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Eynsham Lock

Eynsham Lock , Swinford, Witney, OX29 4BY
lock-keeper Nick Vallely 883 624


activities at Eynsham lock

- watching/helping the boats go by

- fishing (perch, roach, chubb, pike) - be sure to have a rod-licence

- bird-watching (kingfishers, herons, crested grebes, common tern)

- walking - circular walks from Eynsham, and the Thames Path (3 miles - or 178)

- picnic tables

- boating - there are moorings above the Toll-bridge at Swinford Farm - and another limited free 24-hour mooring at the Lock. Boat hire from the Pinkhill Cruiser Station.

Click here for more information on the River Thames - boat hire, contacts, guides to fishing, walking etc,

Aerial view of Swinford lock, showing the bend in the river with the weir (left); the lock is cut through the neck of the bend. In the background (top right) is the Swinford Water Treatment plant.

access

The lock is about half a mile from Eynsham.

by car - there's not really any car-parking nearby - unless you're a customer at the Talbot Inn.

on foot - the best route is to turn left into the field just after the Talbot, though there is a high stile, and often mud the field. The walk over the Toll-bridge, especially with children or push-chairs, is quite unpleasant and dangerous.

by cycle - probably the best method - turn left immediately after the Toll-bridge and go down to the tow-path on the river.


history of the Eynsham lock and weir

Surprisingly the lock was only built in 1928, as the final part of the Thames Conservancy's plan to make the Thames navigable up to Lechlade - indeed, it was one of the last two locks to be built on the Thames. Before that, since at least mediaeval times (6-700 years ago) there had been a weir - originally owned by Eynsham Abbey

Before the canals and railways, rivers were the easiest way of transporting heavy goods - salt from Droitwich and building stone from Taynton (near Burford) were brought by pack-horse and cart to Swinford for onward transmission to Oxford, Windsor and London (Taynton stone was used in St Paul's)

But in order to make the Thames navigable they needed weirs. One of the earliest types of weir was a Flash Weir - there was one at Swinford until the present lock was built.

A Flash Weir was a movable dam; it could be swung open to let boats down, but they had to be winched over it on the way back up. This system wasted water, and often caused flooding of riverside meadows. Flash weirs were also used to trap fish.

Swinford was an obvious place to build a lock, because the river did a sharp double bend (just below where the Toll-bridge now is), and it was easy to cut through the neck of the bend and put the lock there. This not only made navigation easier, but also meant the weir could be used for flood control.

The lock is a regular Thames Conservancy (now the Environment Agency) design - it is 113ft 3" long, 16 ft 4" wide and can hold boats with a maximum draught of 5ft. The lock gates are still based on the design Leonardo da Vinci made around 1500.

The Lock and Weir Keeper (currently Nick Vallely) operates the lock in the summer, as well as managing the other facilities and maintaining the high-standard gardens. But more importantly and skilfully, he manages the weir all the year round. Three times each day he reads the levels on the marker (a giant ruler set vertically into the river just above the lock), and if the water level is more than 3" above or below the mean level, he adjusts the weir, and phones news of what he's done to the lock downstream.

In winter there's usually more work adjusting the weir - and in the big freeze of 1981/2, the Weir Keeper had to climb down and chip the ice off with a hammer - something not likely to be repeated these days for safety reasons.
Most of the information on this page was supplied by Maureen and Bill McCreadie (lock-keeper 1969 - 2004).