The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) History

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River Thames

In 1950 increased fees and tolls on the River Thames were opposed.

The River Thames Society was formed in 1962.

IWA 1977 National Festival was held at Reading on the River Thames had over 370 boat entries.

In 1988 IWA was concerned with the lack of capacity at some Thames locks and was able to negotiate some improvements in the provision of visitor licences.

The 1997 IWA National Festival was held at at Henley on the Thames and attended by 27,500 people. 558 boat and 336 caravans. (Photo by Jim Shead).

In 2003 the Inland Waterways Association National Festival was held on the River Thames at Beale Park, near Pangbourne. It was visited by 32,000 people, 567 boats and 497 caravans and camping units.

Fossdyke Canal and River Witham

In 1950 on the Fossdyke Canal and River Witham the IWA managed to get locks opened on Sundays.

In March 1955 the Board of Survey reported and recommended the disposal of 771 miles of waterway including some canals like the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the Barnsley Canal that had already been abandoned and closed to traffic. These "Group 3" waterways also included the Ashton, Peak Forest, Macclesfield, Bridgwater and Taunton, Chesterfield, Cromford, Dearne and Dove, Erewash, Forth & Clyde, Grand Western, Grantham, Kennet & Avon, Lancaster, Manchester, Bolton & Bury, Monmouthshire & Brecon, Nottingham, Oxford (southern section), Pocklington, Ripon, Llangollen, Montgomery, Stratford-upon-Avon (southern section), Swansea and Edinburgh & Glasgow Union canals as well as the River Witham.

In response IWA advocate a National Waterway Conservancy to look after all our waterways and point out that it is cheaper to restore and use waterways than to eliminate them.

In 1956 IWA North East Midlands Branch organised a Rally at Lincoln which attracted over a hundred boats. The photo of the Rally by L A Edwards was published in IWA Bulletin 52 in October


River Wey

In 1949 IWA member Mr.C.G.B.Poulter (WITCH O' THE WEY, Walsham Lock, Pyrford, Woking, Surrey) reported that the Mayor of Godalming would like the towpath improved and made into a riverside walk, and that a recent contributor to the SURREY TIMES suggested the institution of a water bus service from the very large new housing estate at Stoke to the centre of Guildford, suggesting that it should be run by the Local Authority in order to "get over some of the ramifications that hedge in the use of this River". Mr. Poulter also said that work was in hand at Walsham Lock and at Anchor Lock, suggested that any Member proposing to navigate the Wey should consult with him first upon the current position. IWA also received many reports, notably from IWA Member Mr.W.Mllligan of Uxbridge, that for a pleasure boat the toll on the Wey had reached the extraordinary figure of 3/- per lock single passage; a matter that received the attention of IWA Council.

In 1950 on the River Wey pleasure boating was encouraged and IWA members received 25% discount.

The National Trust acquired the River Wey in 1963 as a gift from its former owner Mr Harry H Stevens.

IWA National Rally in 1970 was held at Guildford on the River Wey partly to give a boost to the campaign to restore the nearby Basingstoke Canal. 380 boats attended and 50,000 people visited the site prodicing good TV and press coverage.

The photograph (taken from IWA Bulletin 95) is by Robert Shopland.

Ashton Canal

In 1951 the closing of the Stockport Branch of the Ashton Canal was opposed by IWA.

Concerns were expressed at the start of 1953 that the Docks & Inland Waterways Executive had plans to transfer canals that were not "required commercially" to local autorities or other bodies. These included some legally abandoned waterways such as the Cromford Canal, Grantham Canal and Llangollen Canal. Other canals included in the list were the Ashton Canal, Peak Forest Canal, Lancaster Canal, Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal and the southern section of the Oxford Canal. In response to this the Association continued to advocate full use and development of the whole waterways system for the benefit of all types of user and for the establishment of a National Waterways Commission covering all navigations as well as a public enquiry into the best ways of developing them.

In March 1955 the Board of Survey reported and recommended the disposal of 771 miles of waterway including some canals like the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the Barnsley Canal that had already been abandoned and closed to traffic. These "Group 3" waterways also included the Ashton, Peak Forest, Macclesfield, Bridgwater and Taunton, Chesterfield, Cromford, Dearne and Dove, Erewash, Forth & Clyde, Grand Western, Grantham, Kennet & Avon, Lancaster, Manchester, Bolton & Bury, Monmouthshire & Brecon, Nottingham, Oxford (southern section), Pocklington, Ripon, Llangollen, Montgomery, Stratford-upon-Avon (southern section), Swansea and Edinburgh & Glasgow Union canals as well as the River Witham.

In response IWA advocate a National Waterway Conservancy to look after all our waterways and point out that it is cheaper to restore and use waterways than to eliminate them.

1959 bought a new threat to the canal when British Waterways excluded itfrom the scope of the general cruising licence and discouraged its use.

1961 started with local authorities calling for the closure of the Ashton Canal. A protest cruise was organised for Whitsun, which British Waterways tried to advert by withdrawing the canal from the scope of their pleasure boat licences. Despite this a reduced scale cruise of 15 boats went ahead but were stopped at Lock 12 by a burnt and dismantled lock gate (see photograph).

Voluteer labour continued to make its mark in 1968 with work being done on Marple Locks on the Peak Forest Canal, Bath Locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal, Grand Union - Welford Branch and perhaps most spectacularly on the Ashton Canal where volunteers led by Graham Palmer undertook a massive clean-up and restoration. IWA, and others, also issued British Waterways with a writ over the neglect of the Ashton and Peak Forest canals. See also the Cheshire Ring.

In 1970 IWA offered 10,000 and unlimited voluntary labour towards the restoration of the Ashton Canal. This was also the year that these voluteers became the Waterway Recovery Group (WRG).

Following agreement on funding from the local authorities in 1972, IWA, BW and other voluteers were mobilised to take part in the restoration of the canal.

In May 1974 the restored Ashton and Peak Forest canals were reopened.

The Manchester & Stockport Canal Society was formed on the 3rd February 2004 for the sole purpose of restoring the Stockport Arm of the Ashton canal to its head of navigation in Stockport

River Derwent (Yorkshire)

In 1951 the closing of Elvington Lock on the River Derwent (Yorkshire) sparked off, what was to become, a major battle over navigation rights on this river.

In 1971 IWA paid the legal costs for setting-up the Yorkshire Derwent Trust with the aim os resoring the River Derwent

In 1980 the use of a trip boat on the River Derwent caused a dispute between the Derwent Trust and some riverside landowners over the right of navigation. The Derwent Trust prepared for legal action and started a fighting fund to raise 20,000 at the IWA National Rally. IWA offered them 6,000.

A further 100,000 was guaranteed to the Yorkshire Derwent Trust in 1988 by IWA in support of its legal action to prove Rights of Navigation. The photograph shows Sutton Lock, which was restored by the Yorkshire Derwent Trust in 1972.

In December 1991 IWA lost its long running battle for the right of navigation on the River Derwent (Yorkshire) when a decision by the Law Lords ruled against them.

Norfolk & Suffolk Broads

In 1952 detailed and general waterway concerns continued to be pursued including those relating to the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads.

In 1953 Robert Aickman and L A Edwards made several visits the the Broads to examine the problems of silting and other threats to navigation.

The 1955 British Transport Commission Bill contained a measure to abandon Haddiscoe New Cut on the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads as well as parts of the Lancaster Canal and other waterways.

The photo by L A Edwards shows Blakes Yacht Staion at Great Yarmouth, which appeared with several other photographs of the Broads in IWA Bulletin 51 which was published in July 1956.

The Broads Society was founded in 1956.

The 1991 National Trailboat Festival was held at Malthouse on the Norfolk Broads.

River Cam

In 1952 detailed and general waterway concerns continued to be pursued including those relating to the River Cam. On 22nd May IWA Member Mr, R.H. Cory, wrote as follows to the Clerk of the River Cam Conservancy: "Upstream from the commencement of tho River Cam (that is to say from where it enters the Great Ouse River at the 'Fish Duck' Inn) there have been planted a number of Willow Saplings along the water's edge for a distanco of between 1½ to 2 miles. These Saplings are now between 6ft. to 9ft. high. Doubtless the object of planting these was to provide guides to essential navigation during such times as the river was in flood, and I have no doubt that the plan is very admirable for that purpose. Unfortunately the saplings have been planted on the West side of the river. The towing path of this part of tho river is also on the West side, and from my own personal experience these saplings constitute serious obstruction. As guides, the saplings would have been equally useful on the East side."

The Clerk to the Great Ouse River Board, to whom the enquiry had been forwarded, replied that the object of the stakes, some of which might have taken root, was to provide guides for navigation in times of flood; they would not be allowed to develop into trees. In future, however, stakes will be put on the east side of the River,

This reply, Mr. Cory pointed out, was entirely satisfactory. He added: "I have always found both the Clerk and the Chief Engineer of the Great Ouse River Board not only most considerate to navigation, but always ready to go out of their way to assist in any way they can. This is most praiseworthy considering that their real work is concerned with drainage and not navigation."

In 1954 the tolls charged rose steeply; for example the lock charge for a motor boat up to 30 feet in length was increased from 1 shilling to 3 shillings and tolls in other categories were approximately doubled. Also the arrangement was withdrawn whereby boats which had paid a toll at a lock could return through that lock at any time during a weekend (boats had to return on the same day, or pay again at the original rate).

Cotswold Canals (Stroudwater and Thames & Severn canals)

The Cotswold Canals consist of the Stroudwater Navigation and the Thames & Severn Canal. The Cotswold Canals Trust has campaigned for 30 years to restore these canals and the 82million project to fully restore these canals is now backed by British Waterways, the South West Regional Development Agency, the Environment Agency and all the local authorities along the whole route. Various sections of the canal have been restored to full navigation, including some of the flight of locks at Eastington, and a recent offer of a 11.3m of Heritage Lottery Grant coupled with matched contributions from other sources, will enable the restoration of 6 additional miles of canal between Stonehouse and Brimscombe Port within the next four years.

In 1952 the Stroudwater Navigation company called a public meeting to announce that they intended to abandon the canal.

An Act was passed in 1954 ending navigation on the Stroudwater Canal.

The decline in the state of the canal between 1950 and 1956 is illustated by these two photos of the locks, which were published in IWA Bulletin 54 in May 1957.

Working parties started work in 1972 on the Stroudwater and Thames & Severn canals following the formation of the Stroudwater Canal Society.

In 1979 restoration work continued on the Cotswold Canals.

A Bid was made to the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2003 for a grant towards the first phase of restoration of the Cotswold Canals.

In 2005 the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) has awarded a grant of 15,000 to the Cotswold Canals Trust towards the reconstruction of Pike Bridge, located at Eastington on the Stroudwater Navigation.

The cost of rebuilding Pike Bridge is about 350,000. Just over 227,000 has been raised already through contributions from the Countryside Agency Aggregate Levy sustainability Fund Grant scheme, Gloucestershire County Council and Stroud District Council.

Chesterfield Canal

In 1951 IWA opposed the charges being made for the use of the canal and in 1952 detailed and general waterway concerns continued to be pursued including those relating to the Chesterfield Canal.

In March 1955 the Board of Survey reported and recommended the disposal of 771 miles of waterway including some canals like the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the Barnsley Canal that had already been abandoned and closed to traffic. These "Group 3" waterways also included the Ashton, Peak Forest, Macclesfield, Bridgwater and Taunton, Chesterfield, Cromford, Dearne and Dove, Erewash, Forth & Clyde, Grand Western, Grantham, Kennet & Avon, Lancaster, Manchester, Bolton & Bury, Monmouthshire & Brecon, Nottingham, Oxford (southern section), Pocklington, Ripon, Llangollen, Montgomery, Stratford-upon-Avon (southern section), Swansea and Edinburgh & Glasgow Union canals as well as the River Witham.

In response IWA advocate a National Waterway Conservancy to look after all our waterways and point out that it is cheaper to restore and use waterways than to eliminate them.

Whitsunday Pie Lock No 60 - June 1998
A protest cruise was held in 1962 to draw attention to the poor condition of the navigation.

The Chesterfield Canal Society was founded 1976.

The East Midlands Region organised an IWE Waterways week in 1977 culminating in CC77 a rally marking 200 years of the Chesterfield Canal.

A Stoppage of several months during occurred during 1979 at Retford Aqueduct on the Chesterfield Canal.

The Chesterfield Canal Trust, a charitable company run entirely by volunteers, was incorporated in July 1997. In 1998 it took over the assets of the former Chesterfield Canal Society (founded 1976).

The 2002 Inland Waterways Association National Trailboat Festival was held at Tapton Lock on the Chesterfield Canal.

In 2005 IWA National Trailboat Rally was held again at Tapton Lock.

Cromford Canal

In 1948 IWA Bulletin 16 stated that IWA had been officially informed the canal had been transferred from the Control of the Railway Executive to the control of the Docks & Inland Waterways Executive.

Concerns were expressed at the start of 1953 that the Docks & Inland Waterways Executive had plans to transfer canals that were not "required commercially" to local autorities or other bodies. These included some legally abandoned waterways such as the Cromford Canal, Grantham Canal and Llangollen Canal. Other canals included in the list were the Ashton Canal, Peak Forest Canal, Lancaster Canal, Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal and the southern section of the Oxford Canal. In response to this the Association continued to advocate full use and development of the whole waterways system for the benefit of all types of user and for the establishment of a National Waterways Commission covering all navigations as well as a public enquiry into the best ways of developing them.

In March 1955 the Board of Survey reported and recommended the disposal of 771 miles of waterway including some canals like the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the Barnsley Canal that had already been abandoned and closed to traffic. These "Group 3" waterways also included the Ashton, Peak Forest, Macclesfield, Bridgwater and Taunton, Chesterfield, Cromford, Dearne and Dove, Erewash, Forth & Clyde, Grand Western, Grantham, Kennet & Avon, Lancaster, Manchester, Bolton & Bury, Monmouthshire & Brecon, Nottingham, Oxford (southern section), Pocklington, Ripon, Llangollen, Montgomery, Stratford-upon-Avon (southern section), Swansea and Edinburgh & Glasgow Union canals as well as the River Witham.

In response IWA advocate a National Waterway Conservancy to look after all our waterways and point out that it is cheaper to restore and use waterways than to eliminate them.

In 1972 the Cromford Canal Society was formed.

The Friends of the Cromford Canal were formed in 2002.

Peak Forest Canal

Concerns were expressed at the start of 1953 that the Docks & Inland Waterways Executive had plans to transfer canals that were not "required commercially" to local autorities or other bodies. These included some legally abandoned waterways such as the Cromford Canal, Grantham Canal and Llangollen Canal. Other canals included in the list were the Ashton Canal, Peak Forest Canal, Lancaster Canal, Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal and the southern section of the Oxford Canal. In response to this the Association continued to advocate full use and development of the whole waterways system for the benefit of all types of user and for the establishment of a National Waterways Commission covering all navigations as well as a public enquiry into the best ways of developing them.

In March 1955 the Board of Survey reported and recommended the disposal of 771 miles of waterway including some canals like the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the Barnsley Canal that had already been abandoned and closed to traffic. These "Group 3" waterways also included the Ashton, Peak Forest, Macclesfield, Bridgwater and Taunton, Chesterfield, Cromford, Dearne and Dove, Erewash, Forth & Clyde, Grand Western, Grantham, Kennet & Avon, Lancaster, Manchester, Bolton & Bury, Monmouthshire & Brecon, Nottingham, Oxford (southern section), Pocklington, Ripon, Llangollen, Montgomery, Stratford-upon-Avon (southern section), Swansea and Edinburgh & Glasgow Union canals as well as the River Witham.

In response IWA advocate a National Waterway Conservancy to look after all our waterways and point out that it is cheaper to restore and use waterways than to eliminate them.

1959 bought a new threat to the canal when its route into Manchester was barred by the exclusion of the Ashton from the general cruising licence.

A wall of the Marple Aqueduct collapsed in 1962 and the whole structure was closed.

The Peak Forest Canal Society was formed in 1964.

The 1966 IWA National Rally was held at Marple on the threatened Cheshire Ring. It attracted a record attendance of 250 boats.

Voluteer labour continued to make its mark in 1968 with work being done on Marple Locks on the Peak Forest Canal, Bath Locks on the Kennet & Avon Canal, Grand Union - Welford Branch and perhaps most spectacularly on the Ashton Canal where volunteers led by Graham Palmer undertook a massive clean-up and restoration. IWA, and others, also issued British Waterways with a writ over the neglect of the Ashton and Peak Forest canals.

In May 1974 the restored Ashton and Peak Forest canals were reopened.

In 1982 British Waterways undertook several major engineering projects including work on Coombs Reservior on the Peak Forest Canal.

Attempts to fill Bugsworth Basin on the Peak Forest Canal in 1991 failed due to leakage.

In 1999 the recently reopened Bugsworth Basin on the Peak Forest Canal was used by boats again following problems with leakage. It closed again in the Autumn due to a breach in the entrance canal.

Bugsworth Basin was reopened at Easter 2005 after many years of problems with water leakage. The £1.2M project was promoted by the Inland Waterways Protection Society working in partnership with British Waterways.

Coventry Canal

In 1950 on the Coventry Canal where the City Council were proposing to develop the canal for pleasure use. The first major local authority to propose this enlightened approach to canals. On the River Wey pleasure boating was encouraged and IWA members received 25% discount.

National Rally of Boats 1957A National Rally of Boats was held at Coventry in 1957, the first to be called a "National" since 1950. This was run by David Hutchings and other Midland Branch Members. This was also the year that the Coventry Canal Society was formed.

A Stoppage of several months during occurred during 1979 on the section from Hawkesbury to Coventry on the Coventry Canal.

The 1984 IWA National Rally held at Hawkesbury on the junction of the Oxford and Coventry canals had a record entry of 720 boats of which 661 actually attended.

After 3 years the 1987 IWA National Rally returned to Hawkesbury on the junction of the Oxford and Coventry canals. It attracted around 50,000 people and 530 boats.

Cheshire Ring

The Cheshire Ring was the first circular cruising route to be called a "ring". This term came into use when the Rochdale, Ashton and Peak Forest canals were under threat of closure thus destroying the cruising ring that they (together with the Macclesfield, Trent & Mersey and Bridgewater canals) provided.

The following article first appeared in Waterways number 203 - February 2004 - and appears here by kind permission of the author Ted Hill. Photographs that are not credited to the author are by Waterway Images.


IN April 1974 the restored Ashton and lower Peak Forest canals were reopened to complete the Cheshire ring. This thirti eth anniversary seems an appropriate time to provide a brief account of the part played by the Peak Forest Canal Society (PFCS) in the events leading to this happy and suc cessful conclusion. The Society arose from local concern over the neglected and unus able state of the magnificent sixteen-lock Marple flight, following the two-year repair closure of Marple Aqueduct over the River Goyt valley.

The January 1964 British Waterways Board interim report on the future of their waterways also directly threatened the future of both the lower Peak Forest and Ashton canals on the alleged grounds of poor current condition and lack of useful future prospects. Existing North West region canal campaign organisations were not ideally placed to respond to this situation and either lacked sufficient local presence in the Marple area or, as with IWA North West Branch, already had their hands full grappling with the existing problems of the Rochdale Canal in Manchester.
Early PFCS work parties during 1965. The
indefatigable Dr Cyril Boucher is seen on the right.
Photos by Ted Hill.

After hearing of the current unsatisfactory situation, a well attended public meeting on Friday 19 June 1964 in Marple agreed to form a campaigning body and so The Peak Forest Canal Society (PFCS) was born. The committee proposed and elected at this meeting was predominantly local and also included representatives of other interested bodies. My involvement came purely from a chance comment over insurance for volunteer working parties, overheard by David Owen, the indefatigable IWA Manchester section chairman, who immediately proposed my election. Initially I was Hon. Assistant Secretary but soon became publicity officer and subsequently Hon. Secretary until early 1970.

The immediate need was to make a positive impact on the local community. At this time, the general perception of both the lower Peak Forest - beyond the immediate Marple area - and the Ashton Canal varied between indifference and hostility. Both were therefore very vulnerable. In September 1964 the society arranged an urgent meeting with BW in London to negotiate approval for limited improvement work on Marple Locks; but the delegation had a very negative reception and permission was categorically refused. Subsequent consent to a Society plan for a mile of towpath clearance and visual improvement at Romiley, was only reluctantly forthcoming. Work began in January 1965 and was completed by January 1966, generating much favourable publicity and many new members. During this time, a substantial breach on the lower Peak Forest canal near Hyde in December 1964 was repaired by BW - after urgent representations from local authority and many voluntary bodies, including the society. This outcome was the first restoation campaign success, as securing remedial action was by no means a foregone conclusion.
(above): The Working Party Group of IWA London
& Home Counties Branch working on Marple Locks.
(below) The battle to save the remaining Rochdale
link through Manchester became a vital part of the
campaign. The usual state of Dale Street Lock 84.

Battle for the 'Rochdale 9'

In the first few months the society faced several further problems. The most serious was the attempt in 1965 by the Rochdale Canal Company, through a private House of Lords Bill, to close the central Manchester section of the Rochdale Canal. This news caused consternation. Navigation through Manchester was absolutely vital to the society's campaign, as without this link, restoration of the Ashton and lower Peak Forest canals was pointless. IWA, supported by four other interested bodies, including the society, entered a parliamentary petition against the de-navigation Clause 3 of the Bill and in addition much public opposition was mobilised. In May 1965, a compromise was reached in which the canal owners agreed to pursue closure only if or when the Ashton Canal was legally abandoned. Meanwhile, "reasonable access" to the Manchester section without time limitation would be provided. The compromise was a significant victory, although actually achieving reasonable access took much tedious further negotiation.

"Killer Canal"

Restoration objectives and strategy were of only limited value, unless successfully communicated to both supporters and opposition. From the outset, the PFCS objective was to correct every inaccurate or disparaging media reference to the Rochdale, Ashton and lower Peak Forest canals. The "killer canal" was a particular journalistic favourite but after a prolonged exchange of local press correspondence over the Rochdale Canal, inaccurate media attacks on canal restoration virtually ceased. The main medium for regularly informing supporters within and outside the PFCS was the Newsletter. Early editions comprised a duplicated double-sided foolscap sheet but thereafter a member Gordon Mills produced an eight-page printed booklet five times a year including many excellent photographs. The society also initiated a series of public meetings in towns along the line of the lower Peak Forest and Ashton at which the arguments for and against restoration could be aired and debated.
(above): Killer Canal' was the normal press description of the Ashton Canal at the time.
left) Boats returning from the IWA campaigning rally for the Rochdale, Ashton and lower Peak Forest canals in April 1971.

The PFCS did not intend to be just a reactive body. By mid 1965 the society took a major role in four initiatives, which later proved crucial to the success of the campaign. A particularly urgent need was a coherent restoration strategy. Fortunately, BW had unintentionally provided almost the perfect ammunition in their Interim Report. The outcome was the PFCS booklet The Cheshire Canal Ring. The objective was to present an argument, which would convincingly demonstrate that restoration of all the regional waterways was the only practical way to develop their full potential. Previous campaign arguments, including our own, had mainly centred on the merits of individual and usually local stretches. Although recent events had graphically underlined the mutual dependence of the lower Peak Forest, Ashton and Rochdale Canal in Manchester, no detailed appraisal of their equally important and integral relationship with other linking waterways had ever been produced.
(above) The infamous 'landscaping' of the next section of the Rochdale (which won an architectural award) was in progress. Fortunately it is now a canal again.(Below) Peter Freakley turns James Loader in the entrance to the Ashton Canal at the rally.

Cheshire Ring campaign takes off

The influence of the Cheshire Canal Ring on the campaign was very significant. Restoration now had focus and objectives and perhaps more crucially, what would now be termed a "brand name". The Cheshire Ring proved to have high media appeal. The concept was soon taken up by the waterway movement generally and is still in everyday use. Widespread dissemination to North West local authorities and MPs produced a noticeable reduction in adverse reaction to restoration ideas. Several Councils moved from their previous position of indifference to passive approval and later to active support. PFCS membership rose from around 200 to almost 1,000 during 1965/66.

Increased support from the IWA North West Branch led directly to approval by the IWA National Council of a National Rally at Marple in 1966, which proved the second crucial initiative of the campaign. The programme was specifically designed to highlight restoration objectives. A one-day subsidiary rally on the Rochdale Canal in Manchester emphasised the continued absence of through navigation to Marple. Some twenty small craft were portaged from the main rally site to a slipway below Marple Locks and then cruised over Marple Aqueduct down to Romiley Wharf for an official reception by the local district council chairman. Another flotilla of larger craft cruised from Marple to the Peak Forest Canal terminus at Whaley Bridge for another civic reception. The rally was a huge success, with a record entry of 250 boats. Substantial media coverage was secured and interest and support for the Cheshire Ring restoration significantly increased. A Marple Rally now became an annu al event until 1970, by which time the tide of the campaign had largely turned in favour of restoration.
The state of the Ashton Canal -the pictures speak for themselves.

A vital element in any restoration strategy is constant and visible activity level on disused stretches. After the first Romiley clearance project, extending this toehold was the next objective.

BW had summarily rejected a PFCS offer to meet the cost of restoring all the Marple locks for amenity use, using volunteer labour but with the 1966 Rally looming, an improvement in the generally dilapidated and overgrown appearance of the flight was imperative, whether or not approved by BW. Believing correctly that BW would not risk unfavourable publicity by taking preventative action the society began discreet clearance work around the lower locks, which was soon extended to actual lock chamber and minor gate improvements.
Operation Ashton - The first real 'Big Dig' when it was demonstrated what volunteers could organise and achieve.
Graham Palmer - founder of WRG and leader of both Operation Ashton and ASHTAC.

Operation Ashton

These activities culminated in the 1968 planning and execution of Operation Ashton - the brainchild of Graham Palmer the founder of Waterway Recovery Group - and the third crucial event of the Cheshire Ring campaign. The objective was to clear the worst section of the Ashton Canal of rub bish accumulated since 1961, employing as much mechanical equipment as the organisers could muster. Originally around 300 volunteers were expected but over 600 ultimately came from all over the country. The weekend was as wet as only Manchester could provide but the volunteers worked on entirely unperturbed. Over 2,000 tons of rubbish was carted away to local tips from some one and a quarter miles of canal, where the whole appearance was totally altered.

The importance and effect of Operation Ashton on the Cheshire Ring and indeed the entire waterway restoration campaign is impossible to overestimate. The sheer scale of the project conclusively demonstrated that volunteers could match the BW professionals in organisation and achievement. From this time onwards, a subtle but unmistakable shift in the general attitude of local authorities towards restoration emerged especially in Manchester Corporation, the key authority in the region, who had previously been little more than sceptically indifferent to the campaign. The final crucial initiative was legal. The Society had always thought that proceedings might be necessary if BW continued to ignore their Transport Act obligation to maintain the Ashton and lower Peak Forest canals at the 1961 reference level. A consortium was formed to investigate this and in 1966 Counsel advised that an application to the Attorney General for a fiat to bring High Court proceedings against BW was likely to succeed. As Hon Secretary, I was very heavily involved in supplying the material on which these proceedings were to be based but the considerable organisational and preparatory work was very time consuming.

By the time the fiat was secured, the 1967 Transport Bill had been published, which if passed would effectively abolish the grounds on which the case against BW was based. Attention now focussed on marshalling parliamentary opposition. Despite a highly misleading intervention by the Lord Chancellor, restoration supporters in the House of Lords carried amendments which exempted the Ashton and lower Peak Forest canals from the provisions of the Bill, pending a court hearing of the outstanding legal action. However, back in the Commons, the Government applied a three-line whip to these amendments, despite which their majority fell to the lowest recorded for the entire Bill, after members from all sides had spoken in favour of the amendments.

IWAAC backs Restoration

This outcome was a disappointing but by no means fatal setback. During progress of the Bill, the Government had undertaken to give these canals a three-year moratorium before taking any decision about their future. The newly created Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council was also mandated to conduct a review and submit recommendations. The campaign accordingly focussed on ensuring that IWAAC were fully briefed on the Cheshire Ring concept, which in April 1970 resulted in a unanimous report in favour of restoring navigation on the two derelict waterways.

After the IWAAC decision BW - for reasons best known to themselves - elected to 'freeze out' restoration campaigners from all discussions with the riparian local authorities. As inside information indicated that it was hardly pursuing the recommended option with enthusiasm, the only course was for the society to redouble their efforts to maintain and indeed raise the level of public support for restoration. The success of this strategy was soon shown by BW senior management complaints over pressure, although campaigners suspected that it was BW themselves, rather than the local authorities who were becoming uncomfortable! The next few months were spent in some suspense but with increasing indications that restoration would carry the day.
Operation Ashton - The first real 'Big Dig' when it was demonstrated what volunteers could organise and achieve.

Photos right and below by Ted Hill

Finally, in December 1971 the decision to restore came - with Droylesden Council, as ever, the sole dissenting voice. By March 1972 volunteers were pushing the momentum of the restoration, working with the permission of BW, on the successor of Operation Ashton - the even bigger ASHTAC. A huge weekend 'big dig' to completely clear a length of the Ashton from the Dukinfield Junction - again led by Graham Palmer. By April 1974, the work was completed and the two canals reopened.

Since then the Cheshire Ring has flourished, more than justifying the arguments used by restoration campaigners in the North West: Further confirmed by the recent reopening of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and the entire length of the Rochdale Canal - neither of which would have been possible without the campaign for the reopening of the Ashton Canal. Spectacularly confirming Robert Aickman's far-sighted view that survival of the Ashton Canal was absolutely crucial to the future of any industrial urban waterway. That this act of destruction never happened was due in no small measure to the PFCS contribution to the restoration campaign.

(Right) Marple was the venue of the highly successful 1966 IWA National Rally of Boats.


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