collection and on the historic ships register special permission was granted to use her.

The inspection, which was carried out in accordance with social distancing guidelines, found a small amount of displacement in the tunnel’s concrete lining but nothing to cause the Trust’s specialist engineers immediate concern or require a closure of the tunnel. Further investigations will take place once the coronavirus restrictions ease but the inspection allowed the Trust to ensure that the tunnel is safe.

Built in 1935, Sculptor is one of a small number of working boats that still lives on the canal. Originally owned by the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company, she was used to carry a variety of cargo such as cotton and coal from London to the Midlands. During WWII Sculptor was called into action to help with firefighting duties in London, helping to pump water from the city’s canals to extinguish fires caused by bombing.

After the war she was used as a canal maintenance boat at Northwich before being taken out of service in 1985. Today Sculptor is an important exhibit at the museum and is lovingly cared for, on behalf of the Trust, by volunteers, including a number from the Friends of the Canal Museum.

Neil Owen, regional engineer for the Canal & River Trust, said: “Although boat traffic is very limited at the moment due to coronavirus it was important for us to get into the tunnel to make sure that everything is safe.

“It was really helpful for us to be able to use Sculptor as it enabled us to get in there quickly, have a good look, check there was no significant damage and alleviate any concerns. It was also a bit of a treat for us to spend time on this amazing historic boat and it was wonderful to see her back in service again. We’re really grateful to the Friends of the Canal Museum for their support in making it happen.”

Kathryn Dodington, Sculptor volunteer, said: “It was a huge privilege to be able to operate Sculptor on behalf of Canal & River Trust to enable their specialist tunnel engineers to inspect the Blisworth Tunnel and to declare it safe.  Sculptor is ready to serve again when required should the call come. She is a delight to operate and, like any old lady, does exactly what she is asked with graciousness.”

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