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Canal worker retires after a lifetime of service

After 48 years of helping to look after the Grand Union Canal, John Waugh, one of the longest serving member of staff working along the nation’s waterways, has retired.

In 1967, the same year that Concord was unveiled, the Beatles had a hit with the album ‘Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' and the legendary England footballer Paul Gascoigne was born, John started work aged 15 as a bricklayer's mate for the then British Waterways Board.

John, aged 63 has lived and worked along the canals all his life and will be retiring from working at the Canal & River Trust. Affectionately known as ‘Woofy', he lives in the lock cottage at Stockers Lock in Rickmansworth with his wife Evelyn after 43 years of marriage.

John has been interested in the canals from a young age. At four years old his family moved into the lock cottage at Hunton Bridge where his dad worked looking after the locks. Conditions at the house were basic with a ‘bucket and chuck it' toilet and no mains electricity or gas, and water pumped up from a well.

Known to everyone

Known to everyone on this stretch of the waterways, John quickly became an expert on water control and up to his retirement, he was busy helping to manage the canal through flood and drought. He's also played a key role in caring for the canal, carrying out repairs to the 200 year old lock gates, bridges and waterway walls.

John said: “I used to love watching the boats go past and listen to boaters' tales about life on the canals. Everything used to travel by boat back then including goods such as coal, wheat, sand and even tomato ketchup!

“Boat people really did have a tough job lugging cargo up and down the waterways and I didn't envy them. Sometimes there would be 10 kids squished in together on a boat. I really don't know how they did it as there was hardly any living space.

“Things are much better on the waterways nowadays. There was a period when no one was interested in the canal and communities turned their back on them, but it is not like that now. Instead of filling in the waterways we are now looking after them and the canals are more popular today than they've ever been which is great to see.”

Last Edited: 12 May 2015

photo of a location on the canals
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