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Friday 2 December

Valley Cruises gets new owners

The Valley Cruises hire fleet, based at the Springwood Haven marina near Nuneaton and also known as ‘Excellence Afloat’, has been sold as a going concern. 

The business remains operating as before. The new owners, David and Geraldine Moore, themselves private boating enthusiasts from Banbury, said they had long admired the company, and intend to keep operating the existing fleet of 12 boats at Springwood Haven for the coming year. 

They also hope to expand the fleet of five boats based at the old Stratford Court canal boatyard in Stratford-upon-Avon, which Excellence Afloat acquired last year. In particular, they hope to introduce a greater variety of boats to the Stratford base. The current fleet there are described as 'too similar', and David Moore says he hopes he can introduce some smaller and larger boats to match the variety at Springwood Haven.

'Excellence Afloat at Valley Cruises' can be contacted at 02476 393333 or on www.valleycruises.co.uk 

Andrew Denny  | 4.02pm

Thursday 1 December

Picture of the day: Which Rochdale bridge?

After more than a year working at Waterways World, I've finally opened a hitherto-unnoticed door, and discovered the paper photo archive files, dating back to the magazine's founding in 1972 (and in some cases, even earlier). Where copyright permits,I'll scan some of these and post them daily for your delectation. 

Today, a bridge from the Rochdale Canal in 1983, pre-restoration. Can you guess the location? 


Andrew Denny  | 3.54pm | 2 comments

Wednesday 30 November

British Newspaper Library launches searchable archive

Waterways historical research could be made dramatically easier with the launch by the British Library of the British Newspaper Archive website. 

The new website – at www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk – currently provides up to four million fully searchable pages from more than 200 newspaper titles from the UK and Ireland. The newspapers currently searchable are mainly from the 19th century, but include some dating back to the first half of the 18th century. 

Initial searching is free, with a range of options for downloading articles as images, from £6.95 for two days access and up to 500 articles, to £79.95 for an annual subscription.  The text appears not to have been proofed, with some of the search snippets showing serious scanning errors. 

Nevertheless, it seems to work well enough to make this a significant and useful research tool. We tried searching for ‘Netherton Tunnel’, and immediately several sources came up, including an 1857 report in the Worcester Chronicle of an effort by the Birmingham Canal Company to borrow more money to complete the tunnel, and several reports in various local and national newspapers of the tunnel’s opening ceremony in 1858. 

Over the past year the digitisation team, based at the British Library Newspaper Library at Colindale, has been digitising up to 8,000 pages of historic newspapers each day. The project is eventually expected to scan up to 40million newspaper pages.

More recent 20th century newspapers may have to wait for agreements with rights-holders, but already this seems to be a useful tool. Until now, searching newspapers involved long days patiently scanning microfilm. 

Andrew Denny  | 6.19pm

Engineers investigate Netherton Tunnel movement

British Waterways engineers are undertaking detailed investigations of Netherton Tunnel during December to find out why some sections are showing signs of movement.

The tunnel, opened in 1858, is the main connection between the Birmingham Main Line and the Dudley and Stourbridge canals, and was closed for a period in 1983-4 to replace the brick-lined ‘invert’ (base) with concrete, after it had swollen, impeding navigation.

“The Netherton tunnel is well known to suffer from ground movement, and we do monitor this”, said Dean Davies, BW Midlands waterways manager. “We are currently concerned about the amount of movement in the centre section of the tunnel, which is also a well-known weak spot in tunnel design, so we now need to carry out further investigations to find out exactly what may be causing the ground above and below the tunnel to move at this particular area.”

Engineers are taking bore samples of the earth and rock surrounding the tunnel from bore holes at various intervals along the roof and sides of the tunnel.  These should allow specialists to test what material surrounds the tunnel structure, and assist determining the possible causes of the movement and the necessary cures.

“The tunnel is still structurally sound”, Davies added.  However, we need to start looking into this problem now to decide how best to stop the movement getting any worse – and to make sure it lasts at least another 150 years.”

During the works the canal will restricted to boat traffic at various intervals and the west side towpath will be closed. 

Andrew Denny  | 4.42pm

First chairmen appointed for Canal & River Trust Waterway Partnerships

The new Canal & River Trust has confirmed the appointment of its first chairmen to most of the waterway partnerships that will take over the running of the canals and rivers in England and Wales next April.

Four new chairmen have been appointed in the Manchester & Pennine, the North Wales & Borders, the South Wales & Severn and the Kennet & Avon partnerships, along with one for the Museums Partnership, which will succeed the Waterways Trust Museums Management Board. The temporary chairs for the West Midlands and the North West, appointed earlier this year, will continue. All roles are unsalaried.

Five chairing roles have yet to be filled – in the North East, Central Shires, East Midlands, South East & London and the all-Wales partnerships.

The Trust is also still hunting for local volunteers to join the partnerships.  Each partnership will need at least eight volunteers, who should all have experience useful in running the waterways. This could include fundraising, finance, planning & regeneration, boating, environment, heritage, engineering, community engagement, or working with local government. Information on both the chairing and volunteer roles can be found on www.waterscape.com/trust from Thursday 1 December, and applications for membership open on Friday 9 December 2011.

The new chairmen include:

Manchester & Pennine: Professor Walter Menzies.  Previously chief executive of the Mersey Basin Campaign, he has also been involved with Waterwise, the Healthy Waterways Trust and the Land Restoration Trust.

North Wales & Borders: Jim Forrester, director of Imperial War Museum North in Manchester. He served a boatbuilding apprenticeship in the 1970s with David Jones at the historic Taylor's Boatyard in Chester, before becoming a self-employed boatbuilder. Between 1984-89 he was Shipkeeper at the Merseyside Maritime Museum. 

South Wales & Severn: Jack Hegarty, managing director of Wychavon District Council, and who was directly involved with the Droitwich Canal restoration for 11 years.

Kennet & Avon:  Fleur de Rhe Philipe, Wiltshire Council cabinet member for economic development and strategic planning, and company secretary of The Kennet & Avon Canal Trust for ten years.

North West: Professor Steven Broomhead, professor of entrepreneurial education at Liverpool Hope University, formerly in charge of the Northwest Regional Development Agency and chief executive at Warrington Borough Council.

West Midlands: Peter Mathews, former chairman of the Black Country Consortium, and managing director of Black Country Metals. 

Museums: Laurence Newman, chairman of Epsom & St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, and a longstanding partner of the Leisure and Tourism Consulting Group of KPMG.  

Tony Hales, chairman of the Canal & River Trust, said:  “The Waterways Partnerships are integral to the stewardship and development of the network, providing new perspectives and insights, opening up new resources and ideas, and giving local people a greater opportunity to support their local canals and rivers.” 

Andrew Denny  | 12.59pm

Tuesday 29 November

Bomb discovery halts Aylesbury Arm works

A shock discovery of seven unexploded WW2-era bombs halted work on the Aylesbury Arm of the Grand Union Canal on 9th November. 

The bombs were exposed when the canal was drained during lock gate replacement works. An army bomb disposal team was quickly called to the scene and confirmed the bombs were live. They were then taken to a nearby field and deactivated. 

Local British Waterways supervisor Keith Gregory said that while it was not uncommon to find the occasional unexploded wartime bomb in the canals, finding seven was a shock. 

"We’re not sure how they got into the waterway, but the canal was used for transporting munitions during the Second World War so it’s possible they were lost rather than dropped here." 

The bombs were discovered during work on Lock 5 of the Aylesbury Arm. While the canal was drained for these works British Waterways’ team also made repairs to the lock’s brickwork and the channel of the waterway.

Andrew Denny  | 12.53pm

Today's news from the web

  • Lucky escape after narrowboat fire in Southall ealinggazette.co.uk

    One person escaped after a narrow boat caught fire on the Grand Union Canal in the early hours of this morning. Fire crews were called to the scene at about 3am this morning at the stretch of the canal near Tentelow Lane in Southall. The blaze was brought under control by about 5.30am. Firefighters from Southall, Hayes and Heathrow fire stations were at the incident. The cause of the fire is under currently investigation....

Monday 28 November

'No more leads' in hunt for canal bridge dog killer

The animal rights organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has  increased to £1,500 the reward offered for catching the killer of two dogs found hanging from an Ashby canal bridge at Congerstone in December 2010. 

PETA says it has upped the reward from £1,000 after learning that the RSPCA has now closed the case into the incident.

RSPCA Chief Inspector Jim Lucas said they had no choice but to close the investigation after nearly a year. "We have exhausted all avenues of inquiry and have been left with no leads left to investigate."

Mimi Bekhechi, a manager at PETA, said: "We understand why the RSPCA has taken this step but we are appealing to the public to think again and to try to bring these people to justice.

"Research in criminal psychology shows that there is a definite link between violence towards animals and violence towards people. "Whoever has done this to these poor innocent dogs must be caught because they do pose a danger to the public."

Chief Inspector Lucas suspects the dogs had been taken from an isolated location or from a close-knit community. "They have been killed in such a premeditated and gruesome manner that it seems to be some kind of warning." 

Andrew Denny  | 2.04pm

Today's news from the web

  • Rowers oppose controversial floating homes plan in Surbiton kingstonguardian.co.uk

    Kingston Council is currently considering development plans from Hydro Properties for 60 floating homes and a marina on the former Surbiton river beds, after a month-long consultation ended last week. But River Thames Sports Alliance, formed of sports clubs along the Thames, has opposed the plans because they said it would reduce the river’s navigable width. A Hydro spokesman said: “We feel a good compromise solution has been reached and current demands from certain clubs will disadvantage other river users. “They are conveniently forgetting that the river is used by many people who don’t sail or punt. Many other river users – power boat users, pleasure boaters and others – support both the marina and new moorings on this site.” ...

Wednesday 23 November

Today's news from the web

  • Stylist Emma Freemantle shows us round the cabin of ideas in her Regent's Canal house boat telegraph.co.uk

    My space: Stylist Emma Freemantle shows us round the cabin of ideas in her Regent's Canal house boat. "I am such a hoarder and can’t bear to throw anything away, keeping every scrap of fabric which I can fashion into something else." ...

  • Drought alert after driest year since 1976 express.co.uk

    Britain is on drought alert today with reservoirs drying up and rivers running at worryingly low levels. Some parts of the country have had the driest 12 months since 1976 when crops failed and water was rationed. And with mild, arid weather set to continue for weeks, utility firms warned that families could face restrictions on their water consumption by the spring....

Tuesday 22 November

Lapal campaigners celebrate concession

The Lapal Canal Trust is celebrating after appearing to gain a concession from developers to incorporate a section of the canal in its plans for a huge new supermarket development at Selly Oak.

Last month it was reported that the developers, Land Securities, and their partners Sainsbury's, had  backtracked on an offer to restore a section of the waterway from the junction with the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, where it runs past the proposed new store. 

The replacement plans unveiled in September unleashed a storm of protest when it was discovered that the proposed 'canalside' stretch had been reduced to a narrow pedestrian 'greenway' strip. The developers had blamed the poor economic outlook for scaling back the ambition to restore the canal section.  

Lapal Canal Trust Chairman Peter Best had urged cautious optimism, because he said that apart from ignoring the canal line, there were 'undoubted innovations' in the revised plan. 

His gentle line seems to have paid off. On 22nd November he announced that "the [Selly Oak] Partnership now intends to submit for outline planning consent a plan which includes a length of Lapal Canal across the site instead of the greenway. Unless some unforseen issues arise, they intend to implement that Plan at their expense."

Andrew Denny  | 2.48pm

Sunday 20 November

Today's news from the web

  • Canal rescue for sunken narrowboat in Sheffield Basin thestar.co.uk

    A salvage operation was launched to refloat a narrow boat which sank in Sheffield Canal. The Ruby, a 40ft narrow boat used as boutique accommodation by the Houseboat Hotels group, was moored at Victoria Quays when a guest noticed a strange noise. Houseboat Hotels proprietor Kathryn Marsh told The Star that, minutes later, the vessel was lying at the bottom of the canal....

Friday 18 November

Today's news from the web

  • Thames river conditions now on riverconditions.environment-agency.gov.uk

    Boaters looking to see if it's safe to venture out on the Thames should find the information  a little easier to find, now that news on any flood conditions or water levels has moved to the Environment Agency's website, on riverconditions.environment-agency.gov.uk .

    Previously embedded within a section of the general tourism site, www.visitthames.co.uk, it had been criticised for been hard to find without bookmarking. 

    The change comes as part of a larger project to refresh boating information on the EA website, as the agency looks at the likelihood of being merged into the new Canal & River Trust  in a few years time.

    The page provides current river flow information for each section of the river between Cricklade and Teddington. The Environment Agency updates this information regularly when warning boards are being displayed at locks and as river conditions change.  Boaters are often warned to check their insurance, as much insurance is invalidated if they ignore flood conditions and 'strong stream advice'. 


  • Ali G's home town votes for name change to restore its dignity dailymail.co.uk

    Residents in Staines have voted by a majority of 2-1 to include 'upon-Thames' in its title after being mocked for years as the home of Sacha Baron Cohen's shell-suited rapper. The controversial name change has been warmly welcomed by businessmen, who are convinced it will bring much-needed economic benefits to the ancient riverside town. The idea was the brainchild of solicitor Alex Tribick, chairman of the Spelthrone Business Forum....

  • Mikron Theatre on love, life and allotments examiner.co.uk

    Losing The Plot is something Mikron Theatre Company will never do. After all, the company marks its 40th anniversary next year, a remarkable achievement given that arts organisations are facing some of the toughest economic times in years. What has always driven this company’s success is its ability to deliver live theatre packed with music, humour and powerful storytelling. The company travels by narrowboat on the country’s waterways in summer and by van on the roads in the autumn. ...

  • London Cycling Campaign | Campaigns | Key campaigns | Awards 2011 | Best cycling facility lcc.org.uk

    The walking and cycling path from the River Thames, along the Lea Valley to Waltham Abbey, has long suffered from a nightmare obstacle at Bow Flyover. In the past, it was necessary to leave the path, cross four lanes of traffic, and return to the route on the other side of the roundabout. The new £2.3 million suspended path under the flyover is already well used by walkers and cyclists. ...

  • Restoring Rivers Could Help Cool Cities good.is

    Since losing their prominence as shipping corridors, the rivers runing through cities have not been a boon. They smell. They serve as sewage dumps. They overflow. They catch on fire. But rivers are staging a comeback. Cities are working to clean them up and build riverfront developments. At least one city is even planning on uncovering rivers that have been paved over....

Wednesday 16 November

Today's news from the web

  • British Waterways auctions off 1,163 items of small plant go-dove.com

    British Waterways has auctioned off 1,163 items of redundant small plant via online auction site GoIndustry Dovebid. The sale, ending at 1pm GMT today, included many items that canal volunteer groups might covet, such as water pumps, generators and power washers. Some canal figures have criticised the way it was done, with no public announcement to restoration societies or other such groups looking for quality second-hand equipment at low prices, and only two days of viewing before the sale began. One leading canal society figure told us: "Equipment like this is fundamental to our work, and we would like to have known it was coming up for auction. In fact, if they had donated it to us for free, our canal could have benefited more from our volunteer work than from the small amount the money will raise for their paid work." Others have speculated that, with the little publicity and short notice involved, there might have been a "behind the scenes" deal by some contractors to get much of this equipment at 'knock-down' prices. We have asked British Waterways for comment. ...

  • Work starts on Stort lock gate replacement at Harlow harlowstar.co.uk

    Work is now underway on replacing ageing lock gates on part of Harlows river network. The five-week, 80,000 project began on Friday when workmen from British Waterways lifted out the three-tonne steel gates at Burnt Mill Lock by crane. ...

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