Chesterfield Canal is celebrating an unusual milestone this weekend. It’s 40 years since a worker unknowingly pulled the plug and drained a 1½ mile stretch of the waterway.
The story goes that in the summer of 1978 one of our teams (then British Waterways) had been tasked with dredging a busy stretch of the canal near Retford. They were getting rid of tons of mud from the canal bed and pulling out rubbish, when they came across a heavy chain. With much effort by the men and their workboat the chain was removed, and on the end of it was a lump of wood.
The group thought nothing of it and headed to lunch. Little did they know that whilst enjoying their break, thousands of litres of water were swirling out of the canal and into the River Idle. On their return to site they were greeted with an empty waterway and several annoyed boaters who had been left high and dry.
It went down in local history as a mistake of epic proportions, and ten years on a canal festival was held to mark the auspicious occasion. Four decades later the story is as well-loved as ever, so we have decided to commemorate the day once again with a community event to showcase the beautiful waterway and all that it offers to boaters and people on the towpath.
Lindsey Shirley, community engagement assistant at the Trust said: "The guys that day were perhaps a little too enthusiastic with their dredging task, but their mistake has given us a tale that still makes us laugh to this day.
"Many canals have plugs like this, and these days we ask our dredging teams to think twice before pulling on chains or ropes.
"We hope lots of people will come along to our celebration event this weekend where they can not only learn more about this embarrassing story, but also see just how important the canal is today and how simply spending time by the water can help them feel happier and healthier."