Lancashire Times
Weekend Edition
4:00 AM 23rd October 2021

Uncover The Hidden Heritage On Your Local Waterways

Campaigning charity, The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) is asking for people to help uncover hidden heritage on their local waterways. Along the canals and rivers of the UK are many smaller manmade features that were installed way back when the waterways were first built or while they were being used for transportation, and IWA believes that these are often overlooked today. IWA would like to record more of these small details but needs help from the local community.

Larger structures such as bridges, locks, aqueducts and tunnels are all quite obvious and some of them are protected either by being Listed or as part of a wider conservation area, but smaller features can sometimes be missed both by people using the waterways and by council planners and developers. IWA feels strongly that although they might be small, these features are no less important to the history of waterways.

IWA would like to know about things like rope marks on a bridge, mason’s marks on a lock wall, canal company signage or mile posts along the towpath. Each of these might seem like a tiny thing but it all adds to the overall heritage of the waterway setting and tells the story of how the waterways were built and used in the past.

Alison Smedley, Campaigns & Public Affairs manager, IWA says:
“IWA believes that waterways should be protected from inappropriate development, through being included in a Conservation Area or by specific buildings and structures being Listed. As part of our campaign to call for local authorities to better protect waterways heritage, we are asking people to investigate their local canal or river in more detail than perhaps they ever have before and find items of interest. We want to make sure the quirky features of the waterways are retained, ideally in working order and are not forgotten in the future.”

So how can you help?

Next time you go down to your local waterway, why not see if you can spot a forgotten historic feature from the days of the working boats, or something that dates from when the canal was first built? If you spot something, IWA would like you to snap a photo of it on your phone and then send it to Once received, one of IWA’s resident Heritage experts will try and identify the feature and upload it into the IWA Hidden Heritage Gallery which can be found on the charity’s website . The aim is to record as many important historical features as possible as a resource for future generations.

Please include the exact location, ideally using the ‘what3words’ app. If you could take a close up picture of the feature and also a photo of the overall setting, that will help with the identification. Please also grant permission for IWA to use your photographs.

The type of things you might look out for are:

Starting pin

This small curved metal pin can sometimes be found on locks. It could easily be overlooked by future generations, and maybe not always be retained when major works take place. Its purpose was to help get a horse drawn (or bow hauled) boat out of a lock by using a rope and a pulley block against this pin to create momentum to propel the boat forward.

Rope marks

Grooves cut into metal, masonry and wood are lasting reminders of the number of boats that would have been towed by a horse along the waterways, with the rope always finding the same slot to carve out the gouges still seen today.

The towpath side of the bridge arches is a common place to find rope marks, but you can also find them on bollards, railings, and even sometimes on the paddle gear.


Rollers were used to protect masonry from rope damage or to prevent the towline from taking the shortest route between boat and horse on some of the tighter bends, such as on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and on the River Wey, shown here.


Cast iron mileposts and stone milestones are features of many waterways, with some even having ½ and ¼ mile markers in between the mileposts. Not all waterways had them, but those that do each had their own unique design.

Mileposts were used to work out tolls for boats carrying cargo.

Balance beam spikes

Some waterways have lock gates with specially designed spikes to keep them in the open or closed position. This example is from the Crinan Canal in Scotland.

Date Stones

Date stones can be found in many places – often on bridges or aqueducts.

To download the FREE HIDDEN HERITAGE SPOTTERS GUIDE, please visit