IWA National Festival

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The IWA National Festival & Boat Show run by the Inland Waterways Association is one of the key annual events on the United Kingdom's inland waterways. Generally referred to[by whom?] as the "National" it serves several functions:

  • As a publicity vehicle for the IWA and inland waterways in general
  • To raise funds for the IWA
  • As a social gathering for boaters from around the country
  • As a campaigning event

The four functions of the event are to some extent conflicting and in recent years the campaigning aspect has been somewhat separated by the creation of an annual "Campaign Cruise".

Arguably it is as a gathering of like minded people that the National has been most influential. The festival brings together people from all over the country who do not meet in numbers except on the festival site. The original decisions to form both the Waterway Recovery Group and the National Association of Boat Owners both arose out of informal discussions held at the National.


The first festival was held in 1950, inspired by car rallies which Tom Rolt, one of the founders of the Inland Waterways Association, had attended prior to the Second World War. It was held at Market Harborough, as the location was not restricted to narrow boats. The rally was called the Market Harborough Festival of Boats and Arts. The arts element of the festival was an addition made by Robert Aickman, and was one of the elements that led to the eventual split between Rolt and Aickman. However, the festival was a success, and one of Rolt's innovations was the awarding of trophies for impressive service or performance, a practice which continued. The A. P. Herbert Trophy was awarded to the person who had travelled the furthest to get to the rally, and was won by Stan Offley, who had covered 220 miles (350 km) and had passed through 156 locks. His route from Ellesmere Port had used the Manchester Ship Canal, the Bridgewater Canal, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, the Aire and Calder Navigation, the River Trent and the Grand Union Canal. The much shorter route using the Trent and Mersey Canal was unavailable to him, as his boat was 7.5 feet (2.3 m) wide, and the Trent and Mersey locks were only 7 feet (2.1 m) wide.[1]

Like many of the early rallies, that of 1962 was essentially a campaign to highlight the poor state of a particular waterway, in this case the Stourbridge Canal and its connecting waterways. The decision to hold it at Stourbridge Basin was taken in late 1961, and David Hutchings, by then chairman of the rally committee, approached British Transport Waterways, the operating arm of the British Transport Commission (BTC) to ensure that the Stourbridge Branch would be dredged, to allow the boats to reach the festival site. Faced with a refusal, Hutchings hired a dragline excavator to carry out the work himself. The British Transport Commission threatened legal action against Hutchings, the Inland Waterways Association and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Society if he proceeded, but that did not stop him. His actions gained widespread media coverage, which was extremely critical of the BTC. The BTC was abolished later that year, and the rally went ahead,[2] with British Waterways staff assisting boats through the decrepit locks. Just two years later, British Waterways and the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Society agreed to work on restoring the Stourbridge Canal and the Dudley Canal, and this early example of co-operation resulted in the canals and locks reopening in 1967.[3]

Marple Locks on the Peak Forest Canal was chosen as the site for the 1966 rally, again to highlight their condition. Access had to be along the Macclesfield Canal, as the locks themselves were derelict and could not be used. Cosmetic restoration began the following year,[4] and the canal was reopened in 1974.[5]

1970 was the first occasion on which the national festival was not also a campaign to save a threatened part of the waterways network. It was held at Guildford on the River Wey. Part of the reasoning for this was that the festival was proving to be very popular, and there were a limited number of places that had sufficient display space and water supply for the number of boats wanting to attend. The choice of site was not universally popular, but the rally saw the formal launching of the Waterway Recovery Group,[6] a group of volunteers who travelled the country to carry out restoration tasks on derelict waterways.

Management of the festivals is now handled by a division of Inland Waterways Enterprises Ltd called IWA Festivals. The limited company was set up in 2001 to manage the various trading activities of the Inland Waterways Association.[7][8]

IWA National Festival sites[edit]

The statistics below are mainly taken from the IWA website[9] but are incomplete. Some of these were called rallies rather than festivals and not all were national events.

The final column shows the overall membership of the IWA in the year in question.

Year National Rally Location Waterway # Boats # Visitors Membership
1950 Market Harborough Grand Union Canal (Leicester Branch) 120 50,000+[10] 800
1951 (no festival)[11] 1,300+[12]
1952 Brecon [13] Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal
1953 Macclesfield Macclesfield Canal
1955 Skipton Leeds and Liverpool Canal
1956 Lincoln Fossdyke Navigation 100+ 2,000
1957 Coventry Coventry Canal
1959 Chester Shropshire Union Canal
1960 Stoke on Trent Trent and Mersey Canal
1961 Aylesbury Grand Union Canal
1962 Stourbridge Stourbridge Canal
1963 Little Venice Grand Union Canal, Paddington Branch
1964 Stratford-upon-Avon Upper Avon
1965 Blackburn Leeds and Liverpool Canal
1966 Marple Peak Forest Canal 250
1967 Leicester Grand Union Canal, Leicester Section 350 5,000
1968 Liverpool Leeds and Liverpool Canal 170
1969 Birmingham Birmingham Canal Navigations
1970 Guildford River Wey 380 50,000
1971 Northampton River Nene 7,000
1972 Lymm Bridgewater Canal 500 9,500
1973 Ely Great Ouse, Old West River 255 30,000
1974 Nottingham River Trent 600 12,000
1975 York River Ouse
1976 Peterborough River Nene 142 33,000
1977 Reading River Thames 370
1978 Titford Pools Titford Canal 15,000
1979 Northwich River Weaver 622 30,000 17,728
1980 Lea Valley River Lee 500 25,000 19,274
1981 Leeds Aire and Calder Navigation 410 18,838
1982 Titford Pools Titford Canal 500 40,000
1983 Wigan Leeds and Liverpool Canal 428 50,000
1984 Hawkesbury Coventry Canal 661
1985 Milton Keynes Grand Union Canal 514 30,000
1986 Brentford Grand Union Canal, Main Line 450
1987 Hawkesbury Coventry Canal 530 50,000
1988 Castlefield Bridgewater Canal
1989 Waltham Abbey River Lee 525 50,000 22,000
1990 Gloucester Gloucester and Sharpness Canal 22,268[14]
1991 Windmill End Dudley Canal Line No. 2 768 385,000[15]
1992 Wakefield Aire and Calder Navigation, Wakefield section
1993 Peterborough River Nene 487 78,000 19,167
1994 Waltham Abbey River Lee 17,730
1995 Chester Shropshire Union Canal Main Line
1996 Windmill End Dudley Canal Line No. 2 17,501
1997 Henley River Thames 558 27,500
1998 Salford Quays Manchester Ship Canal
1999 Worcester River Severn 16,869
2000 Waltham Abbey River Lee 16,739
2001 Milton Keynes Grand Union Canal 347 25,000
2002 Huddersfield Huddersfield Broad Canal 191 17,544
2003 Beale Park River Thames 567 32,000
2004 Burton on Trent Trent and Mersey Canal 24,000
2005 Preston Brook Bridgewater Canal 17,242
2006 Beale Park River Thames 600 28,000
2007 St Ives Great Ouse
2008 Autherley Junction Shropshire Union Canal 300
2009 Red Hill River Soar
2010 Beale Park River Thames
2011 Burton on Trent Trent and Mersey Canal 360 25,000
2013 Watford Grand Union Canal


  • Blagrove, David (2006). The Inland Waterways Association. Tempus Publishing. ISBN 0-7524-3158-7. 
  • Bolton, David (1990). Race against Time. Methuen. ISBN 0-413-63470-1. 
  • Cumberlidge, Jane (2009). Inland Waterways of Great Britain (8th Ed). Imray Laurie Norie and Wilson. ISBN 978-1-84623-010-3. 
  • Squires, Roger (2008). Britain's restored canals. Landmark Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84306-331-5. 


  1. ^ Blagrove 2006, p. 17
  2. ^ Blagrove 2006, p. 37
  3. ^ Cumberlidge 2009, p. 280
  4. ^ Blagrove 2006, p. 41
  5. ^ Nicholson 2006, p. 151
  6. ^ Blagrove 2006, p. 46
  7. ^ "The Waterways Festival". Inland Waterways Association. Retrieved 2012-03-19. 
  8. ^ "Company Details". Companies House. Retrieved 2012-03-19. 
  9. ^ "Timeline". IWA. Retrieved 2010-06-03. 
  10. ^ Bolton 1990, p. 81
  11. ^ due to financial constraints
  12. ^ Squires 2008, p. 30
  13. ^ Rallies from 1952 to 1956 were not called "National" rallies
  14. ^ Computerisation of the membership list showed this was an overstatement by about 2000–3000
  15. ^ this year was an 'open' site with no admission charges, plus being right in the heart of the conurbation there were a LOT of people.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]