The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) History

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Back to 1959


Things were starting to move on the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal with teams of volunteers already at work on the waterway under the leadership of David Hutchings even before the National Trust had obtained a lease on the southern section of the canal. The National Trust had the lease by the end of the year and were looking to find 20,000 towards the restoration from donations.

A three week cruise through the Middle Level in the boats Blue Peter and Maid Mary-Sonya was led by Captain Munk and Robert Aickman. Following this cruise a meeting with the Middle Level Engineer was held at which various improvements to navigation were discussed.

IWA National Rally was held at Stoke-on-Trent and a protest cruise was held at Dudley Tunnel to counter proposals to close it.

In December the Government announced that it intended that British Transport Waterways should be placed under a new independent statutory Board to be known as the Inland Waterways Authority. While the IWA broadly welcomed this as a step in the right direction, the prospect of two organisations with the initials I W A was considered as unfortunate.


The year 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).

Another protest cruise went to the padlocked entrance of the Derby Canal and was followed by a meeting in Derby. Local press coverage and correspondence from this attracted much support.

The intention to abandon navigation on the Forth & Clyde Canal was announced. In addition concerns were raised and action taken on a long list of waterways too numerous to mention here.

Another 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 National Rally held at Aylesbury was a great success and attracted more publicity than any other rally for many years. Boats attending received a duckling plaque specially drawn by Peter Scott.


The restored lock with an electrically operated guillotine gate was opened at Salters Lode on the Middle Level. The Middle Level Commissioners plan to follow this with the dredging of Well Creek.

A protest cruise was held on the Chesterfield Canal to draw attention to the poor condition of the navigation.

A wall of the Marple Aqueduct on the Peak Forest Canal collapsed and the whole structure was closed.

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.

In June the Lower Avon was formally reopened from Tewkesbury to Evesham.


An Inland Waterways Association member offers 80,000 to help restore the Upper Avon navigation.

The resoration of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal continued at a rapid pace with the Royal Enginners and prisoners from Winston Green augmenting the regular volunteers.

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

The first Waterways Museum was opened at Stoke Bruerne.

IWA National Rally was held at Little Venice on the Grand Union - Regent's Canal.


The "Hawton" Interim Report was published. Entitled The Future of the Waterways it borrowed its name from an earlier IWA policy document as well as some of its ideas and although it did not (of course) meet all the aims of IWA it did represent a major step forward.

Laughing Water II was the first boat to make the journey on the restored Stratford-upon-Avon Canal from Lapworth to Stratford, arriving there on 22nd February. IWA National Fesival at Stratford-upon-Avon to mark the reopening of the canal by HM Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (see photo by Max Sinclair). The Festival was held from 9th to 15th July, instead of the normal August time, to coincide with the Royal opening.

Discussions started into the best way of restoring the Upper Avon. On the Kennet & Avon Canal the long standing obstruction at Bridge Street Bridge in Reading was still causing a block to craft wishing to enter the canal but the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, with the support of IWA, started to organise restoration projects, jointly with British Waterways, using volunteer labour.

In October Robert Aickman retired from his role as chief campaigner and editor of the Bulletin roles he had fulfilled since the start of IWA over 18 years before. He remained as a member of the Council and was still to contribute much to the IWA over the coming years. Captain Munk who as Chairman had before formally been responsible for administration of the IWA now took on the campaigning role as well. Hugh McKnight became Editor of the Bulletin.

The abandonment of the Derby Canal was authorised by the Ministry of transport. On the Aire & Calder Navigation it was announced that new 210 ton capacity compartment boats would be used to take coal to Ferrybridge Power Station where they would be automatically lifted and tipped to unload. The proposed route of the M6 motorway threatened navigation on the upper reaches of the Lancaster Canal. A new Bill for the Rochdale Canal presented the prospect of closing the Rochdale nine locks and thus destroying the route that was to become known as the Cheshire Ring.

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

IWA Member John Glover launched Canal and River Monthly Review the first magazine to be dedicated to inland waterways.


The prospects for the waterways looked better than at any time since the founding of IWA, with local authorities increasingly look to improve rather than close their local waterways and canal carrying now being subject to much more favourable terms. The new attitudes at British Waterways meant that volunteer labour was, in some cases, now being welcomed instead of being forbidden to touch the waterways as had been the case at the Stourbridge Canal in 1962.

There was still much to be done with the Kennet & Avon, Rochdale, Shrewsbury & Newport, Caldon and Peak Forest canals, as well as other waterways, still in a poor state. These included the flight of locks at Runcorn on the Bridgewater Canal and the Runcorn & Weston Canal,

The IWA Head Office moved from 4 Emerald Street to 114 Regent's Park Road, London, NW1. The formation of a "Waterways Trust" was proposed by IWA. This would be a charitable body with financial support from the Government.

The deteriating state of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and concerns for its future led to 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).

Another significant idea came from T Dodwell of the London & Home Counties Branch who suggested forming a group of volunteers to work on various canal restoration projects wherever they were required.


Twenty years after founding IWA Robert Aickman resigned from IWA Council following policy disagreements with Captain Munk. John Betjeman was made an IWA Vice-President.

The IWA (now with over 4,250 members) looked back on its first 20 years and congratulated itself on the change of attitude it had brought about both in government and the public towards waterways and canals in particular. In 1946 they were seen as the decaying remains of a system that should have been buried with the coming of the railways. Now they were recoginsed as a national asset that could be used for commerce and recreation on and beside the water. Looking forward there was still an immense amount of work to be done, derelict canals to be restored, threatened waterways to be saved, heritage and environment to be protected and facilites to be improved.

In response to British Waterways report Facts about the Waterways, issued the previous December, IWA decided to change its general policy of co-operation with BW to an independent assessment of each case, co-operating in the cases where benefits could be obtained but criticising policies that they opposed. On the 1 May the Silver Sword scheme was launched to encourage members to cruise extensively throughout the year.

On the Kennet & Avon Canal Sulhampstead Lock was rebuilt and a start was made on re-puddling the dry section at Limpley Stoke. The first Navvies Notebook was published in October giving all the news for waterway restoration volunteers. The first work towards restoring navigation on the Upper Avon was started and an appeal for money was launched.

IWA National Rally was held at Marple on the Peak Forest Canal and on the threatened Cheshire Ring. It attracted a record attendance of 250 boats.


This was the first year that the London Boat Show had an inland waterways of England theme.

Some encouraging news came from the Caldon Canal where commercial traffic returned in the shape of the Milton Maid, a new boat designed to carry pottery to the packing depot. British Waterways also ended its policy of padlocking lock gates "out of hours" on many of its waterways. The Sixteen Locks on the Stourbridge Canal were re-opened by John Morris MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, who made an enthusiastic speech about the waterways network.

The future of the canals had still not been secured and in anticpation of another unsatisfactory Transport Bill IWA planned a National Waterway Week for October with petions and demonstrations of various kinds on and off the waterways. However, in September a White Paper was introduced that was so favourable to the IWA case that Waterways Week was posponed indefinitely.

About 350 boats attended IWA National Rally at Leicester (see photograph) which was offically opened by the Lord Mayor Sir Mark Henig. There were now over 5,000 IWA members.


Voluteer labour continued to make its mark 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.

The Offley Slack Challenge Trophy was presented to IWA by Council Members Stan Offley and Ray Slack.

Following a competition to provide an IWA house style a desigm by Derek Hodson of London was adopted. This used a version the Excalibur sword designed by Frank Luzmore in 1947 and first appeared in Bulletin 83 in May. Captain Munk led an IWA inspection cruise of the Middle Level and had to be towed through Well Creek (see photo).

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 National Rally in the city. Around 170 boats attended.

On the Kennet & Avon Canal the obstruction of Bridge Street Bridge at Reading was resolved by the building of a new bridge. Also Burghfield and Sulhamsptead locks were restored and reopened.

At the end of the year Transport Act was passed which imposed on British Waterways a duty to maintain the waterways which was enforceable may the Courts. This and other provisions in the Act made the future of the waterways more secure than they had been for many years although the public right of navigation was lost.


IWA started the new year with large number of waterway campaigns including the Grand Union - Slough Branch, Basingstoke Canal, Kennet & Avon Canal, Bridgwater and Taunton Canal, Exeter Ship Canal, Monmouthshire & Brecon Canal, Birmingham Canal Navigations, Erewash Canal, Ashby Canal, Upper Avon, Droitwich Canal, Ashton Canal, Peak Forest Canal, Leeds & Liverpool Canal, Lancaster Canal, Montgomery Canal, Caldon Canal, Pocklington Canal, River Derwent (Yorkshire), Calder & Hebble Navigation, Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation, Middle Level, River Great Ouse and Norfolk and Suffolk Broads. With so many campaigns running, many of them major restoration schemes, the process could not be run by the small IWA Head Office team even with help from the branches. Instead the established practice of working with local restoration societies and other organisations was expanded as each new restoration came along. The photo shows voluteers working on the Erewash Canal.

Bristol Docks were closed as a commercial port and concerns were raised about proposals for new roads across the docks preventing navigation for pleasure craft.

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

Forward to 1970

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