Statement of Special Interest
Built during the early development of the Crinan Canal between 1794 and 1810, the former bridge keeper's cottage known as Oakfield Bridge House is a significant part of the early infrastructure of the canal. The Crinan Canal is a landmark sea-to-sea canal on the west coast of Scotland and one of only five surviving canals in country. A characteristic feature along the canal, keeper's houses provided accommodation for the lock keepers and mason's whose role was to operate and maintain the bridges and locks.
Accommodation tended to be single storey, but here a more unusual design incorporated the steeply sloping man-made canal bank with a 5 metre high basement level and large round-arched opening facing Loch Gilp to the rear. This part of the building was a workshop and store related to the early construction and maintenance of the Canal. Viewed from the Canal, the building is a single-storey cottage with slated, pitched roof and pitched-roof dormers.
The property is clearly shown on the 1st Edition Ordnance Survey Map (1865) with the 19th century piend-roofed addition to the north gable but without the lean-to porch addition to the canal-side elevation. The porch was probably added in the earlier 20th century when the property was sub-divided internally to form two dwellings. The building broadly retains its early 19th century character, particularly to the rear, road-facing elevation.
Oakfield Bridge House is adjacent to an 1870s metal and timber swing bridge. Together, the swing bridge (designated separately as part of Scheduled Monument No 6501) and house form a strong functionally related group. The canal, tow path and the bridges that cross it (excluding modern road surfaces) and a number of other associated structures are a Scheduled Monument. See Scheduled Monument No 6501 for full details.
The Crinan Canal was one of more than 50 canals projects approved in Britain between the years 1790 and 1794. This intense period of canal building dramatically increased the opportunities for trade arising from the new industries of the period and decisively ended the situation in which heavy materials could only be moved short distances without the aid of navigable rivers or coastal transport.
Taking its name from the village at its north-westerly end, the canal is 14 kilometers long, rising and falling through 15 locks. It was built to stimulate trade between the Clyde area and the Inner Hebrides by avoiding the 130 kilometer journey around the Kintyre peninsula. The canal transported numerous freights, particularly slate from the north, coal from the south and services including postal and passenger traffic.
The Crinan Canal is renowned for its striking landscape and scenic variation over its relatively short length. The canal-side buildings are largely 19th century with simple detached cottages defining the small settlements along the route. The canal had a long and troubled development history with shortages of labour, building materials, structural issues and related financial concerns. The perseverance needed to complete and continue to maintain the canal despite these set-backs, amid the evolving industrial and commercial landscape of the 19th century, are part of the canal's significance.
Engineer James Watt had surveyed possible routes for the canal as early as 1771. James Rennie proposed an alternative route in 1793 and work began the following year, with the canal opening to traffic in 1801. Under the advice of pre-eminent Scottish engineer Thomas Telford, a major refurbishment of the canal was undertaken in 1817, funded by the Government. Telford's recommendations resulted in a complete overhaul at a cost of over 18000 pounds. Substandard stonework, lock gates and bridges were repaired or replaced, banks were raised, bends straightened and rocks removed to level the canal bed. The canal effectively came into public ownership after these works were complete.
Traffic through the Crinan increased considerably after the opening of Telford's Caledonian Canal in 1822. Using both canals, boats could now travel from Glasgow to Inverness. Queen Victoria navigated the Crinan Canal in 1847 and passenger steamer companies were quick to advertise a 'Royal Route'. By 1866 a specially designed Canal steamer called The Linnet was introduced to help cope with the increasing passenger numbers. The Linnet remained in service for the next 65 years. Between 1930 and 1932, new sea locks were built at either end of the Crinan Canal, making it accessible at any tide. The Canal has continued to operate as a centre for tourism in the area into the 21st century with around 2000 yachts, fishing boats and pleasure cruisers travelling through its locks each year.
Previously listed as 'Bridge-Keeper's Cottage At Swing Bridge, Crinan Canal, Near Lochgilphead'.
Statutory Address and listed building record updated as part of the Scottish Canals estate review (2013-14).