The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) History

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Back to 1949


The Highlight of the year was undoubtably the National Festival and Rally of Boats held at Market Harborough. A hundred boats attended. An event that would soon become a major annual gathering and showcase for the IWA.

In April 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 February members were told that the services of Mr Boden-Tebbutt, the IWA General Secretary, had not been retained beyond his three-month probationary period. Later Miss Joan Rosetta Davis was appointed to this post. At the AGM Tom Rolt announced he would be leaving his post of Honorary Secretary and that he would serve jointly with L A Edwards until the hand over of duties was complete.

The campaigns for the canals mentioned in previous years were continued. In addition the Worcester & Birmingham Canal was threatened with abandonment and Tom Rolt made a strong case in its defence in Bulletin 24. Fund raising was started for the restoration of the Lower Avon (see photo of Chadbury Lock). On the Kennet & Avon Canal news that several of the locks had been closed because of their dangerous condition was to prove to be the end of this route from Reading to Bristol for the next forty years.

The IWA also succeeded in getting a more uniform, and generally lower, toll rate for pleasure boats using the canals. Toll rates had previously varied greatly and had caused many difficulties to the use of the waterways for recreation. Increased fees and tolls on the River Thames were also opposed. On the Fossdyke Canal and River Witham the IWA managed to get locks openned on Sundays. Other signs of success were 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.

Three years after the IWA's first campaign cruise the Tunnel Lane, Lifford bridge at Kings Norton was replaced by a drawbridge. Efforts could now be concentrated on the southern section of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal.

The year concluded with what has been called the Association's first civil war. This clash of policy ended in Tom Rolt, Charles Hadfield and others leaving IWA. It was perhaps rooted in the very different personalities of Rolt and Aickman. Another consequence of this split was the loss of the IWA Kennet & Avon Branch.


Early in the year it was decided the IWA did not have the resources to mount another Festival & Rally of Boats at Market Harborgh (or elsewhere) but that they may hold the event again in 1952. However, the Association were successful in ensuring that narrowboats were moored on the Thames at the Festival of Britain and that their arrival obtained publicity for the cause.

IWA Vice-president Peter Scott addressed the inaugral meeting of the Great Ouse Restoration Society with the aim of restoring navigation of the river to Bedford. The recently formed Lower Avon Navigation Trust continued under the leadership of C D Barwell, who had purchased the navigation for 1,500 in 1949.

The North Western Branch of IWA was founded in March. The North Eastern Branch scored an early success with the repair and re-openning of Linton Lock. The Midlands Branch organised a rally of boats at Tewksbury on the River Avon.

Concrete staunches were installed on the abandoned Huddersfield Narrow Canal thus preventing any further attempts at navigation. The closing of the Stockport Branch of the Ashton Canal was opposed by IWA, as were new threats to the Rochdale Canal. Better news came from the Brecon & Abergavenny Canal where local authorities were considering taking over responsibilities for maintaining the waterway. 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 October 1951 Robert Aickman resigned his post as IWA chairman and was replaced by "Captain R M Bilton, Rn, DSO, MSc". Aickman then took the title of Founder & Vice-president which he held until his death in 1981.


IWA Head Office is moved from 11 Gower Street to 35 Great James Street, London WC1 and Mr R J Evans was appointed General Secretary. There are now 1,300 IWA members. A duplicating machine was given to IWA as a gift from the Mrs Smith Trust, an organisation that was to become a frequent source of funds. It was run by the wife of IWA Honorary Treasurer Captain Vivian Bulkeley-Johnson. Later in in year "Captain R M Bilton, Rn, DSO, MSc" resigned as IWA Chairman following allegations that he had claimed more titles and honours than were justified.

The Fenland Branch was reconstituted and new officers appointed following its collapse after the 1950 IWA civil war. The Midland Branch were busy finding active supporters for the restoration of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal.

Concerns were raised that navigation on the Lancaster Canal was being discouraged on the section from Tewitfield Locks to Kendal. The Stroudwater Navigation company called a public meeting to announce that they intended to abandon the canal. Detailed and general waterway concerns continued to be pursued including those relating to the River Cam, Grand Union - Leicester Section, Chesterfield Canal and the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads.

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

It was decided to hold another National Festival and Rally of Boats at Market Harborough but difficulties in raising funds and oppostion from the Market Harborough Advertiser caused the plan to be dropped. The Inland Waterways Association held a rally at Brecon.

The Royal Engineers work in restoring Chadbury Lock on the Lower Avon was an early example of enlisting new sources of labour for Waterway restoration.

On the parliamentary front the Transport Bill and the Rochdale Canal Bill claimed much attention.


Concerns were expressed at the start of the year 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.

Campaigns continued on many other canals and rivers and the previous high level of press interest was maintained.

Problems of getting goods transported on the Grand Union - Leicester Section which had been raised in the previous year continued. The Docks & Inland Waterways Executive producing a list of pathetic excuses as to why goods could not be taken from Leicester to London by canal. Although generally cordial relationships with the Docks & Inland Waterways Executive have been maintained it has become increasingly apparent that their parent organisation, the British Transport Commission, were blocking investment and development of the waterways in favour of rail, but mostly road transport.

Towards the end of the year the Barnsley Canal was abandoned and the Docks & Inland Waterways Executive was replaced by a Board of Management to be called "British Waterways".


The prospect of the closure of the Forth & Clyde Canal and the southern section of the Oxford Canal occupy the minds of IWA Members. An Act was passed ending navigation on the Stroudwater Canal and the British Transport Commission Bill included the abandonment of the Wyrley & Essigton Canal between Lichfield and Huddlesford Junction.

The Association's Annual Dinner was addressesd by Captain Lionel Munk of Maid Line Cruisers who spoke of the company's expansion from the Thames into canal boating and of their plans to build narrow beam hire cruisers for this purpose. This was perhaps the first time many IWA Members became aware of a man that was to play a leading role in the Association.

A Board of Survey, under the Chaimanship of Lord Rusholme, was set up covering British Transport Commission waterways. Evidence was given to this enquiry by IWA in August, including a call for tolls to be replaced.

An all-party group of Members of Parliament with interest in the waterways was formed. The IWA had a stand at the first London Boat Show that opened at Olympia on 30th December.


The 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. A special interim Report was issued by the Board of Survey recommending that the Kennet & Avon Canal should be abandoned, except for the River Avon section.

In March 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.
"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. Even within this group it was recommended that either the Staffordshire & Worcestershire or the Worcester & Birmingham Canal should be abandoned as two routes between the Severn and the Midlands were not required.
"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. By the end of the year when the new Transport Commission Bill was published the Kennet & Avon Canal was the only major waterway proposed for closure.

The Midlands Branch organise a Rally at Banbury and the North-Eastern Branch a Rally at Skipton. New West of England and North East Midland branches were formed, bringing the total number of branches to six.

On the Lower Avon it was decided to build a new deep lock at Pershore to replace the exsisting watergate. It was estimated that this would cost 11.000 of which 2,000 was contributed by the Mrs Smith Trust, bringing their total contribution to the Avon Trust to 6,500.

J Chuter Ede became an IWA Vice-president and David Hutchings and four other Midland Branch Members formed a team to design and produce posters advocating the waterways cause. He also won an award at the Banbury Rally for showing more than 2,000 vistors over his boat.


The southern section of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal was faced by the threat of the lowering of the bridge at Wilmcote putting an end to future navigation on the canal.

In February a new independent enquiry into the waterways was set up under the chairmanship of Leslie Bowes. IWA retained the services of a barrister to prepare their case to the Committee.

In March the House of Commons removed the provisions to close the Kennet & Avon Canal from the Transport Bill. The motion to do this was proposed and seconded by two MPs who were Honorary Members of IWA.

After ten years IWA increases its original adult annual subscription from one to two guineas (1.05 to 2.10). The Home Counties Branch was established with John Betjeman as Patron and Captain Lionel Munk as Chairman.

IWA North East Midlands Branch organised a Rally at Lincoln which attracted over a hundred boats. In October 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.


The Home Counties Branch changes its name to London and Home Counties Branch. A National Rally of Boats was held at Coventry, the first to be called a "National" since 1950. This was run by David Hutchings and other Midland Branch Members.

The ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn became an IWA Honorary Member and a Patron of the London & Home Counties Branch. Robert Aickman, through his long association with the world of theatre and ballet, had introduced her to Captain Lionel Munk who asked her to name a new Maid Line Cruiser Maid Margot at the London Boat Show. The Branch also gained much publicity from their Fly Boat Run in which they took Maid Mary-Jennifer down the Grand Union Canal from Birmingham to London non-stop, arriving at Paddington in 41 hours 48 minutes.

The Lack of a General Secretary and the ill health of Robert Aickman caused a slow down of activites at IWA headquarters and reduced issues of the Bulletin.


In April Wilmcote Bridge and the future of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal, which had been rumbling on for the past two years, took a more optimistic turn at a public meeting at Stratford Town Hall. The call for the re-openning of the canal received strong public support and the National Trust declared an interest in the canal.

As always IWA maintained activity over a large number of waterways including the Fossdyke Canal, Kennet & Avon Canal, River Stour and Derby Canal.

IWA Head Office is moved from 35 Great James Street to 4, Emerald Street, London WC1 .

The Bowes Report was published and lifted the threat of clousure from most of the canals in Group 3 of Lord Rusholme's Board of Survey. The most prominent exceptions to this being the Forth & Clyde Canal and the Kennet & Avon Canal.

Captain L R Munk was elected IWA Chairman then was elected Chairman of the Kennet & Avon Canal Association. Crick Grundy replaced Munk as Chairman of the London & Home Counties Branch and David Hutchings became Midland Branch Chairman. Following a reorganisation of the IWA, when the Association became a Non-Profit Distributing Company Limited By Guarantee, two branches were lost; the North Eastern and Fenland branches.


A proposal to fill the Pocklington Canal with sludge triggered a campaign to restore the canal to full use and the proposal was excluded from the current British Transport Commission Bill. The filling in of part of Well Creek in the Middle Level for road widening was also opposed. Nor were prospects any better on the Ashton, Peak Forest, River Rother or Rochdale canals.

The abandonment of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal was refused because it had been used for navigation (by canoes) within the previous three years.

Other long running concerns, such as the neglect and destruction of canalside properties and the sinking of many working narrowboats by British Waterways, contiune as live issues. IWA also opposed British Waterways' policy of only granting temporary licences for residential boats.

The Cyril Styring Trophy was donated by the North East Midlands Branch in memory of their late Chairman.

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

In December IWA Bulletin number 60 was headlined as a "Diamond Jubilee Bumper Issue".

On the 4th December a debate on the Bowes Report took place in the House of Commons with the first eight speakers strongly supporting the report and only muted opposition. The Inland Waterways Redevelopment Advisory Committee (IWRAC) that was appointed in April but most of the schemes it was asked to consider were for the abandonment of navigation.

Also late in the year 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.

Forward to 1960

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