The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) History

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Aire & Calder Navigation

In March 1955 the Board of Survey reported and recommended the disposal of 771 miles of waterway including some canals that had already been abandoned and closed to traffic. These were called "Group 3" waterways "Group 2" was 994 miles of waterways that were to be retained but if traffic did not increase they were to be downgraded to Group 3. "Group 1" at just 336 miles was the smallest group. These were waterways to be developed and consisted of the Aire & Calder Navigation (including the Ouse Lower Improvement), Gloucester & Berkeley Canal and the River Severn, Grand Union Canal below Berkhamsted, Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation, River Lee (below Enfield Lock), River Trent and the River Weaver.

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.

It was announced in October 1964 that at Ferrybridge "C" Power Station a coal discharging installation was to be built to raise and tipple 210 ton barges in nine minutes. Coal would be delivered in trains of three 210 ton capacity compartment boats, propelled by a powerful tug. The system was designed by Strachan and Henshaw Ltd., of Bristol. On arrival at Ferrybridge, the barge trains wre to be led into a channel approaching the unloader. At this stage they were to be taken in hand by a marshalling system and the tug moved away downstream to collect waiting empty trains. The barge tippler was a large unloading hoist which was to raise the boats forty feet above water level, discharging the coal into an elevated receiving hopper which feeds the convoyer system, leading to the power station. By this means, a planned unloading rate of 1,000 tons per hour was to be achieved. The manufacturers claimed that this system of water-borne transportation and handling could make a considerable contribution to industrial efficiency. The use of a tippler enabled barge carriage to compete favourably with, and be independent of, all other forms of transport, wherever there is reasonable water access from the supplier to the customer.

Apparently, after much research had been undertaken into the Ferrybridge installation, the Railway Board attempted to make out a case for delivery of coal to the power station by rail. Fortunately, the Electrical Authority were convinced of the striking superiority of the barge system, which was able to go ahead as planned.

The 1981 IWA National Rally and Waterside Arts Festival was held on the Aire & Calder Navigation at Leeds with 410 boats, including many commercial craft, in attendence.

In 1992 520 craft and 375 caravans and tents attended IWA National Festival at Wakefield on the Aire & Calder Navigation. This event is still remembered for the mud caused by the wet weather and for the efforts of the Waterways Recovery Group in keeping the site in a usable condition (photograph by courtesy of Waterways World).

Sheffield & South Yorkshire Naviagtion

In March 1955 the Board of Survey reported and recommended the disposal of 771 miles of waterway including some canals that had already been abandoned and closed to traffic. These were called "Group 3" waterways "Group 2" was 994 miles of waterways that were to be retained but if traffic did not increase they were to be downgraded to Group 3. "Group 1" at just 336 miles was the smallest group. These were waterways to be developed and consisted of the Aire & Calder Navigation (including the Ouse Lower Improvement), Gloucester & Berkeley Canal and the River Severn, Grand Union Canal below Berkhamsted, Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation, River Lee (below Enfield Lock), River Trent and the River Weaver.

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 1978, after years of fighting, the improvement scheme for the Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation was finally approved.

The Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation improvements were offically opened in 1983 (see photograph of Sprotborough Lock).

A Campaign Festival, attended by 118 boats and around 10,000 people, was held in June 1991 at Sheffield to promote the Sheffield Canal and to get it upgraded from a "remainder" waterway to "Cruiseway" status.

River Lee

In March 1955 the Board of Survey reported and recommended the disposal of 771 miles of waterway including some canals that had already been abandoned and closed to traffic. These were called "Group 3" waterways "Group 2" was 994 miles of waterways that were to be retained but if traffic did not increase they were to be downgraded to Group 3. "Group 1" at just 336 miles was the smallest group. These were waterways to be developed and consisted of the Aire & Calder Navigation (including the Ouse Lower Improvement), Gloucester & Berkeley Canal and the River Severn, Grand Union Canal below Berkhamsted, Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation, River Lee (below Enfield Lock), River Trent and the River Weaver.

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 October 1956 Captain Lionel Munk of Maid Line Cruisers organised, as he had several times before, a campaign cruise using his hire boats. This time five boats went from Thames Ditton to the rivers Lee and Stort achieving publicity in the local and national press.

IWA National Waterways Festival was held at Lea Bridge on the River Lee in 1980. About 500 boats and 25,000 people attended.

The photograph shows the 1989 IWA National Festival at Waltham Abbey on the River Lee was sponsored by Volvo Penta. It attracted 525 boats and 50,000 visitors.

IWA National Festival was at Waltham Abbey on the River Lee again in 1994.

In 2000 IWA National Festival was held at Waltham Abbey for a fourth time.

Leeds & Liverpool Canal

In April 1950 Peter Scott set off aboard Beatrice on a combined campaign voyage and lecture tour for the Severn Wildfowl Trust that was to take him north to Liverpool, across the Mersey to the Manchester Ship Canal and back to Slimbridge by a different route. He was accompanied on this voyage by various leading IWA figures including Robert Aickman.

In 1955 the North-Eastern Branch held a Rally at Skipton.

In 1961 a three week inspection tour was made by Captain Munk and Robert Aickman aboard two Maid Line boats. This time the journey started from Maid Line's new base at Brinklow and included the River Trent, Calder & Hebble Navigation, Leeds & Liverpool Canal and a return journey on the Trent & Mersey Canal.

The deteriating state of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and concerns for its future led to the 1965 IWA National Rally being held at Blackburn. Mr & Mrs Joe Skinner were awarded the Alfred Ritchie Challenge Cockerel for the best working boat Friendship (see photograph).

To counter the exclusion of the Aintree to Liverpool section of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal from the designated "Cruiseways" and to improve the image of the canal in Liverpool IWA held their 1968 National Rally in the city. Around 170 boats attended.

A Stoppage of several months during occurred during 1979 at Foulridge Tunnel on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

IWA National Rally was held at Wigan in 1983. Around 50,000 people and 428 boats attended.

A long stoppage took place on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in 1991 due to an embankment failure at Blackburn.

In February 2003 the first meeting of the St. Helens Canal Steering Group took place to pursue the restoration of the St. Helens Canal (Sankey Brook Navigation) and to build a new link from it to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

Grand Union Welford Branch

The restoration of the Grand Union Welford Branch was the objective of the newly formed Market Harborough Old Union Canal Society.

Voluteer labour continued to make its mark in 1968 with work being done on the Welford Branch.

Shrewsbury & Newport Canal

In 1965 the IWA Honorary Consulting Engineer, Dr. Boucher, produced a detailed report on the costs involved in restoration of the waterway. The easiest and most practical section of the canal with which the Shrewsbury and Newport Canal Association would deal with first, is from Norbury Junction to Newport; Dr. Boucher estimated that 36,000 would be sufficient to complete this part of the work.

The Shropshire Union Canal Society was formed in 1968 with the aim of protecting the Shrewsbury & Newport branches of the canal. These had been legally abandoned for over 20 years but were still largely intact and were threatened with piecemeal sale. This would inevitably have meant that parts of the canals would be filled in and structures destroyed so that any hope of restoration would have been destroyed.

This followed a period when many navigable canals were lost and canal restoration was not a popular concept. The Society's prime concern was on other parts of the Shropshire Union system while much of the canal from Norbury Junction to Shrewsbury was sold to neighbouring landowners.

The Shrewsbury & Newport Canals Trust was formed in 2000 to promote restoration of the Shrewsbury & Newport Canals.

Caldon Canal

The Milton Maid undergoes trials.Some encouraging news came in 1967 when commercial traffic returned in the shape of the Milton Maid, a new boat designed to carry pottery from the works of Johnson Bros, (Hanley) Ltd, to their packing depot four miles down the canal.

The Caldon Canal Society was founded in 1969.

In September 1974 the Caldon Canal restoration was complete and the navigation was declared open.

In 1981 Leek Tunnel, on the Leek Branch of the Caldon Canal was closed.

Stourbridge Canal

Late in 1959 campaign cruises were made on the Stourbridge Canal with Crick Grundy on his boat Heron and by the boat Bumblebee. The campaign was spread over several weeks as padlocked lock gates, masonary in the canal and other obstructions were discovered.

The 1962 IWA National Rally held at Stourbridge to draw attention to the poor state of the Stourbridge Canal and to oppose plans to close the waterway. The rally was held in defiance of British Waterways claims that the participates had no right to use the canal or to clear the obstructions to navigation. The result was that a record number of boats attended the rally and much favourable publicity was obtained.

Max Sinclair took part in this campaign and writes:-


In the late 1950's miles of the English Canal system were so badly maintained that the passage of boats became almost impossible. Lock gates were vandalised and burned and brickwork pushed into the canal from locks and bridges.

Boats gather in the rain at the 1962 IWA National Rally - Photo by Max Sinclair.In 1961 the Inland Waterways Association planned to hold their 1962 National Boat Rally in Stourbridge. In preparation members of the Midland Branch arranged an exploratory cruise from the Staffs. and Worcs. Canal up the near derelict Stourbridge Canal and into the Stourbridge Arm which enters the town. (This waterway was originally designed to continue north of Bromsgrove and then turn south to Worcester. Financial problems stopped construction in Stourbridge and the Worcester to Birmingham canal became the major waterway.)

The flotilla made their way with difficulty up the Locks removing tons of rubbish and sealing the gates with tarpaulin sheets. Turning into the Stourbridge arm we were greeted by some of the volunteers standing on dry land in the middle of the canal. A local readymixed concrete company had tipped all their washings into the canal forming a hard scour. As 'Vesta' was the most powerful boat we were 'volunteered' to attack the bank and with enthusiastic hauling on a long rope from the towpath we charged into the wall of spoil.

1962 IWA National Rally: forcing a passage into the town - Photo by Max Sinclair.It was not long before we became well and truly stuck. After several rammings we finally broke through and with the help of 'Dane' and its wonderful Bolinder Engine flushing the scour alongside us we were pulled back to allow the smaller boats to crawl into the town. 'Dane' then towed us backwards to the Stourbridge canal as the light failed. We arrived back at Ashwood Basin at midnight, this seemed to be usual in those days of obstructed canal cruising, all the children were sleeping in the boatmen's cabin.

A month later in company with Phil Hutchings motor boat we climbed the Stourbridge canal up to Netherton Tunnel ,fighting leaking locks,and on to Oldbury taking three days. Returning on Phil's motor bike took quarter of an hour. We were the last boats to pass up the canal which continued to collapse until a massive campaign by the IWA ,despite British Waterways opposition ,reopened the flight to Dudley and Netherton Tunnels which now receive thousands of visitors.


The Sixteen Locks on the Stourbridge Canal were re-opened in 1967 by John Morris MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, who made an enthusiastic speech about the waterways network.

Bridgewater Canal

On the 23 July 1949 70 people attended the IWA outing on the canal and were transported in two narrowboats. The trip included a especaily arranged opening of the Barton Swing Aqueduct and attracted some favourable articles in the national press.

1988 IWA National Boat RallyOver 500 boats attended the 1972 IWA National Rally at Lymm on the Bridgewater Canal.

The 1988 IWA National Boat Rally and Carnival was held at Castlefield at the junction of the Bridgewater Canal and the Rochdale Canal in the centre of Manchester. Photograph by Waterway Images.

The new Pomona Lock opened in 1995 replacing Hulme Lock as the link between the Bridgewater Canal and the Manchester Ship Canal.

The 2005 IWA National Festival was held at Preson Brook on the Bridgewater Canal where the restored Shroppie Fly boat Saturn was one of the hundreds of boats attending.

Grand Union - Slough Branch

The Slough Canal Group was formed in 1968 to oppose the Slough Council plan to buy part of the canal and to fill it in to use as part of a ring road. Their campaign was backed by IWA London & Home Counties Branch as well as the local press and the council subsequently dropped the scheme.

Calder & Hebble Navigation

Brighouse Basin Entrance - May 2001In 1961 a three week inspection tour was made by Captain Munk and Robert Aickman aboard two Maid Line boats. This time the journey started from Maid Line's new base at Brinklow and included the River Trent, Calder & Hebble Navigation, Leeds & Liverpool Canal and a return journey on the Trent & Mersey Canal.

Gloucester & Sharpness Ship Canal

In 1949 Peter Scott bought the narrowboat Beatrice to use as afloating hostel at his Wildfowl Trust at Slimbridge. On the way to Slimbridge Beatrice was taken through the notorious Tunnel Lane, Lifford bridge that had still not been replaced by a drawbridge.

In April 1950 Peter Scott set off aboard Beatrice on a combined campaign voyage and lecture tour for the Severn Wildfowl Trust that was to take him north to Liverpool, across the Mersey to the Manchester Ship Canal and back to Slimbridge by a different route. He was accompanied on this voyage by various leading IWA figures including Robert Aickman.

Patch bridgeIn 1951 IWA suggested to the Inland Waterways Executive that more extensive moorings for pleasure craft should be made available in Gloucester Docks.

In 1952 Peter Scott offered the Severn Wildfowl Trust's narrowboat Beatrice for sale at 1,500.

In March 1955 the Board of Survey reported and recommended the disposal of 771 miles of waterway including some canals that had already been abandoned and closed to traffic. These were called "Group 3" waterways "Group 2" was 994 miles of waterways that were to be retained but if traffic did not increase they were to be downgraded to Group 3. "Group 1" at just 336 miles was the smallest group. These were waterways to be developed and consisted of the Aire & Calder Navigation (including the Ouse Lower Improvement), Gloucester & Berkeley Canal and the River Severn, Grand Union Canal below Berkhamsted, Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation, River Lee (below Enfield Lock), River Trent and the River Weaver.

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 1990 IWA National Festival held at Gloucester was sponsored by Volvo Penta and had Sonia Rolt, Charles Hadfield and Sir John Knill as Patrons.

River Trent

In March 1955 the Board of Survey reported and recommended the disposal of 771 miles of waterway including some canals that had already been abandoned and closed to traffic. These were called "Group 3" waterways "Group 2" was 994 miles of waterways that were to be retained but if traffic did not increase they were to be downgraded to Group 3. "Group 1" at just 336 miles was the smallest group. These were waterways to be developed and consisted of the Aire & Calder Navigation (including the Ouse Lower Improvement), Gloucester & Berkeley Canal and the River Severn, Grand Union Canal below Berkhamsted, Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation, River Lee (below Enfield Lock), River Trent and the River Weaver.

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 1961 a three week inspection tour was made by Captain Munk and Robert Aickman aboard two Maid Line boats. This time the journey started from Maid Line's new base at Brinklow and included the River Trent, Calder & Hebble Navigation, Leeds & Liverpool Canal and a return journey on the Trent & Mersey Canal.

Pollution on the TrentIn 1971 (not for the first time) the issue of pollution of the waterways was raised (see photograph of the River Trent).

IWA National Rally held at Nottingham on the River Trent in 1974 and attracted over 600 boats. Drawing attention to the nearby Grantham Canal restoration was one of its objectives.

In 1982 British Waterways undertook several major engineering projects including Stoke Bardolph Lock on the River Trent.

River Rother

1959 bought a new threat to the river when the Kent River Board proposed to build a dam across the river blocking navigation. After protests from IWA it was agreed that tidal doors 35 feet wide would be provided for shipping and a lock for smaller craft.

Narrowboats (Commercial carrying on narrow canals)

In December 1949, IWA Council appoinited a Sub-Committee to investigate and to endeavour to bring about improvements in the conditions on working boats on the Grand Union and other canals. The Committee consisted of Lord Lucan, Mrs.Sonia Smith, Mr.John Knill, and Mr.L.T.C.Rolt. The Sub-Committee submitted its first report to the Council in June 1950, which concentrated on improving the communication between the boatmen and their reprsentatives (Transport & General Workers Union) and on the education of boat children.

In 1952 IWA Midlands Branch publicised an Inland Waterways Executive scheme under which they invited members of the public to acquire experience of canal trading by operating the working boat KIMBERLEY between the Midlands and the north west along the Shropshire Union Canal and adjoining waterways. Unfortunately the scheme was dropped for several reasons. The first was that one of the crew on the first trip broke his ankle and a paid crew had to bring the boat back. Secondly, the treatment of the boat was not as good as it might have been. Thirdly, slow handling meant that some crews vacated the boat before reaching Wolverhampton. Fourthly, there was the boatmen's objection that the KIMBERLEY claimed first turn in the loading sequence no matter how long the other boatmen had been waiting. In the face of these problems the scheme was abandoned.

In 1953 IWA Bulletin 37 contained an article by Leslie Morton, former General Manager of the Grand Union Canal Company, which explained the history of the company's bold pre-war expansion plans, the obstacles, sucesses and how they could be applied to the post war development of trade. The same year Robert Aickman suggests the formation of a co-operative of newcomers to the industry.

The following extract is from IWA Bulletin 60, December 1959.

We have more information about the sinking of narrow boats in Harefield Flash. Members will recall that this occurrence was referred to on page eight in Bulletin when we challenged British Waterways to offer a denial. As recorded in Bulletin 59, no denial was received.

Further investigation has disclosed that not six boats have been sunk, but twenty-four. None of these appear to have been offered for sale; though a firm of carriers inform us that they might have purchased several, and the demand for converted narrow boats is now so great that, for better or for worse, almost any craft that will float at all, can be sold. British Waterways themselves keep a list of applicants for boats suited to conversion. Instead of offering the boats for sale, British Waterways apparently paid the owners of the water where the sinkings took place, a substantial sum, in the same way that payment is made for the privilege of using land as a rubbish dump; and that they paid also for a breach to be made, and later repaired, in a dyke, 20' wide and 3' high, which separates the subsidiary flash (normally an isolated lake), from the main flash, which is accessible from the canal. The boats were towed through this temporary channel, and then sunk right across the subsidiary flash, like the fleet at Scapa Flow. Finally, all these operations appear to have been carried out at a week-end, on overtime. One can perhaps surmise why.

Not the least alarming feature of the case is that Sir Brian Robertson apparently stated in writing to Wing Commander Grant-Ferris, M.P., that the boats were required for bank repairs. Any Member who wishes to check the veracity of this, should visit the place in question. The boats are sunk in rows, gunwale to gunwale, though they are rapidly being covered with spoil.

When a public corporation behaves like this, and as British Waterways are behaving in the case of Water Buck on the Regent's Canal, it is extremely difficult to know what to do. It is the same problem as was presented in dealing with Hitler. Our social organization is simply not constituted to deal with flat untruths in high places.

Lock Cottages

Concerns over the future of lock cottages and other canalside building that are part of our waterway heritage has been a constant theme in the work of IWA.

In 1953 IWA supported the Bewdley Civic Society's Appeal on behalf of Bewdley Bridge Toll House, which was designed by Thomas Telford, was the last of Telford's Toll Houses to survive, and constituted an important feature of the landscape on the River Severn. The building had been condemned as dangerous, but the Worcestershire County Council, who were the owners, offered a contribution of 300 towards its repair, for which a total sum of 1500 was needed. It was proposed to let the structure after the completion of repairs. Several bodies made donations to the fund An appeal for the Toll House was made at the Annual General Meeting of IWA Midlands Branch.

In 1954 it was noted that a number of cottages on the Oxford Canal were empty and that the British Transport Commission seemed to have no plans to make use of them.

In April 1960 IWA Bulletin 61 published the following item. The photos show Falling Sands Lock Cottage on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal in the years 1959 and 1960.

Derelict Lock Cottages

They let them fall to bits, they refuse to sell them, they bash them down. All over the waterways system they do it, on the busy navigations as well as on the idle ones. And now the April issue of "The Caravan" tells us that "the London Caravan Company have supplied British Waterways with Willerby Mobilhomes for lock-keepers."

No criticism or comment made by us could be more completely damning than this bare statement of fact.

It is understood that a Cardiff businessman has made an offer (doubtless inspired by undue hopefulness concerning Mr. Macmillan's statement) to take over and operate all the refreshment rooms belonging to the British Transport Commission. We suggest that an individual or company of enterprise might succeed in similarly taking over all the unused lock cottages and kindred structures beside the nationalised navigations. Properly, they should be obtainable for nothing: they are simply a burden on the Commission, which has every now and then to pay for demolishing a series of them. The buildings could be reconditioned and sold or let at the utmost profit; for in the conditions of the modern world, they are among the most desirable residences in Great Britain, and there is even now a long line of would-bc purchasers and tenants to prove it. If the Commission fights as hard to hold on to these unwanted structures as they did to hold on to the unwanted Stratford Canal, the entrepreneur will have to be of suitable substance; but if only the buildings can be got, the profits can be guaranteed. If a National Waterways Conservancy obtains possession in time, it could confine occupation to boat owners, thus deriving income from two sources, in accordance with the technique we advocate.

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