The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) History

Back to History page

Exeter Ship Canal

With the future of the canal in doubt the IWA South West Branch launched a campaign in 1969 to save the waterway.

Birmingham Canal Navigations

The Birmingham Canal Navigations Society was founded in 1968.

An estimated 500 boats attended the 1969 IWA National Rally in the centre of Birmingham.

IWA 1978 National Rally was intended to be held at Windmill End on the Dudley Canal but at short notice was switched to Titford Pools (see photograph) on another part of the Birmingham Canal Navigations> because of the Netherton Tunnel needed urgent repair works.

A Stoppage of several months during continued during 1979 at Netherton Tunnel which was still closed from the previous year.

Around 40.000 people and just under 500 boats attended the 1982 IWA National Rally at Titford on the Birmingham Canal Navigations. The "National" had been held here in 1978 and this is the first time it had returned to a previous venue.

In 1992 concerns were raised over the Birmingham Relief Road which threatened to cut off the Ridgacre Branch of the Birmingham Canal Navigations and about 50 boats took part in a Protest Criuse but the branch was closed in November.

The Inland Waterways Association National Campaign Festival was held Pelsall on the Birmingham Canal Navigations in 1994.

Ashby Canal

In 1948 IWA Bulletin 8 mentioned the Ashby Canal and "suggests that some of our Members with boats may be glad to be reminded that, although in need of dredging (until nationalization it was the property of the L.M. & S.Railway), this waterway offers a level of 27 miles without locks from Marston Junction, where it runs into the Coventry Canal. The remaining milage of the Ashby Canal was abandoned by the L.M. & S.R. under their notorious Bill of 1943".

Bulletin 16 later in 1948 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.

IWA Bulletin 54 - May 1957 - reported:

"The Ashby Canal was originally thirty miles long; and 'through out its length it has no locks. During the late War, when opposition to such transactions was at its minimum, the London Midland & Scottish Railway Company (successors to the Midland Railway, which had acquired the waterway during the nineteenth century) obtained from Parliament power to close something less than three miles at the top of the waterway. The present proposal is to close the next three miles or thereabouts. It is a good example of our contention that one closure inevitably leads to another (and is often planned to do so), until little is left.

The Ashby Canal still carries coal traffic. It is true that at present this traffic does not proceed beyond the point (Measham, until 1939 famous for its distinctive canal pottery) where the section commences which it is proposed to close; but the entire upper part of the Canal, including the portion dosed already, traverses a district thick with collieries and other industrial enterprises. The regrettable closure in several cases of waterside loading facilities should not be regarded as a reason for making the upper part of this waterway finally unavailable for traffic. In fact, for some time past, navigation above the Measham district has been made impossible by a barrier erected across the waterway on a legal basis of extreme dubiety. It may be added that the Ashby Canal in its central and southern portions is of great beauty, and could provide valuable recreation to the residents of the northern and industrial portion." The photo shows the barrier.

The Ashby Canal Association was founded in 1966.

One of the two Inland Waterways Association National Trailboat Festivals that were held in 2000 was at Moria on the Ashby Canal.

Work was progressing in 2001 on the 700m restored section of the Ashby Canal at Moria.

Droitwich Canal

In 1973 the Droitwich Canal Trust was setup with the object of restoring navigation to the town. This was done with with help from IWA West Midlands region, Worcester County Council and Droitwich Town Development Committee and in October the same year 500 volunteers took part in a big dig (see Photograph).

IWA Waterway Recovery Group (WRG) strongly supported the scheme from the outset, and many IWA leading figures were members of the Trust, including Mike West and Ken Goodwin, both for very many years. David Stevenson was a trustee and Mike West was the Trust's longest serving treasuer. IWA financed (from the Pitts legacy) and WRG executed rebuilding of the locks on the Junction Canal. However, the Trust suffered from a lack of a substantial local membership and local political infighting.

In March 2003 the Inland Waterways Association announced that the winner of The Kenneth Goodwin Trophy for 2002 was the Droitwich Canals Trust. The Droitwich Canals Trust had, with the help of a grant from IWA and a series of weeklong and weekend Waterway Recovery Group (WRG) work parties, restored Hanbury Locks and, as a result, for the first time in 60 years, a boat was navigated down the three locks from the junction with the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. This flight of locks was one of the last flights of narrow locks to be built on the UK's Midlands connected waterways during the Victorian era.


River Ouse (Yorkshire) and the River Ure

The North Eastern Branch in April 1949 and soon interested themselves in the need for repairs at Linton Lock and launched an appeal fund. IWA 1975 National Festival at York

IWA 1975 National Festival at York on the River Ouse was sponsored by Shell. The first year since 1964 that the event was called a Festival rather than a Rally. Photo by Waterway Images

IWA made a 1,000 loan to the Linton Lock Commissioners 1n 1981 so they could dredge the cut above the lock to reopen the lock following winter floods.

Shropshire Union 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. North Western Branch Rally at Chester

In 1959 The North Western Branch organised the August IWA Rally at Chester (see photograph).

The Shropshire Union Canal Society was founded in 1964 to promote all parts of the Shropshire Union system and particulaly the Montgomery Canal.

A Stoppage of several months during occurred during 1979 at Tyrley Cutting on the Shropshire Union Canal.

In 1995 the Inland Waterways Association's National Festival at Chester on the Shropshire Union Canal.

Wiltshire & Berkshire Canal

The Wilts and Berks Canal Amenity Group (W&BCAG) had its origins in a 1977 meeting called, through a letter in Waterways World, by Neil Rumbol. He appealed for people who were interested in preserving the remains of the Wilts & Berks Canal. Their aim was just to record and preserve the remains of the canal, and to develop isolated parts of it as local amenities. They successfully cleared and rewatered several stretches canal and in 1979 they were continuing with restoration work.

By 1987 public support for canal restoration had become widespread and aim of the Group changed to full restoration of the canal using as much of the original line and infrastructure as possible, although diversions would be needed in many places. 1998 IWA National Trailboat Festival

In May 1998 IWA National Trailboat Festival was held at Wootton Bassett and attracted 50 powered craft and many canoes, inflatables and other unpowered boats. (Photo by Bernard Snell).

The (first) Wilts & Berks Canal Trust (W&BCT) was formed in 1997. W&BCAG was a founder member of the Trust together with North Wilts District Council, West Wilts District Council, Swindon Borough Council, Vale of the White Horse District Council, Oxfordshire County Council and Wiltshire County Council. In March 1998 Trust published the encouraging results of a feasibility study which led to a Strategic Study being commissioned on which their later work was based.

Because the structure of the Trust made it impossible for them to obtain some of the funds and grants that were available for canal restoration the existing Trust was wound up in 2001 and re-emerged as the Wilts & Berks Canal Partnership. The new Wilts & Berks Canal Partnership has attracted new members and provides a basis for restoration to proceed.

Wey & Arun Canal

In the 19th Century it was possible to travel by boat from London to Littlehampton on the south coast of England via Weybridge, Guildford, Pulborough and Arundel. The route was via the rivers Wey and Arun linked between Shalford in Surrey, and Pallingham in Sussex, by the 23-mile Wey and Arun Canal.

The Wey and Arun Canal formed a vital link, the only one between the south coast and the Thames linking London and the busy river Thames with the English Channel and beyond. After the Industrial Revolution, commercial trade on the canal gradually increased, with 23,000 tons carried at its peak in 1839. However, with the coming of the railways the canal could not compete and by 1868 canal traffic had virtually ceased leading, in 1871, to and Act of Abandonment.

Occasional traffic carried on after the official closure but the land was sold off. Although regarded as a feature of local interest, for most of its length the canal remained little more than a stagnant, overgrown depression in the ground.

In 1965 IWA issued the following statement in Bulletin 75:-

"For the peace of mind of our Members, we should like to officially state that the Association does not intend to 'reopen the Wey-Arun Canal during 1966', contrary to wide-spread reports, appearing in South Coast newspapers during August, followed by remarks in the Evening News gossip column on 2nd September, and finally suzgested in the yachting press in October. It appears that a retired Arundel businessman, Mr. Norman Vaughan, plans to open a marina for 1,000 craft on the Arun at Ford. He envisages a great flow of boats between London and Littlehampton, following the completion of the I.W.A.'s 'reopening scheme'.

While restoration of this route is highly desirable, it is unfortunately quite impractical at the present time, if we can manage to save all our existing waterways from closure, we can then turn our attention to the Wey-Arun and similar navigations. Meanwhile, we wonder where Mr. Vaughan obtained his information : we regard his notion that we are capable of rebuilding such a derelict route within the space of one year, as the highest compliment !"

In 1970 a few enthusiastic individuals formed the Wey & Arun Canal Society. More supporters were quickly gained, and in 1973 the Society was re-formed as a charitable Trust Company, the Wey & Arun Canal Trust Limited.

The aim of the Trust is to achieve the restoration, as a public amenity, of the navigable link between the Rivers Wey and Arun, and so recreate the direct water link between London and the South Coast. The Trust has reached agreement with landowners that restoration work could take place on over half the 23-mile total length. Already, twelve bridges and an aqueduct have been reconstructed, six locks restored, culverts rebuilt and several miles of canal bed cleared and dredged. Work has been carried out in the Bramley, Run Common, Loxwood, Billingshurst and Pulborough areas.

The Trust has an agreed Conservation Policy by which it hopes to re-create a Victorian landscape along the canal corridor, with deliberate creation and maintenance of a diverse and interesting range of wildlife habitats.

Restoration work took place in 1979 on the Wey & Arun Canal (see photograph of Pallingham Bridge). This work has continued over the years and many parts of the channel and structures have been restored.

Neath and Tennant Canals

In 1979 restoration work continued on the Neath and Tennant Canals with IWA Waterways number 126 reporting that "Work is now concentrated on the Aberclwyd to Rheola section where the canal is substantially cleared. The Jubilee Pound on the Neath Canal from Yscwrfa Lock to Maesgwynn Lock has been dredged. The Prince of Wales' Committee has promised 4,400 to reconstruct the Neath Canal workshops. West Glamorgan C.C. are proposing a public Right of Way along the entire Neath Canal from Neath to Glynneath."

The following information was kindly provided by Ian Milne the General Secretary of the Neath & Tennant Canals Preservation Society.


The Neath & Tennant Canals Preservation Society was formed in 1974 at the Castle Hotel in Neath where the original meeting to form the Neath Canal and Navigation was held in 1790. It became a limited company in 1977 and a registered charity. Its aim is to restore both the Neath and Tennant canals and to link with the Swansea SA1 development.

With support from the local Authorities and the Canal owners, the 3½ mile length from Resolven to Ysgwrfa was restored and opened, including the restoration of seven locks and the construction of a new aqueduct over Nant Clwyd. This project received both a prestigious Europa Nostra Award in 1988 and a Prince of Wales' Award for its restoration. Aberdulais Basin, at the junction of the two canals, was restored in the late 70's by the Society and recieved a Civic Trust Award and its first Prince of Wales' Award in 1978.

The Society has a quarterly newslettter Aqueduct and runs a trip boat Thomas Dadford during the summer months from Neath Town centre to Tonna. This boat has been run by volunteers since 1990, spending its first 8 years on the newly restored stretch at Resolven (see photograph).

At present the Neath Canal Company are dredging 7 kilometres of the Neath Canal between Abergarwed and tonna to remove toxic silt deposited from old mine workings in the Neath Valley and as shareholders of NCN, the Society liases closely with the Canal owners.

The Society owns the old Neath Canal workshops at Tonna comprising forge, smithy, joiners workshop and covered saw-pit. These were recently vanalised by arsonists but have now been completely rebuilt during 2004 and are used for social gatherings etc. The Neath & Tennant Canals Preservation Society meet socially on the last Wednesday in every month at the Smiths' Arms, Neath Abbey for various events e.g. skittles, slide shows.

The restoration of Tynyrheol Lock at Tonna is imminent, the work being due to begin in May/June 2005, with W. S. Atkins as consulting engineers. A consortium of the Society, the Neath Canal Company, Groundwork Bridgend Neath Port Talbot are prime movers in the restoration. So things are moving forward!

The Society work closely with other Canal Associations in Wales and are members the Southern Canals Association and the Inland Waterways Association.


Trent & Mersey Canal

In 1960 IWA National Rally was held at Stoke-on-Trent.

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.

In 1974 Harecastle Tunnel on the Trent & Mersey Canal was closed all year due to repairs being carried out on roof lining falls.

The Anderton Lift giving access between the Trent & Mersey Canal and the River Weaver was closed for seven months in 1981.

In 1982 British Waterways undertook several major engineering projects including work on Preston Brook Tunnel. The Anderton lift in 1995 before it was restored

The future of the Anderton Lift, giving access between the Trent & Mersey Canal and the River Weaver, which had been closed since 1983 was subject of a restoration campaign in 1986, following which the Anderton Boat Lift Development Group was formed.

A rally was held in 1987 to support the restoration of the Anderton Lift.

In February 1988 British Waterways and the Anderton Boat Lift Development Group displayed the first phase of the lift's restoration.

The restoration of the Anderton Lift was given the go-ahead in 1994 with English Heritage granting 500,000 towards the 3 million cost. The Anderton lift in 2002 after it was restored

The Anderton Boat lift trust submitted a bid to the National Heritage Lottery Board in 1997.

The Anderton Boat Lift was reopened on 26 March 2002 restoring the direct link between the River Weaver and the Trent & Mersey Canal.

The 2004 Inland Waterways Association National Festival was held at Burton on Trent on the Trent & Mersey Canal and even with some wet days attracted 24,000 visitors.

Herefordshire & Gloucestershire Canal

The Herefordshire & Gloucestershire Canal Trust was founded in 1983.

In 1999 the Herefordshire & Gloucestershire Canal Trust secured a section of canal at Over, near Gloucester.

The photograph (by Waterway Images) shows the new basin at Over on the Herefordshire & Gloucestershire Canal which was opened in September 2000 by Prunella Scales and Timothy West. Much of the work was done by the IWA Waterway Recovery Group (WRG).

River Severn

In 1949 the Mldiands Branch called the attention of the Chief Costable of Worcestershire to the nuisance, familiar to many IWA members, caused by swimmers in the River Severn, mainly boys, molesting passing craft by attempting to board them and by swimming across their bows. The Chief Constable replied sympathetically, and promised that next season his representative would make a voyage of inspection in a boat kindly lent by a Branch Member for the purpose. 1999 IWA National Festival at Worcester

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.

The 1999 IWA National Festival was held at Worcester on the River Severn.

Dudley Canal

In 1960 a protest cruise was held at Dudley Tunnel to counter proposals for its closure.
On this subject Max Sinclair writes:-

"In 1960 one of the Midland Branch members found out that British Rail were going to infill the northern portal of the tunnel with an embankment to replace a faulty bridge. They claimed the tunnel was unusable. One foggy Sunday a fleet of boats gathered at the Park Head portal with an old wooden Joey packed with members and Peter Froude and Robert Aickman on Saturn . With cries of "Abandon hope all ye who enter here" they set off to spend much of the day in the tunnel. The local press were present and gave good coverage which led to the awareness of this wonderful complex and the formation of the Tunnel Trust."
Max Sinclair's photograph shows Aickman standing on the roof of Saturn steered by Peter Froude as it heads into Parkhead Lock.

The Dudley Canal Trust was founded in 1964.

In 1970 a working party was in action to clear rubbish from Parkhead locks on the Dudley Canal. This was also the year that these voluteers became the Waterway Recovery Group (WRG).

At Easter 1973 on the Dudley Canal 320 boats and nearly 5,000 people gathered to mark the reopening of Dudley Tunnel.

In 1978 IWA National Rally was intended to be held at Windmill End on the Dudley Canal but at short notice was switched to Titford Pools on another part of the Birmingham Canal Navigations because of the Netherton Tunnel needed urgent repair works.

in 1990 a group of inland waterway enthusiasts formed the Lapal Canal Trust.

IWA National Festival was held at Windmill End on the Dudley Canal in 1991. 768 boats arrived and the police estimated that 385,000 people visited.

In 1996 IWA National Festival was held at Windmill End on the Dudley Canal.

Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation

In 1948 IWA Bulletin 12 repoerted "that the grave breach caused by the floods of last winter in the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation at Boeleigh has now boon repaired and that trade has been resumed upon the Navigation. All who know this useful and attractive waterway will agree that this is very good news indeed."

Bulletin 12 went on to say "Unfortunately it is accompanied by the news that the Chelmsford Corporation have applied to take another half-million gallons of water a day from the Chelmer. The Company of Proprietors are resisting this proposal strongly at the enquiry held by the Ministry of Health. Mr.Raffety, the Council's Consulting Engineer, declared at this enquiry that the Canal was 'practically derelict'. The ESSEX CHRONICLE reports him as asserting that it was not used during the war; and that he would be surprised if more than six barges 'came there all the time.' Mr.Raffety 'agreed with the Government who thought that the Canal was not worth taking over'. To these observations the Solicitors to the Proprietors replied In a forceful letter to the ESSEX CHRONICLE; In which occur the following passages:-. You report Mr.Rimmer's opening words and Mr.Raffety's remarks in which it was suggested that the Canal was 'practically derelict'. You fail even to mention the evidence called by the Navigation Company to rebut these unwarranted suggestions - suggestions which later on Mr.Rimmer was forced to disclaim. One wonders why the Corporation allowed such suggestions to be made by witnesses who had no personal knowledge of the facts. The Canal was in fact used during the war (as was later proved In evidence) and is regarded as essential by the important timber importing business conducted by Messrs.Brown & Son,Ltd. Far from being 'derellct', the Canal is in splendid condition and some thousands of standards of timber are now in process of carriage up the Canal."

IWA wrote to the ESSEX CHRONICLE a letter strongly protesting against the Corporation's proposals. IWA's view was that water supply authorities were making a determined set against rivers in many different parts of the country, but especially in East Anglia.

Bulletin 13 reported that Robert Aickman had written to the Proprietors; and had received the following reply:-

"Dear Sir,
I am obliged by your letter of 16th inst., with enclosures. Mr.Roughton is a personal friend of mine and I think I may say that this company as well as its Secretaries appreciate the work you are doing but we are inclined to think that the matter is really one of Politics in which this Company cannot usefully join. Personally I consider that you are fighting for a cause which is really already lost and I feel that the Nationalisation of all main lines of transport renders your task still more difficult. This Company is not really able to sympathise with the attitude you take up with regard to the river Chelmer. There is no other available source of water for the Town of Chelmsford and we feel that the Town must be supplied with water. All we have asked for is that the additional expense to which this Company is put should be met by the Corporation. We are not for one minute suggesting that the Town should not have water it needs.
Yours faithfully,
(signed) FRANCIS F. STUNT."

Bulletin 13 continues "In considering this reply, Members. will further recall that what in effect the Association offers to the Proprietors, as to others seeking a livelihood in the inland waterways industry, is advocacy of their cause with the general public and presentation of their case to the authorities, both things supported with all the prestige of a completely disinterested organization and offered virtually free of charge."
" We do not now allude further to the extreme undesirability of providing water for large towns by merely draining small rivers..."

This photo of a barge, fitted with a Harbourmaster power unit, near Beeleigh Lock appeared in IWA Buletin 57 - February 1957.

The 1993 IWA National Trail Boat Festival was held at Chelmsford on the Chelmer & Blackwater Navigation.

The Chelmer Canal Trust was formed in 1995.

Copyright (c) The Inland Waterways Association 2004 Notices
The Inland Waterways Association Reg. Office: 3 Norfolk Court, Norfolk Road, Rickmansworth, WD3 1LT 
A non-profit distributing company limited by guarantee. Registered in England no 612245. Registered as a charity No 212342