The Launch of the Canal and River Trust
Well, it has started – the new Canal and River Trust that is — and in our corner of the system it has started quite encouragingly from my personal point of view.
Good luck to all who sail in her
The launch event for our area was at the Ellesmere maintenance yard in Shropshire which is an architectural gem of a particular idiosyncratic organic order, and the invitation to the local worthies and leaders of the local canal societies to visit and explore this historic complex was, hopefully, a statement of intent in itself. The main speeches were in a summery marquee (and the sun did shine) accompanied by cakes and drinks, but a significant part of the event was the opportunity to visit several of the historic workshops on site and, of course, discuss their future. The local staff had made great efforts to tidy up what is still a practical working base for canal maintenance, but the attic joiner’s shop was open to view, and the incomparable pattern store and lock-gatemaker’s work shop with its wonderful overhead travelling crane. But what made the visit especially memorable (and hopefully a sign of things to come) was the forge, with a blacksmith working at the anvil once more.
By a happy coincidence this CRT launch day was also able to showcase the first flowering of a separate project at the Ellesmere yard that has been developing for several months, a new initiative between British Waterways (as was) and Shropshire Council. Called “Relighting the Forge” the idea is to refurbish and restore this historic blacksmith’s workshop to make it accessible to the public, as a visitor attraction or an educational facility. Shropshire put up some money whilst BW put in their heritage officer and specialist expertise, and in new Canal and River Trust style their volunteer co-ordinator called in a team of local volunteers to start sorting and cataloguing the tools, and generally cleaning up. I was happy to be one of them earlier in the launch week, and very satisfyingly our efforts were on view on July 12. The forge was alight and David Crane, our consultant blacksmith on the project, was on hand to demonstrate his craft and prove what an interesting and vital place it all could be with relatively little money and more effort. It was only a start, but it was a cracker.
The official messages that came out on the day were not quite so uplifting on the heritage front and Robin Evan’s rehearsed answers on the Today programme on Radio 4 never used the words boat, navigation or transport at all – it was all parks and gardens and give us some money. More cheerfully the chairman of our local consultative committee is Jim Forrester, recently retired from a distinguished career in museums and a died-in-the wool canal boat enthusiast from an early age so the working canal heritage will always be present on his agenda.
Also surprisingly encouraging (to me anyway) was the filmed message from the Trust’s new patron H.R.H. The Prince of Wales. He started off by referring to the waterways as “one of the finest examples of working industrial heritage to be found anywhere.” Good start, Charles. Then he mentioned his forty year relationship with the Montgomery Canal restoration – twice – and finished by reminding us that some waterways could still provide environmentally sensible transport. Please keep it up Sire.