Last paddle weir on Thames to keep its centuries-old ways

Pictured with Northmoor Parish Council chairman Graham Shelton, second from right, are, from left, Debbie Robinson, Nayereh Wooller, Liz Hall, Dudley Hoddinott, Soraya Heffernan, Alex Heffernan and Pat Hall

Pictured with Northmoor Parish Council chairman Graham Shelton, second from right, are, from left, Debbie Robinson, Nayereh Wooller, Liz Hall, Dudley Hoddinott, Soraya Heffernan, Alex Heffernan and Pat Hall

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Witney and West Oxfordshire. Call me on 01865 425483

A WEIR in West Oxfordshire is believed to be one of the last in the world to use ancient techniques of managing river flow.

The weir at Northmoor Lock, near Farmoor, is set to continue operating as a full-span paddle and rymer weir after the Environment Agency (EA) agreed to upgrade materials.

It follows a campaign opposing the agency’s plans to spend an estimated £2.5m to change the 115-year-old weir to a modern motorised system.

Northmoor Weir Campaign member Mike Hill, who lives in nearby Eaton, said he is delighted with the decision.

He said: “It’s been quite a privilege to work with the EA to come to this solution together as a community and organisation to find a solution that retains the history.

“It means lock keepers can still use the manual skills that have been used there for years rather than just press a button.

“We’ve looked around the world and we’re pretty confident it’s a rarity – there doesn’t seem to be another full-span paddle and rymer weir from what we’ve seen.

“Using paddle and rymers is an ancient way of controlling the river and it looks like we are able to keep some heritage in the area.”

Paddle and rymer weirs are operated by placing large wooden posts – the rymers – into the bottom of the river.

To control the water flow, paddles of different heights are placed against the rymers.

Of the 44 weirs on the River Thames, nine were worked by paddle and rymer but five have now been updated.

Northmoor Lock is the last paddle and rymer weir that spans the full width of the Thames.

The EA proposed in 2011 to replace the weir, which has been manned by professional lock staff since 1896, with motorised gates.

Officials said its condition could have long-term health issues for lock keepers operating the weirs.

But campaigners claimed it would be a waste of money and remove a much-loved element of local history.

The EA made a u-turn and instead upgraded the equipment three months ago, using lighter and more durable fibreglass paddles and rymers. It said it is now safer and easier to operate.

It was not able to say how much the upgrade cost.

Northmoor Parish Council chairman Graham Shelton said: “This happened because we made a fuss. Had we not done so then we would now have a modern piece of kit and lost a piece of technology that dates back to the 1700s and has been in continuous use in Northmoor for more than a century.

“It’s a fantastic tourist attraction and it ensures that we have a lock keeper at Northmoor operating it by hand.”

 

 

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