From nationalised industry to national charity

Mike Beech, Keeper of the Foxton Canal Museum, recently lent me an exhibition about some key events of waterways history from the mid- 20th century up to the birth of the Canal & River Trust in 2012. I put it up in the Stop House at Braunston in time for the Historic Narrowboat Rally at the end of June and it drew a lot of interest.

The exhibition charted a course from the 1946 formation of the IWA and Nationalisation under the British Transport Commission in 1948, through the 1950s to the formation of the British Waterways Board in 1963. It covered the beginnings of the volunteer-led restoration movements, the ‘great stagnation’ of chronic underfunding in the 1970s and then the first signs of official regeneration in the 1980s. After that, the exhibition showed how things improved in the 1990s and 2000s and ended up, almost unimaginably when you look back, where they are today.

Highlights for me included a reference to the Daily Mail’s two page spread, ‘The Wasted Heritage’ of the waterways from 1967; the attempt by BWB to bulldoze the historic warehouses at Gloucester Docks in 1974; the great drought of 1976; and the English Heritage report from 1989 which stated that the historic structures of the waterways were being ruined by ‘poor craftsmanship and inappropriate materials’. This was true, but to be fair to BW, in its final 15 or so years it made genuine efforts to tackle the whole business of heritage conservation and the situation greatly improved.

Today, the preservation and safeguarding of waterways heritage is one of the chief objectives of the Canal & River Trust. So it was fitting that this exhibition was shown in the Stop House, an historic listed building built in 1796 in the heart of England, by the Oxford Canal Company.

Last date edited: 19 July 2013

About this blog

Nigel Crowe

As national heritage manager, Nigel’s role is to lead the Canal & River Trust’s team of regional heritage advisers in England and Wales. He has over 25 years’ experience of working in the conservation, archaeology and interpretation of historic buildings and places. He is a member of the editorial board of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation. He has written numerous articles concerning heritage conservation and is the author of several longer published works, including the English Heritage Book of Canals.

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