On 15 January 2020 Kate Green presented
Walking the Pipe – The Elan Valley Aqueduct
PART I – The description of the project and the walk
Kate introduced herself to the Society. She is an artist although she does not produce pictures or other artefacts; her art is about making connections and providing experiences to those who live and work in her locality. She describes her art as subversive, outside the mainstream.
The Elan Valley Aqueduct is a Pipe over 73 miles long that transports water from Wales to the Frankley Reservoir (completed 1904) just outside Birmingham. Kate first saw the Pipe about 25 years ago at Nantmel and began walking along it about 4 years ago.
Kate secured funding from Arts Council England for the 2019 project which celebrates the people who live and work along the length of the pipe.
The engineer Joseph Mansergh began work on the project in 1896. The water has to use gravity along its length and so where there was a hill the engineers blasted tunnels through rock. Less extreme gradients used cut and cover conduits, the channels being lined with brick. Upright timbers supported a concrete cover. The Pipe itself was cast iron and 4 or 5 feet in diameter.
There are masonry crossings, (for example at Knighton), river crossings and stiles which have signs saying “No Right of Way”. The numerous red brick well houses along the route contain valves and controls that regulate the flow through the aqueduct. There are also red brick cottages built for the Walksmen who maintained the aqueduct and many are still lived in by retired Severn Trent workers.
Kate held numerous events along the route, ranging from guided walks and suppers, to pop up exhibitions of artefacts and performances of songs that Kate has composed. The main event was the 5 day walk along the 73-and-a-half-mile route of the pipe in August 2019, from Bleddfa to Frankley. (Arts Council England conceded that 15% of activity time could be spent beyond the Welsh Border).
Kate was not able to plan all the details of the walk, as the O.S. is not able to specify the whole route; however, there were clues. For example, for obvious reasons, the engineers specified that there could not be trees within 20 metres of the pipe and so wide paths often gave the route away. Kate showed a computerised route as she described the walk.
Day 1 Bleddfa to Buckton – 24 km
Day 2 Buckton to Caynham, – 24 km
Day 3 Caynham to Cleobury Mortimer – 16 km. This was a hot day and it was hard going over Clee Hill
Day 4 Cleobury Mortimer to Wolverley – 20 km. Another hot day followed by a thunderstorm at night. Local people were very welcoming once Kate arrived at Wolverley.
Day 5 Wolverley to Frankley – a very wet 22 km. A number of footpaths turned out to be dead ends and this was the only time Kate resorted to Google Maps. The rain and frustration made this the low point of the walk and Kate finally resorted to climbing a gate – but she then found the pipe again and all ended well.
INTERVAL WITH REFRESHMENTS
PART II The songs written by Kate
Kate sang with a recorded accompaniment and society members joined in the choruses with enthusiasm. The songs are published in “The All New Walking the Pipe Songbook”. The songs describe:
- The Navvies and their womenfolk
- The route of the pipe
- A celebration of Rita Morton who in 1989 saved the Birmingham Corporation archives from destruction when the company was privatised. She and a friend used her car to rescue the papers from a skip and she later compiled them into an archive
- Imagining the Engineers having afternoon tea
- A celebration of a group of friends who also walked the pipe; they are named the Laura Ashley Pate Spreaders when they found themselves without cutlery during a picnic and had to use a credit card
- Other memories of walks along the pipe including the walk for the Ramblings programme with Clare Balding on Radio 4
- In praise of butterflies many of whom cluster above the pipe
The Society showed its considerable appreciation of a wonderfully informative and entertaining evening. Many members completed feedback forms and others purchased the song book and also the book of the project’s official newspaper.