Toasting the Queen - Inland Waterways Bulletin 66

I recently bought a copy of the Inland Waterways Bulletin from 1962. I have got a couple of other early issues and find them to be fascinating insight into waterway's history; in particular how the we managed to move from a canal and river transport system being part of a nationalised industry, to today's charity run heritage organisation working in the leisure age.

In 1962 things looked dire for the waterways. The Conservative Government, with Ernest Marples as Minister of Transport, had just published a Transport Bill. Robert Aickman, as founder and Vice President of IWA, with characteristic forthrightness titled his leading article in the bulletin "DEFEAT". He bemoaned the fact that the Transport Bill "takes the principle of profit at all costs as far as it will go". An new Inland Waterways Authority  (note the likely initials) was to be established with the power to "make charges for their services and facilities ..... subject to such terms and conditions as they think fit". Aickman considered it to be "a charter to close the entire system". He reports in the leading article how the IWA had tried unsuccessfully to get the concept of "reasonable charges" incorporated in the Bill and he alludes to what government might have in store for the railways. I was wondering where this argument might be leading when I noticed over the page the infamous name Dr. Beeching and then the penny dropped! Aickman goes on to describe the Conservative fantasy of making every mile of transport "pay", pouring scorn on their ideas and promising that the Conservatives will have lost the support of those struggling to keep the waterways open. Aickman didn't hold back!

Problems on the Marple Aqueduct, 1962

Although the IWA at that time was very much involved with political lobbying at the highest level, and there is an extensive section reporting on canal restoration, the letters section of the Bulletin is entirely taken up with discussing protocol and manners at the Associations dinners. It appears that steps had be taken to "democratize" the Annual Dinner and that in a earlier bulletin this had been criticised. The argument appeared to revolve around making a separate charge for dinner and  for the wine so as to allow those that could not afford wine to opt out but still attend. The criticism appeared to be that you could not make a toast (particularly to the Monarch) without using wine! In Bulletin 66 several members with military backgrounds came to the defence of the Association by pointing out that toasting royalty with water frequently occurred in the Forces. By today's standards the argument appears somewhat arcane, if not a little silly. One of the correspondents, whilst supporting the argument for not including wine, nevertheless called on the Association to maintain standards and not reduce the Annual Dinner to "the level of a popular cafe". He pointed out that the formal Annual Dinner was in fact a lobbying opportunity which "can help the cause in Parliament". I think given the political situation at the time he may have had a point, but what a difference to the IWA Branch dinners of today.

Leek Basin, Caldon Canal, 1962  
(following abandonment in 1944)

There are some interesting reports in the Bulletin from around the country on the progress (or lack of it) in restoring canals such as the Ashton, Chesterfield and Caldon. A interesting short piece on drownings also caught my eye. It appears that those wishing for "disused" canals to be filled-in often quoted drownings as a reason: the Bulletin reports that the Ashton had been called a "Killer Canal" by the press. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents had reported that in 1960 there were 25 drownings on canals, between 20 and 30 on the Thames and 43 in public baths. A correspondent pointed out that most canal drownings were in disused navigations and that if the argument was about public safety then why not fill in the River Thames and close all public baths!

Sappers restoring the Stratford Canal