Foreword by Hugh McKnight
Introduction — On writing the biography of a boat.
Chapter 1 —Adelina, from Thy Dark Exile
The finding, raising, and naming of Adelina; her history, from being opened as a Boys' Club by the Duke of Gloucester; moving her to Shardlow.
Chapter 2 — In Friendship's Name
Making the boat more or less inhabitable; fed-upness of colleagues with canal obsessivenesss and method of getting own back; moving Adelina to Burton upon Trent.
Chapter 3 —Hitting the Trail
Journey of Adelina to London, mainly towed by Willow Wren working boats; problems of finding residential moorings in London.
Chapter 4 — All Mod Cons
The next phase of making Adelina into a home; odd plumbing system and sanitation.
Chapter 5 —Duckett's Cut
Life on a canal in the East End of London; peculiar method of access; amiable encounters with the police, and the dog that couldn't climb ladders; decision to move home.
Chapter 6 — The Basingstoke
Brief account of the tribulations of the Basingstoke Canal, and what life on it was like; Floating Homes in a floating suburb.
Chapter 7 — Water Music
Further civilising of Adelina, with description of curious systems of pumping and electric lights.
Chapter 8 —The Canal Press
Account of setting up a miniature printing and book binding activity on board, which culminated in the production of two small books.
Chapter 9 — Memorabilia
The collecting mania and canal enthusiasm combined; filling Adelina with teapots and books; painting her in a traditional fashion.
Chapter 10 — Deep Waters
Narrative of a journey on the remarkable underground canal system (now closed) used in the coal mines established by the Duke of Bridgewater at Worsley.
Chapter 11 — Rallying Round
Recalls some personally memorable highlights of Rallies at Aylesbury, Woking, London; Dinners at House of Commons, attended whilst resident on Adelina.
Chapter 12 — Goodbye
Final account of Adelina as she was just before her owners departed for new country; toddlers on board and their life.
Description of a visit by the family in 1977, the first time Adelina had been visited by the Horsfalls in 12 years, seen through the eyes of 15 year old Amelia.
CHAPTER 11: RALLYING ROUND
There have been numerous references to the Inland Waterways Association in this chronicle, which is proper as that vigorous body absorbs quite a large part of an active member's life. For posterity, a definitive history of the IWA ought to be written. Unfortunately the complex interplay of personalities, inevitably occurring in unorthodox but highly successful ventures, results in few nodal points being created, from which the scene could be recorded dispassionately.
From simple beginnings the IWA has grown to be one of the most effective, perhaps the most effective, of the United Kingdom's campaigning bodies. This superlative includes the large, well funded, vested interests which support lobbies of all kinds. The Association is composed of people who have ideals and beliefs and are not afraid of expressing them; and who unite in a common cause; love of the beautiful inland waterways forming part of the national heritage of the British Isles. Few bodies conceived so modestly have taken on a nationalised industry, equipped with all the power and resources such a monolith can command, and largely prevailed.
The British Transport Commission produced a document, the notorious Board of Survey Report, which in effect provided a comprehensive plan for the eventual destruction of all but some 300 miles of the nationalised waterways entrusted to the Commission. That the system, over 20 years later, is still largely intact is entirely due to campaigning by the IWA and affiliates at all levels of society.
Whilst the waterways finally emerged from the struggle somewhat battered and virtually without commercial traffic, they emerged; and there is now general agreement among policy makers that inland navigations are desirable features of the landscape.
The Association functions in a number of ways, some more mysterious than others. One is by direct appeal to the public, asking them in turn to protest to Authority about a proposal to destroy a waterways amenity. Another method of campaigning is to ensure that Parliamentary representatives are fully informed on any waterways situation that is being debated. Proper briefing means that Members do not have to depend for data solely on the utterances of permanent staff in the relevant ministries.
The struggle continues: even though wholesale abandonment measures have themselves been abandoned. Waterways are in many cases still under-maintained; and little is done to promote commercial carrying. Much encouragement is still required at the important Local Authority level to initiate good waterways projects.
The campaign is being carried on today with the skill and determination of earlier days; but with the advantage of greatly increased Membership. Written presentations have long been a feature of IWA campaigning, and the standard of technical literature and other publications has always been high.
The distant observer such as
myself cannot fail, for example, to be impressed by the fine document Waterways Survival . It is in the finest traditions of the IWA, setting out clearly, for an uncommitted public, what the waterways are, how they are controlled; their multifunctional uses, from water supply and angling to commercial and pleasure boating; and the measures that must be adopted to "ensure not only their survival but also their expansion and development for the future". If the distant observer is impressed, the local, uncommitted reader should be overwhelmed.
The IWA in its turn has inspired several regional canal societies, usually composed of a mixture of IWA members and local residents, who are able, from firsthand knowledge, to give in-depth attention to a particular waterway. Outstanding have been the Coventry Canal Society and the Surrey and Hampshire Canal Society (will members of groups omitted please forgive the lacunae, and ascribe them to 16 years absence from the scene).
The former organised much of the campaigning leading to the Stratford Canal being taken over by the National Trust. The latter spearheaded the astonishing restoration work currently in progress on the Basingstoke Canal, described in Chapter 6, and is largely responsible for the rapid progress of that stupendous scheme. A relative newcomer, also faced with a near-hopeless task, is the Wey and Arun Society: their waterway was abandoned in 1868! Theirs is a campaign that must catch the public imagination.
Most satisfactory of all is when the IWA convinces by practical demonstration. There is no better method of showing how attractive and useful a waterway can be than by getting a few boats on it, especially if trading boats lurk among the pleasure craft. If the few expands to a hundred or more vessels, all aimiably travelling and then mooring together, so much more effective the demonstration.
Rallies therefore are an important part of the IWA's activities and have been for many years. Getting large numbers of boats to one place at a given time, with ancillary trade shows, information stands, literature stalls, and indeed every kind of water-based activity imagineable, has been one of the most powerful modus operandi in making the general public aware of what the campaign is all about. Rallies are generally held on threatened or little-used canals; but sometimes a non-threatened popular waterway will be chosen, simply to introduce more people to the delights of inland waterways. During the years we lived on Adelina, I helped in several Rallies of which perhaps those in Aylesbury, Woking, and London were the most memorable.
The Aylesbury Council decided they would like to convert their quite charming little canal basin into an omnibus station or some similarly unromantic object. Ignoring the fact that the basin provided a unique amenity, being a small harbour in the centre of a town quite far from the sea, they set to work with a will. Not content with just trying to have the basin filled in, the Council sought to abandon the whole Aylesbury Arm as well.
The Arm, heavily locked but passing through the most delightfully rural countryside, is an offshoot of the grand Union Canal some five miles long. The canal area would have made an uncommonly long 'bus station or car park, so perhaps the ultimate objective was to make an extended storage yard for the massed Green Line and Red Line fleets of London Transport.
An energetic member of the Association, Randall Meinertzhagen, who had been very active on the Kennet and Avon, started up the opposition to abandonment by establishing a pleasure boating business in the basin. He also succeeded in restoring some of the water-born coal and timber traffic to yards adjoining the basin. Willow Wren were the carriers, and their activities brought a good deal of life back to previously near-deserted waters. The periodical arrival of a pair of well painted boats, deeply laden with goods that would otherwise have been carried on congested roads, aroused favourable comment in local newspapers and magazines.
However, Official Intention thwarted leads to Official Pressure doubled, and the need for more anti-abandonment support was recognised by the IWA Council. They decided to hold the 1961 National Rally of Boats at Aylesbury. A Rally Committee was set up under the skilful Chairmanship of Captain Munk; Robert Aickman served on the Committee in an advisory capacity, giving advice from the sidelines. His commentaries were a remarkable blend of wit and sagacity, based in turn on acumen and practised analytical skill in determining the true motivation of the opposition.
My job on the Committee was publicity, and I revelled in it, plotting the task with unwonted energy and a precision verging on the military. Lists of all potential sources of publicity were drawn up, classified, and tabulated. Eventually I could see at a glance what news-release had been sent to a particular magazine and whether anything had been published. The task was time consuming as the Press Officer aimed to write a different story for each newspaper and magazine, and resisted the temptation to write one article and send duplicated copies off to all the publications.
The response to the whole campaign was staggering. It really made one appreciate that the IWA's policy was far more in line with the will of the people than the many repressive yet official measures promoted to kill off the canal system.
By the time National Rally Week arrived, practically every journal in England, together with not-a-few in the outlying dependancies had printed something about the event. Outstanding among the publicity was a fine lengthy article on the leader page of the Daily Mail by their main features writer Vincent Mulchrone. He joined Ann, Selina (our daughter) and myself for half a day on the Grand Union Canal as we sped towards the festivities in Anne, the converted ex-lifeboat.
Although his report contained the odd pleasant reference to the crew and the ex-concrete mixer engine (whose vibrations converted his shorthand into longhand), the greater part was devoted to favourable comment on the work of the Association. Noel Whitcomb of the Daily Mirror, doyen of the feature writers, similarly helped a couple of weeks previously with pre-publicity, again joining the family on Anne and cruising along the Regent's Canal. The friendliness of these gentlemen and their great helpfulness was typical of the response of the great part of the press; and press support has been a major factor in the IWA's success.
The only national journal which did not print anything at all prior to the event was one — which shall remain nameless — devotedly promoting road and rail transport in that order. Its columns were having a lively correspondence on the subject of canals just about the time of the pre-Rally publicity campaign, which subject was a most unusual one for the magazine to mention, let alone actively pursue.
The correspondence debated the merits of converting the main line of the Grand Union Canal into a motorway, as compared with just letting the navigation fester away. The editorials were generally limited to approving clucks every time someone came up with a bright idea on what to do at locks. It seemed to me that if thinking of that sort was the limit of canal promotion in the publication, the chance of the editorial staff slipping in a few words on the demerits of abandoning the Aylesbury Arm seemed remote.
However, seduction was worth a try and interestingly enough, when the Rally got under way, the journal did carry a non-committal account of the proceedings, phrased so that readers saw the event through grey, rain-drenched spectacles. The only other nationally circulating magazine that did not carry a mention of the Aylesbury Rally was the Exchange and Mart, and the most devoted press Officer could forgive the omission: Rallies are unclassifiable.
When the Rally week arrived, a mass of photographers and reporters assembled to view and record the proceedings. Whilst the reporters were happily interviewing boat crews and officials and writing articles promoting the aims of the function, the photographers, naturally enough, wandered around looking for newsy photogenic items. They were pretty thin on the ground. Boatowners are fairly healthy folk; there had been no accidents en route; and none of the boats were in imminent danger of sinking.
Births, marriages and deaths were not allowed to intrude on Rallies, unless organised well in advance to form part of the proceedings. Apart, therefore, from pictures of the canals themselves, a limited trio of curiosities dominated the pictorial record of the proceedings. The trio consisted of the Hutchings' donkey, our daughter Selina, and Mrs. Sharp.
The Hutchings arrived in a splendid boat, the successor to Ftatateeta. The Lady Hatherton had been the official inspection of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Company, and was a lovely old vessel. Her hull was that of a traditional narrow boat, but constructed with even more graceful lines. Her superstructure was also elegant but built with the sort of solidity associated with Edwardian railway carriages, oak-panelled internally, and equipped with sliding windows which still carried, on the panes, an etched, ornate S&W monogram.
The engine installed to replace her steam power was a little unreliable in operation, so David brought the family donkey along. The beast accepted its somewhat eventful life in the fashion that characterised all their animals (does anyone still remember Creosote, David's remarkably devoted and waterways orientated bull terrier?), and travelled along in the open well at the front of the boat.
The majestic arrival of the Lady Hatherton was greeted with joy by the photographers, who had been standing around waiting for something to happen — nobody had even fallen in — and the donkey immediately became a Star Attraction. Sometimes photographed getting into the boat, sometimes getting out, sometimes just standing contemplating the landscape from the boat or — exciting variation — the boat from the landscape, the poor creature was kept hard at work for a couple of hours. However, the moke did get modelling fees of carrots and sugar, bribes particularly important when the animal showed signs of becoming mulish. Towards the end of the session, sustenance was demanded every five minutes, which perhaps was more from the development of a learning curve in food procurement than from innate gluttony.
The next attraction, Mrs. Victoria Sharp, was a well known feature of the IWA
Rallies of the period. She invariably attended them with her son and daughter-in-law in their converted narrow boat Empire, sitting in the prow as the boat chugged along, looking a little like a livelier version of Queen Victoria. She was 95 at the time of the Aylesbury Rally and unquestionably the oldest participant. She may even have been the oldest temporary inhabitant of Buckinghamshire — and hence the public interest. With a mind as clear as a bell she was a delightful conversationalist, recalling events from her extreme youth with great ease. I recall a little anecdote of hers that gave me a brief, proxy encounter with one of the legendary English singers.
Mrs. Sharpe's father had known many opera singers and she recalled an evening when her parents had a social evening at their home. She was about five at the time, aware of the grown-ups socialising and fretful at being excluded from the festivities. Rumour of her fretfulness and sleeplessness reached one of the guests at least, for he stole into the nursery and sang a lullaby. She recalled the song and the singer — Sims Reeves, at that time (say 1872) the favourite of the monarch. He was born in 1818 and made his debut at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in King Arthur under the equally legendary Macready's management, in 1842.
41. Coal and Canals: Robert Aikman and Felix Pearson
in a coal washing plant (Snowdown in Kent).
42. The Hutchings brought their donkey along.
If Mrs. Sharp was the oldest, Selina was undoubtedly the youngest at the Rally; at six months old, there could have been no younger children being exposed to the damp canal atmosphere. She was used to it, having been almost born on a boat; and to be precise, had started living on Adelina when but seven days old. On the way to Aylesbury, the infant slumbered peacefully in the tiny Anne, recumbent in her carrycot, at night being put out of the cabin and lodged next to the engine under a tarpaulin.
The tempting combination of oldest and youngest participants was inevitably photographed: even The Times photographer succumbed to that one. The extremes of age were also photographed separately. To my surprise, no-one thought of putting all three phenomena together, with Mrs. Sharp leading the donkey and Selina sitting on the creature. The binomial theorem suggests at least six combinations.
The overall press coverage of the proceedings was outstandingly favourable to the Association's aims, and must have contributed significantly to the abandonment proposals being withdrawn. Boats can still navigate to Aylesbury. Of all the press promotions, that of the Evening News remains in the memory as being of a particularly enthusiastic nature. The paper ran a special slip Rally edition: the front page a mass of canal and boat pictures (all germane to the event), with news of the day's proceedings printed in the stop-press column. Inside, the paper was the normal Evening News of the day; and this effort was kept up for five days! Whether the special edition made much money for the News I doubt; but the act remains in my mind as one of the most amiable gestures I have come across to a small community battling to save something they believed worthwhile and in the national interest.
Our own journey to Aylesbury was, towards the end, as close to being at breakneck speed as possible on a canal journey. Field telephones were much in evidence (the Army loved using such get-togethers as communications exercises), and via them I received a message at one of the locks on the Grand Union that my presence was urgently required at the Aylesbury Basin. Ann, Anne, and I did all we could to get there with as much despatch as possible. It was fortunate for Selina that she could not walk, as otherwise she would have been pressed into lock-wheeling for us down the Aylesbury locks. I doubt whether any fly boat made that journey more quickly.
When we arrived at the basin, hot and exhausted, I asked which particular Nabob had summoned us. So far as could be seen, everyone was lounging around drinking tea, with not the slightest sign of an emergency anywhere. It appeared that our well-known tendency to arrive slightly late had preceded us as a reputation, and to ensure the Press Secretary arrived shortly before rather than shortly after the Rally, a message urging haste had been sent. One must admit that there is nothing more conducive to haste than a serious young army type, holding an official message form in his hand, virtually ordering one to get down the locks at the double.
In addition to newspaper representation, television and film reporters arrived as well, Pathe News and Pathe Pictorial both being in attendance. Pathe News produced a real come-out-fighting type of newsreel episode, whilst Pathe Pictorial made a wholly charming short film for their Look at Life series. This latter kept being revived for a number of years afterwards, generally as part of a supporting programme when a waterways orientated film was being shown as the main feature.
Sitting in a Johannesburg cinema, some fifteen years after the Aylesbury Rally, Ann and I suddenly saw younger versions of ourselves flash onto the screen, with a tiny Selina hogging the camera: quite a different creature to the self-possessed fifteen year old sitting next to us. News of the showing somehow spread along to her friends and I was told that the next evening the film star, with a fair number of her pals, sat in the cinema, the latter all wanting to see their schoolmate in nappies. Probably it was fortunate for Selina's self respect that the programme was changed — though her credibility rating took a bit of a battering.
43. Arrival of Jack Munk at Aylesbury - NCB display behind.
42. Left: Mrs Sharp at Work. Right: Woking Ralley poster.
The National Coal Board film unit also came along, to capture the happenings for Mining Review. Their participation was the result of a somewhat devious chain of events. To add point to the Rally objective of making the townsfolk aware of what their Council was trying to take away from them, the Committee decided to arrange for a laden pair of coal boats to arrive at the height of the festivities.
The two weeks preceding the Rally happened to be a holiday period for pits able to load boats, and willing though Willow Wren were to have a pair on site, there was little point in an empty pair turning up. The matter reached the level of the NCB's Director of Transport in the Marketing Department, who really co-operated. Even he couldn't have made the miners start a shift early — and why should they? — but he could ensure that the Willow Wren boats received priority at the loading appliance, and were on their way after being filled with coal at a record rate.
Almost a boatload of internal memoranda was written to secure the result. My friend from the National Federation of the Blind, who also worked at the National Coal Board, must take most of the credit for ensuring that the boats got there at all, even though they were not quite on time. Muriel made it a personal mission to bring about a colourful event that she, alas, could not see. The boats arrived right in the middle of a canoe race. The contestants immediately withdrew to let the deeply laden pair pass by unimpeded: quite apart from the canoeists wanting to show respect to carrying boats, they probably felt it politic to draw aside and let the hundred tons or so of steel, coal, and wood have precedence.
By this stage the Pathe and television camera crews had withdrawn, but the NCB film unit actually arrived with the boats. They were in effect captive cameramen, having embarked on the boats at the start of the Arm; but they must have been happy captives if the quality of their film reveals anything of its
creators' states of mind. Their short episode was a beautiful little tribute to canal carrying.
The pair were filmed whilst being loaded at Baddesley Colliery, and from the start an air of excitement was created. The whole idea of common or dirty coal being loaded into boats, sent to its destination by romantic, winding waterways, and then the arrival of the black stuff being regarded as the highlight of a Rally of Boats, appealed to scripwriters and cameramen alike. Together they really captured the spirit of the event.
In addition, the Public Relations Department of the NCB mounted an exhibition on a moored butty boat in the basin. They even paid rent for the use of the boat! The display was in the form of a ten foot high model of a colliery headgear at one end of the boat, picked out in lights, and a tall mast bearing the NCB flag at the other. Between mast and headgear was a huge sail advertising a domestic heating appliance. Fluttering above all was the NCB House-warming symbol of flames radiating from coal.
The sail carried a slogan to the effect that the inland waterways carried some 3,500,000 tons of coal per annum. The exhibition was eye-catching, particularly at night when floodlighting and coloured bulbs wrought their own magic in alliance with the setting. My abiding feeling is that the Coal Board's help on this occasion was outstanding and memorable. Sadly, it was in marked contrast to just about everything else they did concerned with narrow canal transport. A copy of the NCB film was given to the Association, as were copies of the Pathe films.
Another film, and one that I hope for personal as well as archivist reasons has survived, was made by Geoffrey Hart, an Association member. An amateur but skilled film maker, Geoffrey took sequences of the preparations for the Rally, as well as a great deal of footage of the proceedings themselves. The film, shot in colour, lasted about an hour and a half, and was complete with synchronised taped sound track.
The presentation was effected as a retrospective account of the proceedings by Selina: to be the heroine of a film at some six months is quite a feat. The writer/producer/cameraman had a Hitchcock-like desire to appear briefly in his films, and an ancient sandwichboard man announcing "The End is Nigh" on one side of his board, with "I>The End" immediately being presented on the other side was played by Mr. Hart himself. A later film of his, The Prendergast File, dealing with civil servants and the canals, has become something of a classic in waterways circles.
Competitions among the participants added a lively note for them and onlookers alike, and the usual boat handling, canoe racing, and log rolling displays were featured. To give something for the ladies to sharpen their nails over, there was a competition for the best cake baked on board a boat, and Woman, which ran a Wooden Spoon Club, kindly provided the judge. She cheerfully clambered in and out of numerous boats to examine the large numbers of cakes of every discription, but returned to me suspicious of one entrant's offering.
On a boat that appeared to be filled almost entirely with scrap metal and bits of wood, sat the one-man owner/crew, gazing with microwave intensity at a beautifully baked sponge cake. The cake had the sort of quality that the amateur cook rarely achieves, unless equipped with micro-processor temperature control to achieve uniform lift-off. The man assured her he had baked his entry in a contraption made of two bricks, a couple of biscuit tins, and a candle.
Guest judge as she was, lacking the interrogative powers of the Supreme Court, she had to accept the circumstantial evidence. The day was saved
when it turned out that the sponge maker was the only male submitting an entry, and reference was made to non-existent fine print in the rules, reserving the contest for women. I had malevolent looks of such intensity from the cook during the rest of the festivities that I could almost believe he baked the cake by looking at it.
All participants in IWA Rallies receive a memento of one kind or another, usually in the form of a commemorative plaque that can be attached to the boat. The Aylesbury Plaque, naturally enough, bore a picture of a duckling and what better person to draw the Buckinghamshire bird than Mr. Peter Scott? In addition to his wildfowl and painting interests, Mr. Scott is a strong supporter of the waterways restoration-and-use movement.
Whilst he is well known in canal circles as being a Vice-President of the Inland Waterways Association, his active campaigning is less well known. He, with Aickman, was one of the stalwarts who dared to question the legality of blocking off the Stratford Canal by putting a fixed bridge at Lifford Lane. His narrow boat Beatrice led the first of the now legendary series of assaults on the bridge, which finally resulted in the monstrosity being replaced by a movable structure. Mr. Scott's pen sketch for the Rally emblem proved to be simple but ideal. When the drawing was passed round at a Committee Meeting, it gave members a great deal of pleasure, not least by demonstrating that an eminent and busy artist could take the trouble to assist in the campaign.
Recently, paging through the minutes of the Committee Meetings in which the planning of the event was chronicled, one reference to Mr. Meinertzhagen made me pause. As mentioned earlier it was Randall who, in a sense, got the whole thing under way with his boating business. He operated from an elegant little pergola in a garden alongside the canal basin.
The Committee had a great deal of difficulty in deciding where the highly necessary temporary public conveniences should be sited. The need for them was self evident: during the course of the event, literally thousands of people would converge on Aylesbury to look at the boats, inside and out; see the various sporting features; go on cruises and, during all this, sample the continuously available refreshments of one sort and another — with inevitable consequences. They couldn't all be expected to march up to the Market Square and use the facilities there.
The ticklish problem gave rise to as much debate as any other aspect of the Rally, and finally the following Committee decision was minuted: "After a great deal of discussion the Committee agreed that a urinal could be sited in Mr. Meinertzhagen's garden". Bully for Mr. M: there is often talk of property owners being inconvenienced by celebrations going on next door; this must be the first example of the owner being convenienced at the same time.
The Woking Rally was remarkable for taking place at all. The Basingstoke Canal had been disused as a navigation for fifteen years, save for houseboats at the eastern end and an annual pilgrimage by members of the Wey Cruising Club and friends. These normally only reached Woking, but on occasion managed to get as far as St John's. There was virtually a perpetual water shortage, the lack of depth, as mentioned earlier, being particularly apparent after heavy rains.
The stretch in Woking was ugly, weedy, and depressing: full of old bicycle frames and presenting the sort of spectacle that the uninformed petitioned to have removed from the landscape. The Branch Committee of the IWA laughed when a Rally there was first proposed; but a casual enquiry to the General Manager of the canal met with such a warm response
that Woking quickly became the venue for a major activity.
Through the Rally, I met the General Manager of the Canal Company, the legendary Mrs Joan Marshall, for the first time; hitherto our communication had been entirely by letter. Her notes were particularly interesting, being couched in highly individual English that gave the impression of someone always trying to fit thirty hours into a twenty four hour day. The Basingstoke Canal notepaper was green, with a charming waterways vignette and typewriter ribbon to match.
I well recall that our meetings initially took place on various station platforms, venues enhancing the impression of an exceptionally busy woman. The first was by a particular letter box on Waterloo Station; later meetings assumed a more regional character, being on the up or down platform at a station on the portion of canal she had just been inspecting.
By agreement, we favoured stations with refreshment rooms, though having a mutual avoirdupois problem, made a compact to restrain ourselves from eating the sandwiches smiling at us from beneath their plastic domes. Eventually a working committee was set up on which Mrs. Marshall served and several meetings were held on Adelina. I don't think that either of us dreamed that Adelina would ultimately pass into her family.
46. Mrs Marshall (IWA Medway trip).
47. Regular working parties removed old iron (Ernest Pull on left).
Obviously the first part of the proceedings was to ensure that entrants could at least navigate the waterway as far as the site. A survey carried out by Branch Members identified the worst spots. Dumped bicycle frames were not confined to Woking, so for weeks in advance regular working parties removed old iron, weeds, and mud, operating the canal's old spoon dredger for the first time in many years. From the site itself, twelve lorry loads of old iron were removed. The towpath was tidied for the benefit of spectators, and to neaten the canal environs; by the time the Rally arrived the Basingstoke, at least for the first few miles, looked tidier than it had looked for years.
48. Viscount St Davids plying for hire.
49. The first Woking Rally.
The whole event was organised on a shoestring budget, so the Canal Press provided the programmes — not elegant, it must be admitted, but at least indigenous and they all sold. The entry of boats was unusually large in view of the interest in navigating the almost-dead waterway; and several narrow boats plus one wide boat participated. We took Anne, leaving Adelina dreaming by Woodham Lock: too much excitement is not good for an old lady. The intention was to run trips in our old friend Arcturus, who came from the Wey, but the canal was really too shallow for her. A great deal of the time she was stuck in the mud, and when not stuck, moved at a snail's pace. Regular bulletins about progress were eventually abbreviated to "Stuck" and "Unstuck".
Arcturus reached Woking just as the Rally ended, and departed, at slightly greater speed, without having given one trip. But the well and traditionally painted boat looked good and was such a welcome visitor that helpers willingly got wet and muddy trying to pull her out of the shallows.
"Boat trips" having been advertised, boat trips had to take place, and in lieu of Arcturus's facilities, the townfolk were given trips in the little boats, making a scene like a mini-Dunkirk. Several boatowners helped, but the most popular and successful without doubt was the Viscount St. Davids. His motorised punt Maudelayne was capacious, comfortable, and (of prime importance) of shallow draught and highly manoeuverable. She could take on a number of passengers, scud to the end of the pound and be back for more whilst the other craft were barely halfway through their stints. It is not unlikely that the fairly rare opportunity of being taken up and down the Basingstoke Canal in a punt steered by a Member of the House of Lords had a recherche appeal for more than a few.
The Official Opening was genuinely impressive and even a little emotional: people had worked hard to make the affair possible, and appreciation of that, and the Association's efforts, came through the speeches by local dignitaries.
The ceremony was performed by Mr. Learn, Chairman of the Woking Council, who had supported the Committee from the start. He noted that the IWA had organised the first Rally of Boats ever to be held in Woking, hoped it would be the first of many, and concluded with the words "If we don't keep the canal clean and preserve it, we may lose it forever". I only hope he can be present at the massive celebration there must be when the canal is re-opened throughout its length at some time in the future.
Captain Munk, then National Chairman of the IWA, impressively delivered the Association's speech, and hopefully made a number of converts by it. After the opening, those assisting in the ceremony were entertained to tea in the main cabin of Stirling Castle. Normally a pretty spacious room by boat standards, so many people were crammed in that tea almost had to be taken through a straw.
Lady Redgrave, a local resident and friend of Mrs. Marshall, had been invited with her family. One of the daughters, I think it was Lynn, did come with her mother; Lady Redgrave apologised to us for Vanessa's absence: "she's sitting this weekend". It was Easter, the time of the Aldermaston Anti-Nuclear demonstrations and Miss Redgrave, already showing signs of her renowned reforming zeal, was somewhere squatting on the streets, expecting to be dragged off them by a policeman. Her mother, in a sense, was also protesting by coming to our Rally; but in a rather more elegant fashion, sipping tea and trying to control two of the largest dogs I have ever seen. They were also drinking tea, mainly everybody else's in the cabin.
The Rally probably did more to make people of the surrounding district aware of their waterway and its potential for recreation than any previous event; and it would be good to think that the seeds of the takeover of the canal by the country councils concerned were perhaps planted in that Easter of 1962.
Perhaps the best envoy for the Working Rally was provided by the Branch Patron, who wrote, on being invited to be present: "A glance at my diary shows me that I will not be able to attend the Easter Saturday Rally on the Basingstoke Canal. This is very sad for me. May I take this opportunity of wishing all members a very successful day. The work of the IWA is gradually penetrating into the dried ducts of the British Transport system. May the neglected canals of England take soothing draughts of weed-free water from Basingstoke's example, may locks be repaired and life return to these vital waterways of our island, yours truly John Betjeman". It looks as if his hopes are being realised.
For me, the main preoccupation of the London Rally in 1963 was finding a gondolier. As the Rally was being held in Little Venice, a genuine Venetian touch was added wherever possible, and principal of such touches was an elderly gondola, borrowed from Harrods. Whether it had been purchased by them for publicity purposes some years previously; or whether they stocked gondolas and decided to discontinue that particular model, is not recorded. As the "Store that Has Everything" perhaps the latter explanation is correct.
However, their livestock department didn't have a gondolier in stock at the time we wanted one, and the IWA's knowledge of import permits for exotica being rather rusty, I was deputed to see whether one was already in residence. It was not the easiest of tasks: the sort of thing that might be called for in
a treasure hunt, along with a Bobby's helmet and the tailpiece of a Bunny Club denizen.
Innumerable restaurants were visited, every bar with an Italian name that could be located was investigated, and appeal was even made to the Italian Tourist Office. The last named couldn't or wouldn't help; disinclination would have been understandable, as providing gondola trips in and around Regent's Park might have had an adverse effect on the Venetian tourist trade. Probably the British Tourist Authority would have been a far better bet.
One lead was to a carpenter, whom I interviewed in a large workshop full of coffins. He had made gondolas in his youth, and hearing that the streets of England were paved with water on account of the constant rain, decided to open a branch office in London. His specialised means of locomotion was ahead of its time: he should have waited until the formation of OPEC.
Short of money, and unable to row back home, he had turned his talents to making repositories for the remains of his wandering compatriots; but as the receptacles were not even shaped like gondolas, I lost interest. There was also a smart line in toy gondolas at another establishment, which also stocked revolting objects containing cigarette lighters and pincushions; but ours was a Water Fair, not a Gadget-Get-Together, so those products were no good either.
50. IWA gondolier (Bruno Bearzi).
51. Bruno's assistant in the prow.
However, the word got around, and one day a telephone call with a shy, strongly accented voice at the other end of the line, brought Bruno Bearzi into the Association's life; and judging by published accounts of the Rally, he was its Star Attraction. Aged 18, extremely handsome with brown curly hair, twinkling eyes and flashing teeth, Bruno was signed up for the job the moment the interviewing panel saw him, with only the briefest investigation into gondoliering credentials being made.
The panel quickly realised what his effect on the ladies would be (a female adjudicator had to be prodded out of her speculations when she was asked for an opinion) and would have appointed the lad anything from Doge downwards, even if he'd never heard of Venice. Our applicant was soon fitted out with the contempory/traditional gondolier rig, introduced to the gondola, and was in business.
In no time at all when he went on duty, there were lengthy queues formed, mainly consisting of females, all seeking his services for a trip round the canal. Perhaps they had hopes of romantic assignations a la real Venice: we did our best, but Paddington Basin on a hot August day is hardly like a Venetian backwater (the real United Kingdom canal buff will say it is better). Even if it had been, the presence of three other passengers in the boat would have deterred the most romantic boatman from doing anything other than giving his oar a passionate twiddle now and again.
Bruno was genuinely a Venetian student, with a gondolier for an uncle, and Bruno had often plied the trade before coming to the United Kingdom to study English. However, he was the first to admit that walking the streets instead of rowing them had made his technique a little rusty. On the first day, his heavily laden craft took off with its burden of dewy-eyed females, but returned half an hour late due to a misunderstanding with some barges. The passengers loved it, rather as Dodgem riders rejoice if the current can't be turned off for a while.
The dour management were concerned that as many fee-paying ladies as possible should savour the delights of Little Venice, so all agreed a bit of homework would not be amiss. The only time for such study was after the jollifications closed for the day, by which time it was fairly dark; though happily there was a full moon. Bruno and I merrily whizzed round Paddington Basin as well as Browning's Pool, the numerous moored craft making such an obstacle race that, came the end of the session, had Hampton Court Maze been flooded, Bruno could have reached the centre without knocking a leaf off.
As a result of this, all the skill and agility of our gondolier's Venetian childhood were regained, and considerable skill it was. He even began essaying the Venetian Arabesque: that racing stance adopted when the gondolier lunges forward on the oar, creating a dynamic picture as he stands on one leg, the other stretching out behind him. However, the Little Venice Gondolier Carrying Services Management Group (myself), rather frowned on such extravagances. They conjured up visions of sudden immersion, should an overweight, ill-balanced and overenthusiastic passenger kiss the planted foot in an expression of appreciation, and end up capsizing the boat.
That most amiable of youths generally accepted the L.V.G.C.S.M.G.'s constraints; but occasionally when a party of extra pretty girls was on board, palpably oblivious of the scenery and with eyes only for their oarsman, there would be a momentary flash of a Nureyev-like stance — which increased their admiration and doubled the pleasure on both sides. A photograph of that attitude reached the Rome newspapers. The Lady Correspondent of the Dundee Evening Telegraph headlined her four-column article with "There's just me and my goodlooking gondolier", and went on to enthuse over the wavy hair, snapping black eyes and pearly teeth of the lad from Venice.
I managed 'to get a good deal of practice on the gondola myself, as in addition to collecting the fares, I was Bruno's stand-in. Our professional did have to rest occasionally. The moment he stepped from the gondola's deck, there was a massed attempt to inveigle him into various cabins for tea, and all other manner of diversions. The gondoliering field was left open for the reserve. My efforts were not really appreciated, as quite apart from the difference in erotic appeal between a Leeds accent and a Venetian accent, there was a small problem in steering the boat.
Generally speaking there was a noticeable difference between the destination aimed for and where the landfall actually took place. The oar of the gondola is singularly difficult to manipulate: unless the correct twist is given on the return stroke, the thing simply refuses to remain in the rowlock (forcolo to the punctilious). As a comedy turn, my trips were fairly successful, for as I drew the oar back, ready for another lunge forward, it usually leapt out of the forcolo, and I nearly leapt into the canal. Regrettably the presence of passengers obligated a watch on the vocabulary, and Bruno had been sparing in tuition in Venetian imprecations. However, my trips lasted twice as long as his.
Singing to the bored passengers was tried, but the racket only gave rise to unflattering comparisons being made with the animals' cries from the nearby zoo. Nevertheless, I am proud to have navigated the Little Venice section of the Regent's Canal, wearing a striped shirt and a straw hat with a ribbon round it — oh, and of course, trousers (black); singing La Biondina in Gondoletta. I even got a tip ("try a new singing teacher"). The story reached the ears of the BBC's Jack de Manio, who asked me to record a short feature on the episode for his Today programme, and ended up being so charmed by the waterways movement, that he and Mrs de Manio were guests at the next Branch Dinner.
Whilst the event was not a Rally, the UK visit of the American Wind Symphony Orchestra should be mentioned, as an example of achieving the seemingly impossible. Robert Aickman essentially engineered the astonishing entertainment, which consisted of a large orchestra of wind instrumentalists (plus instruments) navigating the Thames on a specially constructed barge, giving concerts at selected mooring sites. The sides of the barge let down, to increase the playing area, and most concerts concluded with the Royal Fireworks Music, authentically and lavishly accompanied by a magnificant pyrotechnical display.
The Heinz organisation sponsored the tour; all the concerts were free; and Mr and Mrs H.J. Heinz III, together with Douglas Fairbanks (Junior), attended the inaugural concert. Those who heard and saw the concerts will not easily forget them. One piece was singularly unforgettable, but not quite in the same way as the "Royal Fireworks Music". Entitled "Music for Orchestra and Sculpture", the soloist was a piece of modern sculpture, which we all sat and admired whilst equally modern music competed for the audience's attention with the sights and sounds of the Thames.
The main social event of the year, as far as the Branch Members were concerned, was the Annual Dinner, for which the Committee tried to get both an interesting venue and alluring speakers. Tagg's Island, in the Thames, was one particularly pleasant spot and a couple of members arrived there by water. Our principal guest and speaker on that occasion was the Earl of Arran, then well known for his outspoken views and comments on just about everything, the vehicle for his utterances being a regular column in the Evening News.
He claimed to be exceedingly nervous about public speaking, and spent much of the time leading up to his speech holding Ann's hand, ostensibly to get courage. Witty and agreeable, he was impressed by the views on waterways of those he met, to such a degree that he offered to speak on behalf of the restoration movement the next time the subject was debated in the Lords. This led to an intense series of telephone conversations with him, plus two briefing meetings at the House. His Lordship was nothing if not thorough, and insisted that every point in his speech was checked and double checked for accuracy.
As the day of delivery approached, the pace became even more feverish; but just at the time of the debate itself I had to go back to my native Yorkshire area on business. How he ever located me I shall never know, but one afternoon in an excessively noisy coal washing plant I was called to the plant telephone. A very Yorkshire voice was on the line, telling me he was speaking from Goldthorpe Colliery (nothing at all to do with the mine I was visiting) and they'd just had a call from an Earl in the House of Lords and would I phone him back without delay. No further identification was provided or necessary, and in the reverse charge call thoughtfully provided by his Lordship, with the din of coal swishing in every direction making comprehension difficult, we further discussed the facts that would constitute a strong indictment of the British Transport Commission's handling of its waterways affairs.
Needless to say the whole speech was heavily criticised by the Government spokesman; but Lord Arran was not one whit disturbed by this; owning himself glad to have been able to lend support to such a cause. One thing the debate revealed to me, at least, was the true spirit of democracy apparent in the Upper House (in spite of "Peers" and "Peeresses" being writ upon doors normally bearing "Gentlemen" and "Ladies").
In the Lower House, if a government measure was introduced that was heartily disliked by a number of the Government's own Party members, generally speaking those members still had to support it. In the Lords on the other hand, there could be an exchange of opinions
prominent Member of Parliament, a Shadow Minister of Transport no less, once observed — and the remark was not intended to be complimentary — that the Waterways Movement constituted the most powerful pressure group in Parliament. His comment was further confirmation of the growing strength and influence of the IWA.
The Branch's policy with regard to guest speakers led to many invitations being issued which for a variety of reasons could not always be accepted. My collections of letters from celebrities who could not come to dinner, if not the largest in the world, is certainly extensive. From friendly but negative replies from the (then) Minister of Transport (Marples) to a one line refusal from Beeching; a friendly "not available" from Margot Fonteyn; "I'm terribly busy but I'd love to come" from Sir A.P. Herbert; and, "I'm terribly busy and I can't come," from Michael Bentine.
There were two responses in particular, both negative, that I treasure, namely:
Thank you for your letter of January 29 which has reached me today in South Africa — where I have come to escape the unpleasant English climate. Here it is midsummer! I regret it is not possible for me to accept your kind invitation to be the guest at your dinner on April 26 next. Yours Sincerely, Montgomery of Alamein".
Wholly handwritten, it was a charming gesture from a great man. The second quote arose as a result of a broadcast in which the artist made certain derogatory remarks either about waterways or the people interested in them. The impulse to remonstrate with such comment was endemic among IWA members, but when the Branch Committee directed me to query the insults, they also suggested that the insulter be invited to the next Branch Dinner. The reply was:
"Sorry my remarks caused offence. It seems that these days one can't make a reference to anything without upsetting somebody. I believe there must be a Society for the Preservation of practically everything in England today! I'm afraid I shall not be able to accept your kind invitation for 26 April owing to pressure of work, but thanks just the same.
By the way, I had a basin-full of the Thames when we made Three Men in a Boat. I found it cold, dirty, and smelly. However ..... Sincerely, Jimmy Edwards".
The Rallies and the Dinners were a lot of fun for those taking part; but their overall value and effect cannot be underestimated. Looking at the canal scene from a distance (and quite a distance at that) over the past sixteen years it has been impressive to see the way in which the most formidable opposition has been overcome.
Periodically the waterways go through a crisis; but gradually the bodies supporting their civilised use become more powerful and effective, and public opinion moves increasingly to the side of exploiting both amenity and industrial use. The destroyers,
though still present, are far less vociferous, and waterways are now being considered for restoration that even in the early days of the IWA were regarded as pretty well gone: the Wey and Arun, for example.
It is the hard core of enthusiasts working by every fair and open means possible, that has wrought this transformation in outlook. The inland waterways of the United Kingdom might well be viewed, in the long term, as the most outstanding legacy of the Industrial Revolution; and a legacy in which both beauty and utility are perfectly paired. Even so, unchanged as many of them are from their eighteenth century inception, it has been a constant battle to keep them alive, used, and usable. The key role of the IWA in drawing people's attention to their heritage ought to be remembered with affection, as long as there is a race of boatlovers in the British Isles.
Unfortunately, an opinion is discernible among new converts that the changed "official" views on inland waterways all took place naturally and would have occurred even without the tireless work of the IWA and similarly motivated groups and societies. The trend is noticeable in some newspaper and other writings: such forgetfulness, whether real or feigned, is deplorable.
Another aspect that I find puzzling is the almost total lack of public recognition for the people who struggled for years to bring about the change in attitudes. A few minor Honours have been dished out, but their rank and distribution have been in no way commensurate with the true situation. Attitudes were well summed up in a long (30 column inches, no less) article that appeared in The Times when the Stratford Canal was re-opened. The article was in the best style of Times journalism; amusing, perceptive, suggesting a slight sense of awe, unpatronising, and based on careful research.
The final paragraph is headed "To whom the credit?" and reads "To whom should the credit for all this go? Redeeming the Stratford has been a task for the muscles and shillings of the multitude, and in any case, thank goodness, canals are full of mud, not honours. But if credit is to be allotted, it must go to the vision, intelligence, and resolution of Mr Robert Aickman, founder of the Inland Waterways Association and the natural offspring of Odysseus and Mrs Pankhurst. He has kept British Waterways, and many other things, alive by administering small but frequent doses of arsenic. England owes him a great debt, and like most such debts, it is not paid".
Ennoblement of Aickman would bring honour to the whole IWA and those who serve and have served in it. Unfortunately, most people remember the arsenic, few remember the debt.
Available from the General Office of the Inland Waterways Association, 114 Refent's Park Road, London NW1 8UQ, England.