The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) History

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The book Narrow Boat by L T C Rolt was published and touched a chord with the British public. It described the author's journey in 1939 around the canals in his narrowboat Cressy, which was also home for him and his new bride. The book captured the spirit of the fast declining waterways and of the special breed of people that lived and worked on them.


One of the many people who wrote to Tom Rolt in response to Narrow Boat was a literary agent and aspiring author called Robert Aickman It was he who suggested to Rolt the idea of the formation of a society to campaign to regenerate the canals. This was an idea that had not occurred to Rolt who was by nature a private man but he embraced the proposal enthusiastically. The two men and their wives Angela and Ray first met aboard Cressy at Tardebigge, near Bromsgrove on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal in August. The two couples quickly established a good working relationship that included cruising on Tom and Angela's boat and visits to Robert and Ray's London Flat in Gower Street.


It was at Gower Street that the inaugural meeting of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) took place on the 15 February. Robert Aickman was appointed chairman and Tom Rolt Honorary Secretary. The role of vice-chairman was taken by Charles Hadfield, a canal historian who later became predominate in his field, but he left the post in September because he and Aickman took an instant dislike to each other. The job of treasurer was filled by Frank Eyre, who was a friend of Hadfield.

In November the first Bulletin was issued informing members that the Kennet & Avon, Stratford Canal and Suffolk Stour were among their most prominent campaigns.


Sir Alan Patrick Herbert became the Association's President a position he held for the rest of his life. Peter Scott became the first IWA vice-president and was later joined by the Right Honorable Earl of Portsmouth and Algernon Newton RA.

An IWA burgee with the sword design by Frank Luzmore was offered for sale at 16 shillings (80p). The Association's first official outing was made on the Lancaster Canal.

May 1947 saw the IWA's first campaign cruise when the Rolts aboard Cressy challenged the Great Western Railway (GWR), the owners of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal, at Tunnel Lane, Lifford bridge at Kings Norton. The bridge here had replaced a former drawbridge and was too low to allow boat passage even though a statutory right of navigation existed on the canal. A question in parliament, raised by Lord Methuen who had recently joined the IWA, and a notice of intention to navigate made by Tom Rolt had forced the GWR to lift the bridge to allow Cressy to pass.

There was also action on the state of the Kennet & Avon and objections to the proposed abandonment of the Derby and Barnsley Canals.

On the 14 October Sir Alan Patrick Herbert opened the first waterways exhibition in the Mansard Gallery at Heal's store in Tottenham Court Road, London.


The first IWA New year party took place on the 10th January and at the end of the month Robert Aickman and John Gould spoke at a public meeting in Newbury about the neglect of the Kennet & Avon Canal. IWA also opposed proposals to extract more water from the rivers Chelmer, Nene and Kennet. The Association also started to advocate the use of the many canal lock cottages that were empty. The Tunnel Lane, Lifford Campaign was maintained both through using the route to ensure the fixed bridge was regularly lifted and through lobbying.

The problems on the Kennet & Avon Canal continue to need much attention. The Railway Executive, who have run the former GWR waterway since nationalisation, claim that boats longer than 69 feet can not pass through the locks. There were also other restrictions such as banning navigation on Saturday afternoon and Sundays. However, more boats were using the canal now than for many years before, including Hesperus the narrowboat of IWA Council Member Colonel Lord Bingham. The issues were raised in parliament by IWA member J A Sparks MP.

The Midlands Branch became the first of the many IWA branches. The Docks and Inland Waterways Executive were set up to look after all the nationalised waterways and IWA started constructive talks with them. The great disparity of tolls on various canals was one of the issues IWA wanted remedied.

The Association declares itself in deserpate need of a typewriter, all the work being done on borrowed machines. An interest in Measham ware is reported with Angela Rolt having been offered 50 for her teapot displayed in the Waterways Exhibition. The Rolts and the Grundys cruised together up the entire length of the Llangollen Canal.

The British Tourist and Holidays Board were approached to advocate canal holidays. Only two hire boat companies were available for people wanting holidays on the canals. One enterprising firm started running boat trips on the Lancaster Canal. IWA members and guests went on a trip on the Lee & Stort.

A second more ambitious campaign cruise took place in August when the Ailsa Craig was hired for six weeks from R H Wyatt at Stone. This was to cruise the northern canals including what was probably the last complete crossing of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal before its restoration in 2001.

The waterways exhibition started a tour starting at Birkenhead in January and visiting Luton, Bristol, Darlington, Leeds and Northampton.

News of the sale of the Basingstoke Canal came late in the year. Meanwhile members were urged to sign Deeds of Covenant so that the IWA could claim back income tax on membership fees. Not for the first time, the lack of funds to pay a full-time organiser is raised as a problem.


The new year started with continuing concerns over the Kennet & Avon Canal and Basingstoke Canal (eventualy sold to a group that included IWA members) and new threats of clousure of the Rochdale Canall (later in the year the threats to navigation were withdrawn from the Rochdale Canal Bill). The Swansea and Monmouthshire canals were also under threat of abandonment. Concern about the future of the Forth & Clyde Canal was raised as the Fallkirk Locks had all been filled-in and regional planners had recommended closing the whole waterway. The poor state of Bridgwater and Taunton Canal was also the subject of complaint. Other canals where concerns were rasied were the Manchester, Bolton & Bury, Llangollen, Grantham and the Barnsley Canal.

The waterways exhibition continued its tour to Birmingham and finished in Leamington Spa in April. Proposals were made for the creation of a Canal Museum using some of the items from the exhibition.

Plans for the Cut-off channel that was to take flood waters from the tributaries of the Great Ouse were examined and found to have little adverse effect on navigation. The question of pollution of the Grand Union Canal from the waters of the River Gade were highlighted. The new Blue and Yellow colours introduced by the Docks & Inland Waterways Executive to replace the traditional narrowboat painting were opposed by IWA, a view that was soon echoed by most of the national press.

The Kennet & Avon Branch was formed in January and the North Eastern Branch in April. The latter soon interested themselves in the need for repairs at Linton Lock and launched an appeal fund. In October the Fenlands Branch was inaugurated covering the Middle Level, Welland, Nene, Great Ouse and its tributaries.

The Midland Branch turn their attention to the neglected southern section of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. Robert Aickman wrote to the Evesham Journal proposing the complete restoration of the Warwickshire Avon.

A broadcast for children by the IWA chairman resulted in nearly 500 enquiries about holidays on canals. Unfortunately a very small number of hire boats were availble and the toll system did not encourage pleasure boating. In IWA Bulletin 21 the 17-year old Tom Foxon appealed for work on the canals. This was the start of his boating career the story of which is told in his book Anderton for Orders.

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 October John Auther Boden-Tebbutt was appointed IWA General Secretary to become the Association's first full-time paid employee. At the same time Elizabeth Jane Howard, who had worked for the IWA since 1946, left following the publication of her first novel and soon after joined the IWA Council.

Forward to 1950

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