At Hedgecroft on Monday 11th November 2019, those present enjoyed a talk by Geoff Peach who worked as a Ranger on the Basingstoke Canal during the late 1980s and early 1990s, which was the time when the Canal was being restored and reopened. His talk was about how the Basingstoke Canal works, the boating, the wild life and the work of the Rangers during the restoration and the early stages of the Canal being reopened.
Geoff explained that the canal was built in the 1790's and took 4 to 5 years to build. Move forward to the 1990's and it took approx. 12 years to restore!
The Basingstoke Canal was completed in 1794, built to connect Basingstoke with the River Thames at Weybridge via the Wey Navigation.
From Basingstoke, the canal passes through or near Greywell, North Warnborough, Odiham, Dogmersfield, Fleet, Farnborough Airfield, Aldershot, Mytchett, Brookwood, Knaphill and Woking. Its eastern end is at Byfleet, where it connects to the Wey Navigation. This, in turn, leads to the River Thames at Weybridge. Its intended purpose was to allow boats to travel from the docks in East London to Basingstoke.
It was never a commercial success and, from 1950, lack of maintenance allowed the canal to become increasingly derelict. After many years of neglect, restoration commenced in 1977 and on 10 May 1991 the canal was reopened as a fully navigable waterway from the River Wey to almost as far as the Greywell Tunnel. However its usage is currently still limited by low water supply and conservation issues. In 1966, the Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society was formed by a group of local canal enthusiasts, with a view to reopening the derelict canal. They were instrumental in running a campaign that culminated in 1976 with the purchase of the canal by the County Councils of Hampshire and Surrey. The councils would pay for the materials and volunteers would do the work.
The western section from North Warnborough to Basingstoke remains un-navigable from the point at which it enters the Greywell Tunnel. The tunnel partially collapsed in 1932 where it passes from chalk into clay geology, and is now inhabited by a protected bat colony making it unlikely that the tunnel will ever be restored. Some of the former canal basin at the western end has also been lost to modern development in and around Basingstoke.
The canal is now managed by the Basingstoke Canal Authority (formerly The Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society) and is open to navigation throughout the year. Lock opening times are restricted due to the very limited water supply in an attempt to postpone summer closures which have plagued the canal since construction.