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Newsletter "174" April 2010


Bugsworth Basin Report - Ian Edgar Mike Malzard, 1940 - 2010, A tribute by Martin Whalley
What Price a Life - A story of Health and Safety John Bennett - Stone Quarryman of Bugsworth
Yorkshire Film Archive - silent movies to watch Celebrations of the opening of Standedge Tunnel and Huddersfield Narrow
Bessie Bunker's Protest Cruise WRG celebrates 40 years of achievements
Origins of a Phrase Distress in Cheshire - a report from 1895
History of canals and their people Request from Sue Day - chairperson Horseboating Society
Rediscovered boats at Harefield IWA Press Releases


Fenders, ropes, boat cruises, day boat hire - Phone/Fax 01663 747808 
The IWPS is not responsible for the content of external websites



Need some expert advice? Contact: Paul Johnson
Tel: 01524 400677, Mobile: 07767 747868


Wharf Edge Repairs - IWPS Working Party 14 March 2010
Photo by Martin Whalley



By Ian Edgar MBE Chairman IWPS and Hon. Site Manager

On re-reading the last ‘174’ I am reminded of the long report I gave on the development of our new Information Centre at Bugsworth Basin. I reported that emda (the funder) was about to withdraw the funding but, if this did not come about and we were able to arrange some form of late payment, then there would be a stop press with that issue of ‘174’. The end result of that is the funding was withdrawn with no possibility of getting it back. Consequently there is no chance that the new Centre will be built within the foreseeable future. Unless that is, we can find a funder willing to put in c£300,000. That, in the present financial climate, is extremely unlikely. We have had many setbacks at Bugsworth, but probably not one as big as this. I am confident we will eventually get the funding. For the moment, to avoid me becoming even more depressed, that is all I prepared to write on this issue. To remove my depression is there anybody who would like to be our Funding Officer? To hive that work off to somebody else in whom I had confidence as Chairman would be a great relief and would greatly enhance the work of your Society. As it is now Don Baines and I are attending to almost all IWPS matters and that takes a lot of time, and as you will read later, a lot of skill. There are many courses available for funding officers which require a time commitment but which will lead, when the money is secured, to a great sense of satisfaction and reward.

On the brighter side I am very pleased to say that we have more volunteers coming along to assist with the maintenance of this very large site. Moreover with a training programme in place all our regular volunteers will be multi skilled in time. Furthermore Lucy Thomas attended a First Aid Training Day at the Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port, cost courtesy of the Waterways Trust and Phil Dowe will shortly be undertaking a three day First Aid Course That will mean we are well covered for the First Aid requirements of our volunteers. I am very grateful to Lucy and Phil for giving the time and effort to give us this cover.

As we all know January was an awful month weather wise. Bugsworth Basin was too wet or too snow covered for us to do any work on site.

Our volunteers have recently

The success of volunteer work at Bugsworth determines the future for this wonderful site but also the man-hours the IWPS volunteers put in has a knock-on effect not only for us but for the whole of the voluntary canal restoration nationwide. This is monitored and reported by British Waterways to whom I send a monthly report on the number of hours and man-days (seven hours) worked. For instance in January & February 2010 we reported nearly 40 man days which includes a lot of time put in by Don Baines for H&S and not site work mentioned above. For December 2009 it was over 11 man-days and for November 2009 almost 21 man-days. This is a huge amount of work by IWPS volunteers and for all this commitment and enthusiasm I, as Site Manager, am extremely grateful.

I am sure there are some work items I have missed out and for that I apologise. Volunteers are doing a great job, we are being supported financially by generous donations on site, by tour and lecture fees, by our membership and, of course, by the activity of The Peak Forest Canal Co. Ltd. With this financial support we are re-equipping with new plant. The most recent addition is a vibrator (whacker plate) for repairing the roads and footpaths. Long may it continue.

On the down side the massive leaks and collapsed clay lining of the Lower Basin Arm has still not been fixed by British Waterways although I understand funding has been allocated, the clay has been bought and the machinery allocated. There was some confusion between the BW engineers and the Inspector of Ancient Monuments which, unbeknown to me and which had no substance in fact, led to delays. I am on top of this now and really hope, this time, there is substance in the promises I have to get this job done once and for all. We still have to resolve the issue of the fallen wharf walls which we had hoped to repair from the bank but which turned out not to be practical or safe. I hope to have a method statement soon from BW as to how we are going to cure this problem.

In the meantime the Basin is open, is busy and is being enjoyed by many which is why the IWPS restored the place over all those years. Don’t leave it to someone else. Come and help us! You will be very welcome.

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Mike Malzard 1940-2010:

A Tribute by Martin Whalley.

    This is a task I never expected to perform, having visited Mike in hospital, only a few days before he died. He was upbeat and enthusiastic. We talked about his wish to buy a new lathe that could be operated from a wheelchair. Preparations were under way for him to be fitted with an artificial leg; the first in a normal sequence of three to improve his mobility. Meanwhile, he had mastered the art of driving an electrically powered tricycle, visiting the basin on December 13 to find that most of the site was accessible, except for some parts of the Central Peninsula, where small wheels tended to sink in soft ground.

    Whatever physical setbacks he faced, Mike retained a sharp and inventive mind, saying only recently how he regretted selling the woodworking tools and equipment he kept in his garage: “I'd have been more than tempted to have a go at making a wooden leg myself. That's the sort of thing they did after Trafalgar, long before the NHS was invented.”

    Such a suggestion was not as ridiculous as it might sound. Mike was a consummate craftsman in wood. Bring him a design and before long, the item would be made. This first happened in the early 1990s, long before the basin was ready to admit boats. Improvements on site, such as the exposure of tramway track beds, the planting of trees and the creation of grassed areas for the benefit of the general public, resulted in the placing of park benches in appropriate spots. Several were donated by well wishers, often in memory of a loved one. In our naivety, seats were purchased from standard retailers, and were of specifications more suited to a domestic garden than to an open site. Kicked into pieces, pitched into the river, or thrown into the canal by persons unknown, was the fate of some. The seats could neither be replaced in kind, nor repaired in time. Enter Mike. Immediately, he set to work, welding square-section steel girders into durable frames and cutting heavy-duty timbers into appropriate lengths. One place for suitable wood arrived in a set of duck boards, he found in the bottom of a boat, due to be scrapped by BW. The final step of his grand design was to attach each bench, via rag bolts, to stone slabs, or to chunks of concrete, buried in the ground. So effective was Mike's solution that none of the half dozen or so of these constructions has since been destroyed.

    The peak of this output came one day, when Ian Edgar described to the Malzards what went on at an IWPS Annual Dinner. A suitable pub would be chosen, usually the Navigation Inn at Bugsworth, but other venues might be used as well. After the meal, raffle tickets, sold to the diners were drawn. Prizes, previously brought by those same diners, were picked from a display on a table by the winners. Items generally ranged from bottles of whiskey or wine, to boxes of chocolate or biscuits. Had Mike any other suggestions?

    “How about wooden bowls, turned on the lathe,” he replied.

    Needless to say, these became the most sought after prizes; that is until the first of three perfectly crafted spinning wheels was made. As the lucky winners discovered, these could convert lumps of wool, as found on barbed wire around fields, into a workable thread!

    So what brought Mike and his wife, Jill, to Bugsworth in the first place?

    The story begins in Surrey, where Mike worked as the manager of a chemical plant, also assisted by Jill, before their family came along. The hours were long and hard and Mike being Mike put in the extra mile; so much so that his doctor advised him in 1990 to take early retirement, or in Mike's own words, risk being dead in six months! Not surprisingly, he took heed, sold his house and moved up to Whaley Bridge. The location owed much to a holiday in 1981, when he and Jill, with daughters, Lynne and Kimberley, hired a boat from Coles Morton Marine, then based at Whaley Bridge Basin. Together they cruised the Cheshire Ring, remembering in particular battles with floating rubbish and locks, then in dire need of repair, on the Rochdale Nine. “It was tough but terrific fun. The girls were very competent at handling boats, after learning the hard way on our own boat on the River Wey,” said Jill recently. “We also liked Whaley Bridge.”

    A discrepancy between property prices in Surrey and those of Derbyshire meant that when the permanent move was made, they were able to buy another boat, Laura, to be moored at Furness Vale Marina, only a short distance from Bugsworth Basin. As luck would have it, society members, Keith and Pennie Vigurs, who like the Malzards had recently joined Furness Vale Boat Club, spoke enthusiastically about a long-term struggle to restore the basin. An entry in a diary records that Mike and Jill, encouraged by the Vigurs, attended their first IWPS working party on April 19, 1991.

    A task for the day was to construct a pathway, through what was called the Caravan Field, near the A6 bypass bridge at Bingswood pinch. A novel method, involved the placing of cross-sections of tree trunk, in the manner of stepping stones. These led to a narrow length of overflow channel, running from below the weir spillway towards the Black Brook. Mike could wield a chain saw with enviable skill. In just a morning, he converted three hefty tree trunks into sections, roughly two feet in diameter and four inches deep. These were set into the ground, towards a row of real stepping stones, designed to keep the feet of pedestrians dry, assuming that the spillway might some day run!

    I found Mike to be one of the easiest people with whom to work. We shared many interests and were amused by the same sort of situations. One example, early in our friendship, occurred when the third of a sequence of bystanders on the towpath asked the same question: “When do you think the basin will be reopened to boats?”

    Mike replied, “How long is a piece of a string?”

    The questioner did not know.

    “Well I'm sorry, I don't know the answer either,” said Mike with a grin.

    Apart from tree surgery and carpentry, Mike was a dab hand with almost anything mechanical. He claimed to be mean, even stretching to parsimony. He was anything but, when it came to giving of his expertise and helping others. Even so, advice on frugality came thick and fast:"  Try putting two bricks in a lavatory cistern to save water,” or, “I do all my own servicing with the boat. The oil drained off is as good as creosote for a fence.”

    A favourite example concerned a rather battered pedal-powered go-kart, discarded in the garden by the Gnat Hole kilns. “That'll just do for Jamie's birthday,” he said, pulling it from a bush.

    Two weeks later it gleamed in pristine condition, to be adored by that particular grandson and was still in use by children, living in the same road years later. “And you know what,” said Mike, “the whole job only cost four quid!”

    Ian Edgar picked up on these talents almost immediately, leaving messages on the Malzard answer phone, often when Mike and Jill were away on one of their many jaunts around the waterway system, such as: “Mike I've left a Flymo and a strimmer on your front lawn. Can you have a look at them, please?”   

    “Just what you need, when you get back home after three months away!” Mike would laugh.

    Also during the early days of the 1990s, Mike, Keith Vigurs and I, each armed with a strimmer, concentrated on the A6 bypass sound bank, opposite the Navigation Inn. This gave the 70 or so young trees, planted by the IWPS, a flying start. Weeds up to six feet tall and chopped into pieces made an excellent mulch. Don Baines, ever ready with a quip, called this process “formation strimming”.

    One day, my strimmer failed to start. It had a cutting head, delivering thick strings of nylon by automatic feed. After a few subtle tweaks and a hefty pull at the starting handle, Mike brought the beast into life. At first, the engine screamed, as he raised the stem aloft. Outwards flew a lethal halo of nylon, a yard wide; Mike's glass eye failing to notice a band of inconsiderate mountain bikers, approaching from the left at speed. Crouched forms yelled in panic. Brakes slammed. One individual only just missed being catapulted into the canal.

    “Sorry,” said Mike, “I just didn't see you.”

    The rest of us fell about laughing and being in greater numbers than the cyclists, nodded with approval at the next line from Mike: “Anyway, that'll teach them a lesson, when other people are about!”

    While Mike concentrated on the restoration and was later elected to the council of the IWPS, Jill focused her attentions on the nearby boat club and the Manchester Branch of the IWA, holding important positions in both organizations over the years. This came to the fore during a second re-opening of the basin to navigation in March 2005. Forgetting all the razzmatazz and ribbon cutting by the great and the good on this latter occasion, the genuine re-opening of course took place, when a clay dam on the Bridgemont side of Bingswood pinch was removed by excavator and water allowed to pour into the Entrance Canal. Boats queued up to pass under the bypass bridge, once levels stabilized. The first in line was Laura. Thanks to Mike and Jill, I could ride on the cabin top and lean over the foredeck, with an unobstructed view for the camera.

    Laura was later used to block the gauging lock to prevent premature entry by any other boats, booked in advance for the official opening of March 26. Once the go-ahead was given, Jill's master plan, based on length of hull and enforced by a watchful Mike, ensured that 110 boats found their designated berths, with a minimum of fuss.

    Our personal friendship also meant that I felt able to ask for their assistance in entertaining groups of American academics, visiting Manchester, as part of an inter-university program of exchange with the South Dakota State University. These guests loved the process of disembarking from a train at Whaley Bridge and walking just a few hundred yards to the nearby canal basin, where Laura would be moored. Smoke curled from her chimney and a pot of fresh coffee was brewing on the stove. Mid-westerners have a reputation for being hardy. In March, during their Spring Break vacation, when they invariably came, temperatures might be near to freezing, the wind blowing, or, in some cases, rain falling for an entire day. But they loved it and treasured the hospitality that the Mike and Jill so freely gave.

    Not forgetting the IWPS, the Malzards more than once opened the doors of Laura to volunteers, who worked at Bugsworth Basin. A perfect example was for David Murray Stewart of Melbourne, Australia, and his wife, Fiona. David, a fellow postgraduate student with me at the University of Manchester in 1970, enjoyed shovelling muck from the channel in front of Teapot Row. There was also some memorable sparring, between him and the redoubtable Bessie Bunker, who had a soft spot for the “colonial boy”. Returning on holiday in 2008 he just wanted to cruise into and out of the basin, and there was Laura, waiting patiently opposite the Gnat Hole kilns.

    In writing this memoir, I have so far failed to mention another significant member of the Malzard household. Ben was a rescue dog, possibly a cross between an Alsatian and a Labrador, who loved Mike to distraction. The dog's exploits were legion; like opening the fridge, eating as much food as he could without vomiting, and “burying” what he wished to save for later, in places like the cushions of the sofa!

    Mike put all this down to the dog being “a bit of a character”, receiving in the process a somewhat old-fashioned look from Jill. Ben liked to accompany him at the basin and we often worked together, despite the dog taking an occasional swim and sometimes dragging branches, neatly stacked by us on the opposite bank, across the widest parts of the canal.

    A favourite among the many photographs I took, shows Mike and dog at the front of a small boat I was paddling towards the gauging lock. They sit together, staring straight ahead in the sunshine, with the water on either side flat-calm.

    In a sense, Mike's whole life was bracketed by boats. His parents lived on Jersey. The year was 1940 and his birth was due to be the next expected happy event. Unfortunately, the Germans had their sights already trained on that same little island, so close to the French coast. Moreover, for anyone Jewish, as were the Malzards, this was a place where it was better not to be!

    Enter one of Mike's uncles, who just happened to be a sea captain, returning on a boat from India and other points east. He made an unscheduled call at the island and picked up as many civilians as he could, including the would-be parents. Mike told how certain older members of the family decided to stay put, successfully pretending to be Methodists and in one case a Jehovah's Witness. Even so, they were imprisoned during of the time of the occupation. Meanwhile, Mike was born in Fareham.

    Just over 70 years later, Mike made his last trip by boat. The hearse brought his coffin to Whaley Bridge Basin and it was lifted on to the hire boat Phoenix, courtesy of another great friend of his and of the IWPS, Paul Dawson. Once again, the basin was flat-calm and the sun shone. Apart from a couple of joggers, no bystanders interrupted the peace of the scene. There were fewer than half a dozen boats, all moored and shuttered, in this the place to which he had selflessly donated so much time and effort.

    Nautical themes enhanced the beginning of the funeral service, held in the beautiful but simply appointed Uniting Church of Whaley Bridge. A congregation of more than 100, including officials of several waterways' and other charitable organizations, not least the Women's Institute, stood in sad anticipation, awaiting the arrival of the coffin. All of a sudden, a cheerful chorus from HMS Pinafore burst forth from the audio system: “We sailed the ocean blue.. and our saucy ship's a beauty.”

    A gasp of joy and relief rose from all present. What a wonderful way to remember one of the best friends I ever knew and shall never forget. He passed away in Stepping Hill Hospital on his 70th birthday, March 8, 2010. Some of the nurses wept. We in the IWPS and all others whose lives were touched by this splendid and personable gentleman, known simply as “Mike”, send their sympathies to Jill, her family and friends.

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What Price a Life? - a story of Health and Safety

From Liverpool Mercury, Thursday, August 12, 1880.

District Sessions - Sandbach Police Court.

Messrs. Brunner Mond and Co. were summoned for neglecting to fence some mill gearing at Malkins Bank Chemical Works, Wheelock, whereby Thomas Hall was killed on the 4th of June. It was stated that the machinery referred to was exposed and dangerous to workmen. The man Hall was in discharge of his duty as a miller, when, in reaching up to part of the machinery, one of his arms was caught between the revolving cogs of two wheels, and frightfully mangled.  The deceased was drawn up off the ground, and his arm wrenched off at the shoulder.  Mr Fletcher said that the accident arose from the man’s own negligence and carelessness; it could have been avoided.  Mr Bignall said that the act required that the machinery should be fenced.  The bench fined the defendants £5 and the costs.

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John Bennett, Stone Quarryman of Bugsworth

 by Peter J Whitehead

John Bennett (born in 1847) was one of nine children born to William Bennett and Ann Ashby at Bugsworth between 1830 and 1849. He was their eighth child and fourth of the five boys in the family. The siblings were Elizabeth (died in 1846), Mary, Ann (died in 1842), William, Margaret, Thomas, Joseph, William and Henry. The head of the family, William Bennett, was a lime burner; son, Joseph, was a stone quarryman and later a stone mason; son, John, was a stone quarryman; and son, Henry, was a lime burner. The two eldest sons, William and Thomas, did not follow in their father’s footsteps, as they were both weavers. Presumably they worked at Bugsworth Mill.

The quarries where they worked were Crist and Barren Clough gritstone quarries just outside Bugsworth Basin and the lime burning was at the kilns around Bugsworth Basin.

For unknown reasons, John Bennett, had moved out of Bugsworth by 1875 and was living at Spotland in Lancashire where he was still working as a quarryman. Spotland was then a township in the parish of Rochdale, spread over the valleys of the rivers Roach, Spodden, Nadin and Irwell and because of its extent the township was divided into two districts called Spotland Further Side and Spotland Nearer Side. The industry at Spotland was coal mining, slate and freestone quarrying and the manufacture of cotton, baize and flannel.

It is likely that the rest of the family remained in the Bugsworth area and the 1901 census shows that Joseph (57) was living at Bridgemont, employed as a stone mason. His elder son, Fred (29), was a stone mason and his younger son, Joe (22), was a stone mason’s labourer.

In 1871, John and his wife, Mary Ann Ardern, were living in Bugsworth in the home of John’s parents at Mill Bank, Bugsworth. The birth of Mary Ann was registered in the Hazel Grove District of Stockport in 1851. She was born at Brewer’s Green, Bramhall, on the 6 April 1851 and her mother was Mary Ardern.

The 1881 census records that John Bennett, employed as a stone quarryman, was living on Taylor Street, Spotland, with his wife, daughters, Elizabeth (9) and Mary J (6), son, Norman (1) and sister-in-law, Martha Ardern (23). Similarly, the 1891 census records that he was employed as a quarryman, living at 29 Clarke Street, Burnley, with his wife, two daughters and son.

Over the next decade John changed his occupation from that of a stone quarryman to become a chip potato dealer. The 1901 census shows that he was then living at 38 Mosley Street, Burnley, with his wife, son Norman (21) a stone quarryman, daughter Martha Ann (15) and grandson Holmes Brelford (age?). Curiously, although Martha Ann was born in 1885/86, she was not recorded in the 1891 census.

His shop was at 35 Parliament Street, Burnley, where the shop window displayed, ‘JOHN BENNETT’S FRIED FISH & CHIPPED POTATO SUPPER BAR.’ The photograph shows John stood outside his shop with his wife in c.1910 by which time he was aged about 63 years. The identity of the younger lady standing on his left is uncertain but she could be one of his daughters.

John Bennett died in Burnley in 1924, aged 77 years. Following the deaths of both John and Mary Ann, the shop passed to their son, Norman, who ran it for quite some time afterwards.


I am indebted to Mrs Janet Baillie, a descendant of John Bennett and Mary Ann Ardern, for bringing to our notice another interesting piece in the history of Bugsworth and for kindly giving permission for it to be used. Credit is also due to Mike Townsend, the archivist at Towneley Hall Museum at Burnley, where the original image of the chip shop is kept. This was first published in his book ‘Burnley Revisited’ in the ‘Images of England’ series (page 65).

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Yorkshire Film Archive

This information from Mark and Ruth Tiddy about a couple of film clips on the Yorkshire Film Archive site

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Both are silent films, the first one is a five minute clip of a keel setting off from Sheffield basin in 1959 and is perhaps only of real interest to those of us who know the canal but the second is an absolute gem. It lasts just over 16 minutes and starts with a drive down the road to Spurn Point in a Jowett Javelin, on one side of the road an unambiguous sign is shown stating 'Danger this is a minefield keep out or be killed'!. The film of bending the ribs at the ship yard at Paul is wonderful and reminds us that H&S is a relatively new concept; the activity at the lock in Hull we found fascinating.

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Click the HBS logo to open the newsflash 

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This article kindly sent to us by Hugh Potter - Archivist for the Friends of the Cromford Canal

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2010 is a special year for the Inland Waterways Association's Waterway Recovery Group (WRG). Established in 1970, it is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Canals have been brought back to life ever since the middle of the 20th century by local canal societies and trusts. But WRG brought something new to supplement these local initiatives. It acts as a co-ordinating force, providing equipment, expertise, publicity and labour to help local restoration schemes. Since it does not focus on individual projects, it can move around the country, giving a concerted push to restoration schemes that need it, providing skills and resources that would not otherwise be available.

Mike Palmer, the WRG chairman, said:

"I am proud to be associated with the WRG, and it has been a privilege to be its chairman for nearly 14 years. I cannot speak too highly of the volunteers who make it work. WRG has assisted so many schemes over the past 40 years that it is hard to pick out key achievements. They are all important as far I'm concerned. But examples that stick in my mind are the saving of the Peak Forest and Ashton canals from closure and successful restoration of the Kennet & Avon Canal. More recently WRG helped to restore the Barge Lock on the Droitwich Canals and the flight of Aston Locks on the Montgomery Canal."

“Ashtac”, March 1972 - Photo Brian Lamb collection

Every year WRG runs over 20 week-long working holidays called 'Canal Camps' with the aim of restoring the derelict waterways of England and Wales. WRG is already planning its summer programme. It is celebrating its 40th anniversary with an exciting schedule of working holidays planned across the country from Newport, Wales to Chelmsford, Essex, to the Chesterfield, Derbyshire and all the way down to the Grand Western Canal in Devon and Somerset.

There are 23 Canal Camps running this year with volunteers undertaking projects such as the restoration of 'Steppingstone's Bridge' near Swindon on the Wilts & Berks Canal; the continuing excavation, restoration and rebuilding of Gough's Orchard Lock on the Cotswold Canals; the restoration of a leaky culvert on the Grantham Canal; as well as working alongside Essex Waterways team to maintain the Chelmer and Blackwater Navigation, by assisting with bank protection, painting, towpath clearance and repairs.

Mike Palmer added:

"Volunteering with WRG is a unique opportunity. Participants can learn new skills to improve and widen their future employment opportunities, such as bricklaying, the use of lime mortar and using specialist excavation and construction machinery, as well as taking the chance to be part of the team that really make a huge difference to the waterways.

In these hard economic times volunteering is as important as ever to waterway restoration projects across the country. We need lots of volunteers in 2010 to ensure we get more waterways restored than would otherwise happen. WRG Canal Camps are a great experience for anyone who loves being in the outdoors and is interested in having fun whilst meeting people from all different backgrounds and countries. To ensure WRG carries on successfully for the next 40 years we need new volunteers now. It's easy. Go to our website to find out more ( and sign up to be a 21st century canal navvy."

For more information please contact Jenny Black (Volunteers Coordinator) on 01494 783453 Ext 604

Canal Camps

Each Canal Camp usually runs for seven days, each volunteer is asked to contribute £56 for the week (or £8 per day) towards the cost of their accommodation and the three meals a day that are provided. Most accommodation, which is best described as basic, is in sports centres, schools or village halls.
Anyone is welcome to volunteer for a Canal Camp; the only restriction is that they must be over 18 and under 70 years of age. No previous skills or experience are required.

WRG also run weekend work parties across the country. More information on each group can be found on the WRG website

Waterway Recovery Group is almost an entirely voluntary organisation, but has built up an extensive base of professional skills. An information pack covering opportunities to join in the waterway restoration work all over the country, including the 2010 Canal Camps brochure, is available free of charge from Jenny Black at Waterway Recovery Group, Island House, Moor Road, Chesham, HP5 1WA Tel: 01494 783 453 - e-mail: 

Alternatively you can refer to our website for further information, and a look back at what WRG has already achieved.

Waterway Recovery Group

Waterway Recovery Group has supported restoration of derelict inland waterways by co-ordinating volunteers and providing expertise and equipment since its formation in 1970. Waterway Recovery Group organises weekend restoration events and week long Canal Camps on the inland waterways throughout Great Britain.

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Origins of a phrase - P. J. Whitehead

In my research of Ancoats, I've been investigating the street gangs of scuttlers that plagued the streets of Manchester and Salford for three decades at the end of the 19th century. From this, the phrase 'Hello Sailor' seems not to mean what we understand it to mean today.

Part of their uniform was to wear bell-bottomed trousers like sailors. When two gangs of scuttlers were squaring up to each other for a fight (scuttle), the captain of one gang would issue the challenge 'Hello Sailor' or 'Are you called Sailor?' to the opposing gang captain. When the challenge was accepted, as it always was, the scuttle began. Typical scuttles involved around 30 to 50 youths but scuttles involving 200 and even 500 were not unknown.

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Left - Report from Liverpool Mercury - 13 February 1895

Winter Woes

Considering the length and harshness of the recent winter when, almost certainly, we have all moaned about the cold, the snow, and the difficulties of travel. Suffering in the warmth of our centrally-heated houses, we are considerably better off than the folks of the winter 1895/96.  The canals were frozen for two months with boat people, like the factory workers and farmers, suffering terrible deprivation, no work, no wages and the indignity of relying on hand-outs. The Brunner Mond factory was supplied with limestone from Bugsworth and Froghall so both canals must have been frozen for there to have been no materials delivered to Malkins Bank.  What a hard life it was - we should all be very thankful for what we have!  Ed.


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History of the Canals and their People - Don Baines

Trawling through the British Library’s archive of old newspapers for articles about canals, I came upon this interesting article in the Birmingham Daily Post. September 14, 1887. It relates to the introduction of the Canal Acts of 1877 and 1884 and reported on by the Chief Inspector in 1886. I have reproduced the article exactly how it was first written.

Among the contents of the volume just issued by the Local Government Board is a report for the year 1886, by Mr. John Brydone, Chief Inspector under the Canal Boats Acts. As this document relates to a subject of considerable social interest, and one in which Birmingham is much concerned, the statements it contains are deserving of attention. The Inspector appears, on the whole, to be fairly well satisfied with the progress thus far made in bringing the provisions of the new law into operation. He recites many instances of neglect on the part both of sanitary authorities and of boatowners; but these are attributable to the novelty of the regulations, and the short time they have been in force, rather than to intentional disregard. Referring to local authorities, the Inspector says only a few of them had kept any record of the work they had done, so that he had to rely for information on the mere recollection of their officers, which information was necessarily of an imperfect description. Some of the local inspectors appeared to believe that if boatmen could produce their certificates of registration they fully satisfied the law, while others considered it their duty fulfilled when they had seen the registration marks were duly inscribed on the sides of the boats. One authority, exercising jurisdiction over nearly forty miles of six different canals, was not only ignorant of the extent of these waterways, but had done nothing to carry out the two Acts beyond the nominal appointment without salary, of "an inspector who made no inspections." In some cases the local inspectors were not furnished with copies of the Acts, and in many others the inspectors had not been required to take action. The Chief Inspector, in noticing these examples of neglect, was informed was informed by some of the authorities that they did nothing beyond appointing inspectors, because they considered it his duty and not theirs to see that the officers performed their work. We are glad to find, however, that praise is bestowed on the Birmingham Sanitary Authority. In this instance Mr. Brydone says, "A most useful form of caution has been adopted, and if it had been sufficiently employed by the officer specially appointed, its use would have spread, I have no doubt, throughout the Midlands at least, if not throughout the whole country." It is then explained that this document is so specific and so thoroughly comprehensive of the points requiring attention, that the boatowner, in returning it, is not put to the trouble of writing a single word beyond his name. In Birmingham, however, although 1,233 inspections had been made, and many notices of warnings had been given, the work was much of it left imperfect. The number of warnings was 232, out of which 114 were complied with, nothing being ascertained as to the 118 remaining. Had the local officer been asked for an explanation of this discrepancy before the statement was published he might perhaps have given some reasonable cause for it.

The table of these Birmingham cases furnishes a list of the different abuses which the Acts are intended to remedy. They are as follow:- Overcrowding, boats not properly marked, having no certificate of registration, boats not registered, no proper vessel for drinking water, females over age, dirty cabins, having no pumps to remove bilge water, partition not supplied for separating the sexes, registered as a flyboat working as an ordinary boat, defective or no ventilation, cabin in a dilapidated state, and carrying offensive cargo without proper bulkhead. In some instances several of these defects have been discovered in one and the same boat. At Kidderminster, for example, a case occurred in which the boat was unregistered, and the cabin was dirty and totally unfit for use; while it was occupied by the boatman, his daughter (twenty-two years of age), and his son (twenty years of age), the son and daughter actually sleeping in the same bed. It is satisfactory to learn that, in cases such as these, the improprieties are often removed on their being pointed out. A boatman, carrying with him his wife and three daughters (aged seventeen, thirteen and four years), being told that he was infringing the law, had his elder daughters removed, the eldest being placed in service, where she is said to be doing well. As to this and other like instances, the Chief Inspector says "it has been a source of real pleasure to me to receive the hearty and at all times courteous recognition which one and all of these boat people, whom I have previously met with, invariably extend to me." The regulations prohibit any girl over twelve years of age from occupying a cabin as a sleeping-place at the same time as any male person. To meet this requirement, some boatmen have taken houses on land for the occupation of their families, while others, like the one just mentioned, have placed their elder girls in service. We gather from the general tenour of the report that the boat population is far from constituting so rude a class as may be generally supposed. Now that civilising and humanising influences are being brought to bear upon them, they appear quite sensible of the advantages they are promised, and quite willing to conform to the provisions of the law. The inspector quotes, from a letter written by a literary friend who had made an extensive tour on canals, the following passage: "So far as we did see the canal-boat population, we were agreeably surprised, after the harrowing accounts which have appeared from time to time in the papers. The men were quiet and respectable, and invariably most civil to us; the women seemed clean and healthy-looking, and as for the children, well, I wish my childhood had been passed as pleasantly as they appeared to be passing theirs.

The inspector has paid particular attention to the subject of educating the children of canal-boat families, which is necessarily one of some difficulty. Boatmen are not only a migratory class, but some of them appear to think rather lightly of the services of a the schoolmaster. In reply to expostulations for not having sent his son to school one of them retorted, "If the lad grows up as good as his father he will do;" adding, "I never had any schooling, nor do I see what good it does them; it only makes them above their work." Being then asked if he was in want of a boy to go with him in his boat, and two boys otherwise equally capable offered themselves, whether he would not rather engage the one that could write, so as to help him with his cargo notes, toll tickets, &c, his reply was " No; he would prefer the one that could neither read nor write, as lads that had a bit of learning 'put it on' so." The missionary efforts pursued in many of the canal localities, such as London, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent, and others have, however, not only overcome these prejudices, hat have been to considerable extent successful in conquering the difficulties offered by the circumstances offered by the boat population. The report furnishes particulars of 312 boats registered in Birmingham, of the masters of which 78 were either single men or had no children over or under the school age. The remaining 134 were the parents or guardians of children of school age. As to these children, 351 in number, there had not been time for a perfect investigation of their school attendance; but, as it came to the knowledge of the parents or guardians that the children would be required to attend school, many of them were removed to houses on land, so that they might be able to comply with the requirements of the law as to education. At one school in Birmingham, connected with the Seamen and Boatmen's Friendly Society. cabin children alone, excluding those having homes in the town, had made 3,760 attendances during the year. This figure may not account for a great many children, but it is at any rate a beginning. There is one passage in the report which deserves notice, from the bearing it has on a question now being much considered in local circles. It is stated that boat people experienced great hardship last winter from canals being frozen up. Some of the companies kept the waterways open for short local traffic, but the long-distance traffic was for a time entirely suspended, seventy boats being ice-bound in one coal-loading district alone, while large numbers were blocked up in Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and, in fact, in all the large boating centres. The state of things here described will naturally receive the attention of persons interested in the scheme for constructing a ship canal from Birmingham to the mouth of the Severn. Reverting to the boat people, we find Mr. Brydone concluding his report with the following encouraging statement:- "I think it may be gathered from this report that the Canal Boat Acts of 1877 and 1884, and the regulations of the Local Government Board, continue to effect a marked improvement both in the habits and conditions of the men, their wives, and families, and consequently in their cleanliness, healthiness, and comfort of their floating homes."

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History of the Canals and their People - continued - Don Baines

Continuing my trawl through the British Library’s archive for articles on frozen canals, I came upon this follow-up article to the previous one, published in the Birmingham Daily Post.  Tuesday September 18, 1900. Again, I have reproduced the article exactly how it was first written.


Some interesting facts about canal boatmen and their conditions of life were given yesterday in a paper, read by Mr. F. Rayner, at the Birmingham Council House, to a conference convened by the Incorporated Seamen and Boatmen’s Friend Society. And presided over by Mr. Andrew Arter of Liverpool. Mr. Rayner, who is hon. Treasurer of the local branch, explained that the navigable canals in England and Wales have a total length of 2,208 miles. Two kinds of boats, broad and narrow, are employed - the former on such canals as the Leeds and Liverpool, the latter at Ellesmere Port, Wolverhampton, Birmingham and Worcester.


For mission work among canal boatmen and their families, Birmingham forms an excellent centre, being surrounded by a perfect network of canals. The Birmingham Canal Company alone having 160 miles of canal, with 216 locks. On an average 800 boats pass along it daily, carrying 25,000 tons, or 8,000,000 tons annually, or one-third of the canal traffic of the United Kingdom. Birmingham has the Birmingham and Worcester Canal, connecting it by means of the Severn and Avon with towns in the west, and the Warwick and Birmingham Canal, connecting it by means of the Grand Junction with the metropolis. Accurate statistics of the canal population Mr. Rayner says are difficult to obtain. In 1833 8,000 canal-boats were registered as dwellings, providing accommodation for 22,811 persons. In 1898 this had grown to 10,408 boats registered as dwellings. Allowing an average of three persons to each boat, this gives a total of 30,000, to which must be added those who are employed on “open” boats not registered as dwellings, performing short journeys to and from neighbouring collieries, brickfields, &c., making a total of 40,000 to 50,000 persons, a number equal to nearly one-tenth of the population of Birmingham. Fifty years ago the cabins were dirty, and whole families huddled together anyhow, the boats being, with few exceptions, their only home. Drunkenness and immorality prevailed, the marriage tie was too often ignored, and the children were totally neglected, many of the parents being too ignorant themselves to have any thought of the value of education, or the need of guidance or moral training.


A great an happy change had been brought about. The late John Brydon, chief inspector under the Canal Boats Act, and a true friend of the boatmen, in his report for 1898, says :- “I have from time to time during the year gone to the canals and rivers in different districts with a view to ascertaining by personal observation the exact condition of the cabins of the boats. I can attest very confidently to the great improvement which has been brought in those cabin homes since the Acts first came into force. The cabins were, as a rule, filthy and uncared for: men, women and children were all huddled together, and little or no attention paid to the proprieties of life. As it was the exception then to meet with a good clean boat, neither overcrowded nor improperly occupied by the two sexes, so it is now the exception to meet with any boat which is dirty or dilapidated, or to find one overcrowded or improperly occupied.


Let us (Mr. Rayner proceeded) step on board with the permission of the master or captain, and look into the cabin, and see what it really is, and have a chat with the captains wife and bairns. The dimensions of the cabin are 7ft. or 8ft. long by 6ft. wide, with barely standing-room for a well-proportioned man. The furniture comprises a stove and a cupboard, the door of which falls forward and does duty as a table; another cupboard, where the bed is stored away during the day; and on the opposite side of the cabin is a locker, upon which another bed may be placed at night - all available room thus being utilised.
To those fond of walking the towing-paths of some of our canals (outside the busy towns), ample scope is afforded for pleasant exercise; the banks abound with wild plants and flowers, the landscape is often picturesque, and fishing even is often found profitable. I witnessed a happy incident in canal-boat life. A hearty, healthy lassie of thirteen or fourteen summers was leading the horse, when a call from her father, who was steering, summoned her to the cabin to change places with him. The very first thing the girl did on stepping on board was to seize hold of the baby and kiss it on both cheeks. A pretty snap-shot.


The present society grew out of “The Seaman’s Mission” and “The Inland Navigation Society,” and was founded in 1846. There are now ten mission centres - Liverpool, Birkenhead, Seacombe, Ellesmere Port, Birmingham, Hednesford, London, Plymouth, Bristol and Leeds - at seven of which the missionaries daily labour among large numbers of canal boatmen. The annual reports of the Local Government Board have often allude to the association as “paving the way for the spread of education” and to a considerable extent overcoming the difficulties incidental to a floating population. The expression of the association’s work was greatly aided by the passing of the Canal Boats Acts of 1877 and 1884, mainly the result of labours of the late George Smith of Coalville. At most of the stations or mission centres suitable buildings are provided where religious services, Bible meetings, mother’s meetings, lectures &c., are held. These meetings are well attended and greatly appreciated. At Birmingham, Hednesford and Liverpool there are coffee-rooms, which have proved a great comfort and blessing to the men, for while supplying their temporal wants the faithful missionaries lose no opportunity of ministering to their spiritual needs. Daily papers are provided, also pens and ink, and the willing services of a scribe for those who cannot write. Two hundred and three letters were written last year at the Birmingham and Hednesford coffee-rooms alone. In Bristol, Birmingham, Plymouth and Leeds religious services and open-air preaching are carried on at the wharves on Sunday morning during summer months, in the evening the service is held in the mission halls. Portable harmoniums and hearty singing contribute greatly to the cheerfulness and popularity of these meetings, which are often cheeringly attended, and found to be the source of much blessing. The important work of canal and wharf visitation is carried systematically by the missionaries.


The towing-path, Mr. Rayner added, affords many precious opportunities. The sick are visited in their cabins, temperance pledges are taken, many a quarrel stopped, and an immense amount of good work done. In one district alone a thousand copies of the penny New Testament have been sold in a year on the towing-path. The circulation of the association’s magazine, “The Waterman,” which was started in 1882 by the missionaries in Liverpool and Birmingham, under the able editorship of the Rev. R. W. Cusworth, increased during the past year from 33,000 copies to 47,000. It supplies a distinct want among the boatmen, and is eagerly read by them. It is also a connecting link between the various stations. Another evidence of the usefulness of the society was given in the severe frost of 1895, when the canals were frozen for more than two months. In the Birmingham district £147 was raised, and 300 boat people relieved, beside help being extended towards stabling and keep of horses and donkeys. The boatmen, who generally speaking, are hardworking and independent, were truly grateful for the help the society was able to afford them in their dire extremity. The society is steadily progressing. The income from £300 in the earlier years has risen to £2,500 in 1899. Mission stations have increased from one to ten, missionaries from one to eleven. The new district opened by the travelling secretary in September last year last having as its centre the important city of Leeds is full of promise. The work lies chiefly among canal boatmen and river-men - the latter trading chiefly to Goole - and is under the supervision of an able local committee. In the midland district the good work is about to be extended to Walsall, where at the top lock the Birmingham Canal Company has offered the society a plot of ground, at a nominal rental, suitable for the erection of a boatmen’s rest and mission room. The building , with furniture will cost £350; and towards this the treasurer has in cash and promises up to date £221 12s., so that a further sum of £129 is yet required.

Captain R. P. J. Simpson, R.N. (Liverpool), having read a paper on “Our Sailors and Their Claims on the Sympathy of Churches,” a discussion took place, in which the Rev. J. W. Canning (travelling secretary) , Captain Ewert, Captain Butt (Bristol), and others joined. It was stated that in spite of the Acts which have been passed with regard to the education of boatmen’s children and the regulation of boats used as dwellings, there are still boys and girls to be found who at thirteen or fourteen years of age cannot read or write. The remedy urged by Mr. Canning was to prevent children of school age travelling in the boats. It was impossible, he urged, for children with no settled home to get anything like proper schooling. This suggestion was heartily endorsed by the conference, which also applauded the statement that for some years past the Birmingham Canal Company had kept its canals closed to traffic during the daytime on Sundays. Some of the boatmen at first resented the change, but it was now highly appreciated, and had resulted in a great improvement in the attendance of the canal population at mission and other services. In Yorkshire the Sunday canal traffic was still a great evil. At the close of the conference those attending it were invited to lunch at the Hen and Chickens Hotel by Mr. and Mrs. Joel Cadbury.

In the evening there was a public tea at the Boatmen’s Hall, Bridge Street, followed by a missionary meeting. Mr. C. A. Smith-Ryland (president of the Birmingham and Hednesford Branch) took the chair, and among those who took part in the meeting were Captain Ewert, Captain Simpson. The Rev. F. W. Brown, Councillor A. J. Smith, Captain Butt, Mr. R. M. Morphett, Miss Smith (Bristol), Mr A. Arter, and the missionaries of the society. In connection with the conference special services were held on Sunday at the Boatmen’s Hall, the Midland Institute, the Wycliffe Baptist Church and the Lombard Street Mission, while open-air services were held for the boatmen at various places in Birmingham and the district. All the meetings were well attended.

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This information and plea from Sue Day, chairperson of The Horseboating Society

Hello All,

Are you aware of the article below about the discovery of sunken horseboats at Harefield?

What do you suggest the Horseboating Society should do about it, if anything?

The title of the article says there are 18 joshers. These are wonderful boats so an exciting find, but the wide boats may be much more exciting. Depends on their condition of course, but these are a rare find. This could be a possibility of using one or more wide iron horseboat(s) to be horsedrawn.

Fantastic that the boats are being called horseboats rather than other terms like butty, dumb boats etc. The Horseboating Society might be having some impact! Which "experts" were called in to help identify the boats?

HBS does not get directly involved in restoration of horseboats as we believe we must concentrate on getting boats horse-drawn, hence our name being the Horseboating Society, rather than the Horseboat Society. However several of our members, as individuals or within other groupings, restore and maintain horseboats.

Please note that the Horseboating Society has an agreement with British Waterways that if BW is selling any horseboats, then HBS must be notified. I trust that if BW and TWT are involved, then they will ensure that HBS is informed about the potential future of these boats. Please would anyone aware of the next procedures be sure to include the HBS. The comments on the article suggest Hillingdon Council or BW might own the boats.

For more info on HBS see 

See the article below.


Following a Sunday afternoon walk Mark Pullinger chanced upon a wide boat in a country park, then as the scene unfolded more boats were found. a whole collection of boats is still extant and untouched in a gravel pit in Harefield.

The boats lying sunk and or buried at Harefield are a time capsule awaiting proper exploration, conservation and recording. Some of the craft will be salvageable and may return to the inland waterways. Others will need recording for future reference, as they may not be in a recoverable condition.

The site contains the remains of in excess of 50 boats in theory, some evidence could indicate even more, however some may have been removed over the years.

The waters are fished by the Harrow Angling club and the site is part of Colne Valley country park contained within the borough of Hillingdon.

We would ask you to not interfere with any of the remains as it is our intention to alert National public awareness to this site in the hope that professional recovery and examination will be forthcoming. We have done as much research as time has permitted and are very grateful to certain key enthusiasts who have shared information and also to the Waterways Trust for assisting with this effort.

The following craft are identifiable and their probable locations are known:

Fellows, Morton & Clayton iron horse boats:
Tring (former Turkey)

Wooden horse boats:

Wooden Motor boats:

A H Taylor horse boat:

L B Faulkner Horse boat:

Warwickshire Canal carrying Co motor boat:

Thos Clayton (Paddington) wooden wide boats:
Forget me not

The following are known to be on the site but location is not known:

Associated Canal Carriers (GUCCCo):

Thos Clayton (Paddington) wide boats
Rose of Tyburn

Warwickshire Canal Carrying Co:
MB The King

Henry Boyer wide boats:
4 iron, 1 steel names not known.

BCN Joey
BCN !7928 open iron boat

Grand Union Canal Co
Composite Mud hopper

As there is no way of posting pictures here please see threads in
"Canal World discussion forums" or "Just Canals" for images

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IWA Press Releases

Issue Date Monday 8 March 2010

IWA Responds to Defra's 'Waterways for Everyone' Consultation

The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) has issued its response to the Defra consultation on Waterways for Everyone. 

In making its response, the IWA invites government to toughen up its commitment to the inland waterways both in terms of contribution of funding to maintain the publicly stated benefits in 'Waterways for Everyone', and in government's priority actions, in particular, IWA believes that government should do more to:

  • decide what needs to be done to bring the waterways into good condition and to provide a lead in achieving the financial packaging required to achieve that, including grant to the publicly owned waterways. This should include facilitating volunteering on the publicly funded waterways so that it can make a greater impact and help deliver a high quality waterways network - to be achieved within 5 years.

  • change planning guidance and the planning system, as appropriate, so that planning authorities protect the lines of all disused waterways that have realistic prospects of being brought back into use.

  • reappraise the approach given to incentivising the transfer of freight carriage onto inland waterways so that the current grant system is replaced by a fresh package of financial incentives that are sufficiently attractive to ensure that there is a marked increase in the transportation of goods and materials by waterway.

  • encourage the waterway authorities to voluntarily agree to a marketing proposition that presents the waterways with a common identity to become imprinted on the nation's consciousness; and

  • finally, with the above building blocks in place, help facilitate the launch of an Inland Waterways Conservancy (IWC), as a third sector organisation embracing as a minimum the waterways currently operated by the publicly owned waterway authorities and flexible enough to incorporate other waterways when appropriate, with a long term service contract and associated Service Level Agreement from central government to reflect the public benefits delivered by the waterways - to be achieved within 10 years.

Speaking on behalf of IWA, Clive Henderson national chairman said:

'We consider that the document produced for consultation is good in terms of detailing the public agenda and in setting the background and context. However, we believe that it is currently seriously compromised in not providing enough focus on what actions are needed to be done to achieve the outcomes, nor is there enough rigour on deliverability. The actions for government are identified but not with a clear course of action, and there is no such listing for other bodies and organisations. '

He continued :

'We also believe that with over 5,000kms of navigable waterways in the ownership or control of over 30 waterway authorities, strategic consideration should now be given to how these could be more efficiently managed so that there are greater synergies to achieve cost efficiencies and a consistent high quality customer focus.'

For more information contact....
For press inquiries contact
01494 783 453

Issue Date 24 March 2010

IWA Welcomes Government Statement on Mutualisation of British Waterways

The Inland Waterways Association ( IWA ) welcomes Government's announcement in its Budget statement today, that it will progress proposals to allow British Waterways to be mutualised, possibly as a charitable trust, responsible for managing waterways assets on a long lease with the non-operational property endowment held in a 'charity locked' arrangement.

IWA understands that much further work will be needed to identify the exact form of mutual and the detail of its governance and relationship with Government. IWA also welcomes the Government's intention to safeguard British Waterways' assets by ensuring that any proposal will:

  • Ensure robust governance arrangements and purpose so waterways assets and the public benefits they bring are protected now and in the future;

  • Develop a governance structure that allows all users, local communities and other stakeholders to hold the new body to account; and

  • Put the waterways on a long-term sustainable footing while reducing the ongoing cost to the taxpayer.

Speaking on behalf of IWA, Clive Henderson, national chairman said:

'We are pleased with today's announcement as we have supported this initiative from the start. We are also pleased to see Government's intentions to ensure that the public interest is safeguarded, as this has also been one of our overriding concerns in the development of the proposals put forward by BW.'

He continued;

'IWA looks forward to participating in the promised full consultation, and will be actively seeking to ensure that this opportunity is built upon for the benefit of all waterways users, by exploring the opportunities that a larger Inland Waterways Conservancy might present. With over 5,000km of navigable waterways in the ownership or control of over 30 navigation authorities, the two largest are the government funded and controlled agencies, British Waterways and the Environment Agency. Our vision is to encourage the formation of a larger, rationalised organisation, incorporating both British Waterways and Environment Agency managed waterways, that will also allow for the opportunity for other non-publicly funded navigations to join at some time in the future.'

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