History – where it all began
With it being the 30th anniversary of the opening let’s just remind ourselves of the initiative to restoring our canal – and why we need to continue to look after it!
Back in 1966, it looked like the long chequered history of the old Basingstoke Canal appeared to be coming to an end. Many parts of it had little or no water, and much of the rest was overgrown and choked with uncontrolled weed growth (see a photo of Sheerwater before restoration). Some bridges were in danger of collapse, the locks and gates needed repair or replacement, and it all needed dredging.
To add to the problems, the Canal Company had lost its only natural source of income when, in 1964, the National Gas Turbine Establishment decided not to renew the contract under which the canal supplied cooling water to the giant jet engine test cells at nearby Pyestock.
In addition, Mrs Joan Marshall, the Canal’s General Manager and perhaps its greatest champion, had been dismissed after disagreements with Sidney Cooke, the owner of the Canal Company.
By 1966, he had taken what perhaps seemed the only sensible commercial decision open to him and began drawing up plans to fill in parts of the canal for development. Ironically, this was precisely the fate that the Inland Waterways Association had tried to prevent by bidding to buy the canal when it had come up for auction in 1949.
However, on 23rd August 1966, a letter appeared in several local newspapers –
Having spent a few days of my holiday walking the length of the Basingstoke Canal, I am wondering if the local people appreciate what an amenity they have on their doorsteps.
It would appear that many are apathetic and treat it as a convenient rubbish dump; however I know that several people are interested in its possible restoration – although at the moment, due to vandalism and the canal Company’s lack of finance, it is still deteriorating.
I feel the time is ripe to form a Basingstoke Canal Restoration Society so that a start could be made removing debris and clearing the towpath. Perhaps it might even be possible to re-open it for navigation.
If anyone is interested perhaps they would be kind enough to write (enclosing a stamped addressed envelope) and a possible meeting can be arranged if there is sufficient interest.
About a dozen people replied and this led a fantastic volunteer effort to restore the canal along with Surrey and Hampshire Councils supporting by buying the land.
Since then while there have been challenging times when there been pressure of funds to maintain the canal, the county councils, along with the local riparian councils continue to support the canal.
In turn most importantly, the Society continues to actively support the Canal with over 200 volunteers helping keep the canal tidy and maintained, providing new facilities for both boats and the community, fundraising and helping promote the canal including working with local councils. As you will have seen from the regular Bulletin articles there remains lots more to do to support and ensure we ‘Keep the Canal Alive and Vibrant’
Needless to say please contact us if you want to find out about helping.
…and to make you smile the following article by our then president gives a great sense of the passion of the restoration (and which the Society still has!)