Waterway Recovery Group

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Waterway restoration in progress: Gough's Orchard lock on the Thames & Severn Canal undergoing restoration by Waterway Recovery Group Gough's OrchardThames & Severn canal 2009.JPG
Waterway restoration in progress: Gough's Orchard lock on the Thames & Severn Canal undergoing restoration by Waterway Recovery Group

The Waterway Recovery Group (WRG), founded in 1970, is the national co-ordinating body for voluntary labour on the inland waterways of the United Kingdom.

Volunteering altruistic activity

Volunteering is generally considered an altruistic activity where an individual or group provides services for no financial or social gain "to benefit another person, group or organization". Volunteering is also renowned for skill development and is often intended to promote goodness or to improve human quality of life. Volunteering may have positive benefits for the volunteer as well as for the person or community served. It is also intended to make contacts for possible employment. Many volunteers are specifically trained in the areas they work, such as medicine, education, or emergency rescue. Others serve on an as-needed basis, such as in response to a natural disaster.

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom (UK), officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is a sovereign country located off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. With an area of 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi), the United Kingdom is the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world. It is also the 22nd-most populous country, with an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.



The formation of the Waterway Recovery Group was a logical progression from events which had happened over the previous eight years. Mr T. Dodwell had been responsible for organising volunteers who had cleared part of the Basingstoke Canal in order to facilitate a boat rally at Woking, which was held in 1962. With this experience in mind, he suggested that the London and Home Counties Branch of the Inland Waterways Association should set up a Working Party Group, whose members would be available to travel around the country, giving help to local restoration schemes as it was required. The idea was well-received, and working parties on the Kennet and Avon Canal, the Stourbridge Canal and the River Wey were organised and run during the next few months. Just over a year later, the first edition of Navvies Notebook was published. It listed sites where restoration was occurring, so that members could be informed and volunteer as they saw fit. [1]

Basingstoke Canal

The Basingstoke Canal is a British canal, completed in 1794, built to connect Basingstoke with the River Thames at Weybridge via the Wey Navigation.

Inland Waterways Association organization

The Inland Waterways Association (IWA) was formed in 1946 as a registered charity in the United Kingdom to campaign for the conservation, use, maintenance, restoration and sensitive development of British Canals and river navigations.

Kennet and Avon Canal waterway in southern England linking the cities of Reading and Bristol

The Kennet and Avon Canal is a waterway in southern England with an overall length of 87 miles (140 km), made up of two lengths of navigable river linked by a canal. The name is commonly used to refer to the entire length of the navigation rather than solely to the central canal section. From Bristol to Bath the waterway follows the natural course of the River Avon before the canal links it to the River Kennet at Newbury, and from there to Reading on the River Thames. In all, the waterway incorporates 105 locks.

Navvies Notebook was the idea of Mr G. Palmer, at the time the secretary of the London and Home Counties Branch. Although its primary function was to outline the work programme of his local group, and report on its achievements, he informed IWA members that any restoration work could be included in it. Working parties planned at Brantham Lock on the River Stour, the River Wey and the Kennet and Avon were announced in the first edition, and there was a report on the progress that had been made at the 16 locks on the Stourbridge Canal. The publication enabled a network of working party organisers to develop. [2] By the end of 1967, 350 copies were being produced each time it was printed. Notable successes included a party of 45 who had worked on the Stourbridge Canal for a weekend, and a party to clear a section of the Kennet and Avon Canal in Reading which had been attended by 97 volunteers. [3]

River Stour, Suffolk river in Suffolk, United Kingdom

The River Stour is a river in East Anglia, England. It is 47 miles (76 km) long and forms most of the county boundary between Suffolk to the north, and Essex to the south. It rises in eastern Cambridgeshire, passes to the east of Haverhill, through Cavendish, Bures, Sudbury, Nayland, Stratford St Mary, Dedham and flows through the Dedham Vale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It becomes tidal just before Manningtree in Essex and joins the North Sea at Harwich.

Reading, Berkshire Place in England

Reading is a large minster town in Berkshire, England, of which it is now the county town. It is in the Thames Valley at the confluence of the River Thames and River Kennet, and on both the Great Western Main Line railway and the M4 motorway. Reading is 70 miles (110 km) east of Bristol, 24 miles (39 km) south of Oxford, 40 miles (64 km) west of London, 14 miles (23 km) north of Basingstoke, 12 miles (19 km) south-west of Maidenhead and 15 miles (24 km) east of Newbury as the crow flies.

Another major step forwards was taken in 1968, as part of a renovation scheme around the Ashton Canal, which was semi-derelict at the time. The scheme was called "Operation Spring Clean", and Palmer set about mustering support for "Operation Ashton" through Navvies Notebook. The idea was to demonstrate that a large co-ordinated working party could be organised, and that such a party could achieve much more than a small group of professionals could in a similar time. The working party was held on 21 and 22 September 1968, when over 600 volunteers turned up and demonstrated the value of such an exercise. It attracted considerable publicity, which the IWA recognised as being almost as valuable as the actual work done. [4]

Progress continued through 1969. In the years 1967, 1968 and 1969, the number of working groups, now called "Digs", had risen from 11 to 16 and then 23. Two major events, at Marple on the Peak Forest Canal and at Welshpool on the Montgomeryshire Canal had each attracted over 200 volunteers. The time had come to organise such numbers more formally, and the Waterways Recovery Group was formed in 1970. [5] Navvies Notebook continued to be published until April 1971, when it was renamed Navvies. [2]

Welshpool town in the county of Powys, Wales

Welshpool is a town and community in Wales, historically in the county of Montgomeryshire, but currently administered as part of the unitary authority of Powys. The town is situated 4 miles (6.4 km) from the Wales–England border and low-lying on the River Severn; its Welsh language name Y Trallwng means "the marshy or sinking land". Welshpool is the fourth largest town in Powys.

The work of the newly formed group continued to grow. In October 1971, Navvies announced a working party on the Grantham Canal, which turned out to be the first of many. Two months later, the British Waterways Board, the Inland Waterways Association, and the local authorities through which the canals ran agreed to restore the lower Peak Forest Canal and the Ashton Canal. Palmer set about organising something that would demonstrate what could be done to the local population. A dig was organised for 25-26 March 1972, with the codename "Ashtac". The event was a success, as over 1000 volunteers from all over Britain arrived and removed large quantities of rubbish from the canals. The British Waterways Board were complementary, and published a document outlining the contributions of volunteers since 1968. [6] On 27-28 October 1973 The Droitwich Dig, saw another major dig, organised jointly with the Droitwich Canals Trust, WRG used their experience of such campaigns to ensure that the 500 volunteers who attended were put to good use. [7] [8]

Grantham Canal canal in the East Midlands, United Kingdom

The Grantham Canal runs for 33 miles (53 km) from Grantham through 18 locks to West Bridgford, where it joins the River Trent. It was built primarily for the transportation of coal to Grantham. It opened in 1797 and its profitability steadily increased until 1841. It was then sold to a railway company, declined, and was finally closed in 1936. It was used as a water supply for agriculture, and so most of it remained in water after closure, although bridges were lowered. Since the 1970s, the Grantham Canal Society have been working to restore it. Two stretches are now navigable to small vessels. A new route will be required where the canal joins the Trent, as road building has severed the original one.

The Droitwich Canals Trust is an English limited company created in 1973 to work towards the restoration of the Droitwich Canal. From 2001 it worked as part of a larger group, the Droitwich Canals Restoration Partnership, and in 2004, following a successful application for a grant of £4.6 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund surrendered its lease on the canal to British Waterways, who then managed the restoration through to the reopening of the canals in 2011.


Memorial stone to Graham Palmer, founder of the WRG, located adjacent to Graham Palmer Lock on the Montgomery Canal Graham palmer memorial stone.jpg
Memorial stone to Graham Palmer, founder of the WRG, located adjacent to Graham Palmer Lock on the Montgomery Canal

WRG run a series of canal camps each year typically week-long and open to volunteers of all ages and abilities. The canal camps are 'working holidays' working towards restoring canals and navigable waterways throughout the country. There are many such camps throughout the Summer, and WRG even run a Christmas camp, which runs over Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

WRG also help to set up, run and then tear down the Inland Waterways Association's National Festival. This festival is the IWA's primary fundraising activity, and is a chance for boaters, and the general public to see the work of both the IWA and WRG. In 2012 there will be no National Festival, as WRG and IWA volunteers will be helping to run the Waterways for the Olympic Games London 2012.

WRG currently owns a fleet of vans, and a range of plant including excavators, dumpers, pumps, mixers, winches, and other sundry equipment.

WRG have regional groups across England, who co-ordinate weekend visits to restoration projects. The current local groups are London, Essex, North West, South West and Bit In The Middle (mostly the south midlands). [9] The WRG publishes a newsletter titled "Navvies" six times a year.

Although originally formed as an independent body, WRG is now a division of the Inland Waterways Association. The IWA currently covers WRG's core costs, however WRG still relies on fundraising and voluntary donations to cover its restoration aims. [9]

Since 1996 the chairman of WRG has been Mike Palmer. [9]

See also


Related Research Articles

Waterway restoration

Waterway restoration is the activity of restoring a canal or river, including special features such as warehouse buildings, locks, boat lifts, and boats. In the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, the focus of waterway restoration is on improving navigability, while in Australia the term may also include improvements to water quality. (For water quality improvement activity in the US and UK see stream restoration.)

River Avon, Warwickshire river in Warwickshire, UK

The River Avon or Avon is located in central England, flowing generally southwestwards; it is a major left-bank tributary of the River Severn, of which it is the easternmost tributary system. It is also known as the Warwickshire Avon or Shakespeare's Avon, to distinguish it from several other rivers of the same name in the United Kingdom.

Stratford-upon-Avon Canal canal in the West Midlands, United Kingdom

The Stratford-upon-Avon Canal is a canal in the south Midlands of England. The canal, which was built between 1793 and 1816, runs for 25.5 miles (41.0 km) in total, and consists of two sections. The dividing line is at Kingswood Junction, which gives access to the Grand Union Canal. Following acquisition by a railway company in 1856, it gradually declined, the southern section being un-navigable by 1945, and the northern section little better.

Thames and Severn Canal

The Thames and Severn Canal is a canal in Gloucestershire in the south of England, which was completed in 1789. It was conceived as part of a canal route from Bristol to London. At its eastern end, it connects to the River Thames at Inglesham Lock near Lechlade, while at its western end, it connects to the Stroudwater Navigation at Wallbridge near Stroud, and thence to the River Severn. It has one short arm (branch), from Siddington to the town of Cirencester. It includes Sapperton Tunnel, which when built was the longest canal tunnel in Britain, and remains the fourth longest. There were always problems with water supply, as no reservoirs were built, while the summit section near the tunnel ran through porous limestone, and there were constant difficulties with leakage. Competition from the railways took much of the canal's traffic by the end of the 19th century, and most of the canal was abandoned in 1927, the remainder in 1941.

Wey and Arun Canal

The Wey and Arun Canal is a partially restored, 23-mile-long (37 km) canal in the south east of England. It runs southwards from the River Wey at Shalford, Surrey to the River Arun at Pallingham, in West Sussex. The canal comprises parts of two separate undertakings – the northern part of the Arun Navigation, opened in 1787 between Pallingham and Newbridge Wharf, and the Wey and Arun Junction Canal, opened in 1816, which connected the Arun at Newbridge to the Godalming Navigation near Shalford, south of Guildford. The canal was built with 26 locks.

Claverton Pumping Station

Claverton Pumping Station in the village of Claverton, in the English county of Somerset, pumps water from the River Avon to the Kennet and Avon Canal using power from the flow of the River Avon. It is a grade II listed building.

Montgomery Canal canal in Shropshire and Wales, United Kingdom

The Montgomery Canal, known colloquially as "The Monty", is a partially restored canal in Powys, in eastern Wales, and in northwest Shropshire, in western England. The canal runs 33 miles (53 km) from the Llangollen Canal to Newtown, via Llanymynech and Welshpool.

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 as the "National" it serves several functions:

Bugsworth Basin

Bugsworth Basin is a canal basin at the terminus of the Peak Forest Canal. It is located at Buxworth in the valley of the Black Brook, close to Whaley Bridge. It was once a busy interchange with the Peak Forest Tramway, for the transport of limestone and burnt lime.

Inland Waterways Protection Society

The Inland Waterways Protection Society (IWPS) is a British organisation founded in 1958 to work for the restoration of the canal system. Its members carried out surveys of canals and produced reports in support of their retention when much of the canal network was under threat. Following official support for use of the canals for leisure activities in 1967, the Society have concentrated their efforts on the restoration and operation of Bugsworth Basin, located at the southern end of the Peak Forest Canal, which was one of the first canals that they surveyed in 1958.

A canal ring is the name given to a series of canals that make a complete loop.

Stourbridge Canal canal in West Midlands, United Kingdom

The Stourbridge Canal is a canal in the West Midlands of England. It links the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal with the Dudley Canal, and hence, via the Birmingham Canal Navigations, to Birmingham and the Black Country.

Bath Locks series of locks at Bath

Bath Locks are a series of locks, now six locks, situated at the start of the Kennet and Avon Canal, at Bath, England.

Kennet & Avon Canal Museum

The Kennet & Avon Canal Museum in Devizes, Wiltshire, England has a range of exhibits about the conception, design, usage and eventual commercial decline of the Kennet and Avon Canal, as well as its subsequent restoration.

Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust is a British registered charity, number 510448, which exists to promote the restoration of the Montgomery Canal.

Wilts & Berks Canal Trust canal restoration charity in England

The Wilts & Berks Canal Trust is a registered charity no. 299595, and a waterway society based in Wiltshire, England, concerned with the restoration of the Wilts & Berks Canal.


  1. Squires 2008 , p. 59
  2. 1 2 Squires 2008 , p. 62
  3. Squires 2008 , p. 66
  4. Squires 2008 , pp. 68–69
  5. Squires 2008 , p. 70
  6. Squires 2008 , pp. 77–78
  7. Squires 2008 , p. 81
  8. Shill,Ray Silent Highways 2011 p177 The History Press, Stroud
  9. 1 2 3 "Navies to the Rescue". Waterways (221): 16–20. Autumn 2008.