Lengthsmen: Basingstoke Canal Society

A Lengthsman is a job role going back centuries, and referred to people who were responsible for maintaining a “length” of road.


Today the Basingstoke Canal Society are looking for volunteer lengthsmen to help keep Basingstoke Canal clean and tidy. We spoke to Barry Jones, Lengths Manager, to find out what this historic role entails.


What are the hardest challenges the Lengthsmen face?

I would say that the greatest challenge for a Lengthsman is getting into the routine of walking/running/cycling/paddling their stretch on a regular basis, and sending me a report of their trip, even if it’s just “nothing to report”.

It is important that I am aware of what sections are patrolled, and how often, because I have to report on the overall coverage to the Basingstoke Canal Authority on a monthly basis.

It is also important that the Lengthsmen are able to describe in some detail what issues might need the attention of the Canal Rangers, and many accompany their email reports with photographs. The exact location of any issue is also important, and although there are markers every 500 metres from the canal’s junction with the River Wey Navigation, our preferred method is to use the app What3words. This enables any location to be pinpointed to within three metres.


How much time does one need to devote to the role?

We generally ask that Lengthsmen are able to carry out and report on their patrol on a weekly basis, but some go out daily (usually combining with a dog walk), and some far less frequently.


What are the qualities needed in a good Lengthsman? Is it a very physically demanding role?

Lengthsmen generally fall into two types. Some are happy just to carry out their inspection and report any issues for the attention of the Canal Rangers (fallen trees, fly tipping, vandalism, etc.). Others are more “hands on” and like to carry out minor routine maintenance such as litter picking, bramble pruning, and dog poo spraying with fluorescent pink spray paint (as a visible warning!), etc. Various materials and tools in a backpack can be provided for this purpose by the BCA if required.

Lengthsmen do not need to be particularly fit in order to carry out the role.


What should someone do if they’re interested in volunteering?

It is a requirement that all our Lengthsmen are members of the Basingstoke Canal Society for insurance purposes, and this can be done on the “Get Involved” section of their website. If the role of Lengthsman is chosen in the volunteering questionnaire, the enquirer’s details will be sent to me as Lengths Manager. There are some Hampshire County Council forms to complete, and a considerable amount of information to impart. Photo ID cards are produced, and Volunteer tabards are available if required.


by Alice Smales

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