IWA National Festival
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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.
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, 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.
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, and the canal was reopened in 1974.
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, 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.
IWA National Festival sites
The statistics below are mainly taken from the IWA website 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+||800|
|1952||Brecon ||Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal|
|1955||Skipton||Leeds and Liverpool Canal|
|1959||Chester||Shropshire Union Canal|
|1960||Stoke on Trent||Trent and Mersey Canal|
|1961||Aylesbury||Grand Union Canal|
|1963||Little Venice||Grand Union Canal, Paddington Branch|
|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|
|1973||Ely||Great Ouse, Old West River||255||30,000|
|1978||Titford Pools||Titford Canal||15,000|
|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|
|1985||Milton Keynes||Grand Union Canal||514||30,000|
|1986||Brentford||Grand Union Canal, Main Line||450|
|1989||Waltham Abbey||River Lee||525||50,000||22,000|
|1990||Gloucester||Gloucester and Sharpness Canal||22,268|
|1991||Windmill End||Dudley Canal Line No. 2||768||385,000|
|1992||Wakefield||Aire and Calder Navigation, Wakefield section|
|1994||Waltham Abbey||River Lee||17,730|
|1995||Chester||Shropshire Union Canal Main Line|
|1996||Windmill End||Dudley Canal Line No. 2||17,501|
|1998||Salford Quays||Manchester Ship Canal|
|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.
- Blagrove 2006, p. 17
- Blagrove 2006, p. 37
- Cumberlidge 2009, p. 280
- Blagrove 2006, p. 41
- Nicholson 2006, p. 151
- Blagrove 2006, p. 46
- "The Waterways Festival". Inland Waterways Association. Retrieved 2012-03-19.
- "Company Details". Companies House. Retrieved 2012-03-19.
- "Timeline". IWA. Retrieved 2010-06-03.
- Bolton 1990, p. 81
- due to financial constraints
- Squires 2008, p. 30
- Rallies from 1952 to 1956 were not called "National" rallies
- Computerisation of the membership list showed this was an overstatement by about 2000–3000
- 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.