The Macclesfield Rally – 1953
Photograph Courtesy of Cheshire Life Magazine
During the planning of Diamond Reminiscences the fact that the 50th anniversary of the Macclesfield rally almost coincided with the 60th anniversary of the club was too great a coincidence to ignore. People who had been to the Rally were thin on the ground as they would be well into their 80s if not older: Gordon Briggs was approached; it was before his time but he had an article from “Cheshire Life” on the Rally. Jack Yates visited the Rally but was not involved and had few recollections. There was a small amount in Golden Reminiscences by Maud Robson. The Macclesfield Canal Society had been researching the archives of the Macclesfield Times and Chronicle and had eight pages of laboriously copied extracts; they kindly made a copy available to me. A search of secondary canal histories revealed an account, by presumably Robert Aickman, in the IWA Bulletin No. 40, a copy of which was supplied by the IWA Head Office. John Suggett, whose father had attended the Rally, had an original copy of the Rally programme and a rally plaque. There may well be more published material but this provided more than enough for the short account then envisaged and a more detailed article could follow.
The Macclesfield canal had been constructed at the end of the canal age and opened in 1831 just a few short years before the coming of the railways with which there was intense competition. Many canal companies, with an eye to the value of their investments, sold out to railway companies. The Macclesfield was no exception, first leased in 1847 then outright merger in 1883, eventually passing to government control by nationalisation with its parent railway company in 1948. The Docks and Inland Waterways Executive (DIWE) managed the canals, for the British Transport Commission (BTC), which was principally interested in the railways. It was soon obvious that a country bankrupted by two World Wars had little money to spend on canals either for much needed modernisation or amenity use. Some rationalisation (closure) was seen as inevitable. The Ashton, Peak Forest and Macclesfield canals (APM) operated as a unit and trade had been steadily declining since 1945. In 1953, to bring home the threat, the last regular commercial cargo of coal to Goyte Mill from Staffordshire ceased. The canals were seen officially as part of the transport system and although amenity use was not discouraged, after all there had been pleasure craft in the High Lane arm since the early years of the 20th. Century. However, in 1953 amenity use was small and did not justify the significant expenditure needed to maintain some 771 miles of canal that carried only 2% of the total trade. In 1953 these facts were articulated and a Board of Survey set up to review the future of the whole 2171 miles of nationalised waterways. The process of abandonment and closure of canals with little or no trade had been going on for 80 - 90 years but the pace had quickened in the 1930’s and 40’s so the threat to underused canals suspended between transport and amenity use was real and imminent. Against this background the Macclesfield Rally was held.
The Rally was organised by the recently formed North Western Branch of the IWA not by IWA head office officials, unlike the Market Harborough Rally of 1950. It is also recorded that the Borough officials gave considerable assistance in the organisation. The IWA had been established in 1946 to promote the retention and wider use of waterways. It had been vigorous in promoting the development of all canals for a wide range of uses including trade and amenity and had organised a very successful canal festival at Market Harborough. In 1951 the NW Branch was formed. Its priorities were to oppose the possible demise of various local canals including the Ashton, Peak Forest and Macclesfield; the Macclesfield Rally was a natural vehicle for their aspirations. The main organiser was Dr N J H Wallis an IWA member and chairman of NCCC. The Harbourmaster of the Rally was Mr Herbert (Bert) Kennerley (also of NCCC), who was described as very popular. It was held between 17th and 23rd August (Monday to Sunday), 1953 at Macclesfield’s Buxton Road Wharf (roughly where Peak Forest Cruisers now operate). The weather is reported to have been inclement. Reports of the number of craft attending vary from 64 to 70 which came from all over the country, no small achievement in 1953. The number of boaters involved is quoted as around 200 people. The craft present were predominantly from the NW but other craft were reported to come from Sheffield, Walsall, London, Chester, Ellesmere and Bristol. A photograph in “Cheshire Life”, (reproduced in Diamond Reminiscences) shows approximately 16 of the craft all small wooden craft of 20 – 25ft. moored on both sides of the canal. The moorings obviously extended further in both directions. At least one working boat attended, Parrot, owned by a Mr Goodland, which had come via the Ashton canal. Also present was a pedal boat made from an aeroplane drop tank. Dr Wallis’s boat Obsession is reported as constructed of oak collected from a Welsh castle, a 150 yr old table and the contents of a Manchester shop. Bert Kennerley’s boat Oak Day, was reported to have been a harbour defence craft that was machine gunned in the war. Both these craft had, in 1950, attended the Market Harborough rally. P W Saunders in Mistress Mine, who navigated from Cambridge, won the Peter Scott Challenge Trophy for the most meritorious voyage to the Rally. This craft broke down after 100 miles and was poled the rest of the way! The longest voyage (the Slack Cup) was of 187 miles won by Mr S T Wilcox of Brentford. Mr A D Williamson, an IWA member, won the “Wallis Cup” for the nautical competition.
The Rally programme was preceded by two linking events: an exhibition of waterways related paintings and an after dinner address by Dr Wallis. The exhibition traced the development of the canals and exhibited many historic documents. It was held in Macclesfield Library. The exhibition included one painting by Algernon Newton RA valued at £400 titled “Stormy sunset on the canal” as well as a painting titled “Flood waters at Threave” by Peter Scott and an illuminated address of gratitude presented to Revd. R V Barker, by some boatmen for his kindness when they were iced in at Nantwich for several weeks. The boatmen also presented a model of a narrow boat, which was also exhibited. A Mrs Bromley-Davenport in her opening address picked up the amenity theme and stressed, “How lucky were those who could go cruising along these waterways for they went through some delightful country”. The exhibition was visited by a large number of people and often stayed open for an hour longer than scheduled. The second event was a Rotary club dinner addressed by Dr Wallis on the importance and economy of water transport and was reported in the Macclesfield Times of 13th August. He surveyed the development of the canal system and stressed that water transport was still the most economical means of transport and pointed to some current and past stratagems employed to disadvantage the canals by the railway companies; for example the Grand Central railway when they took over the APM canals in 1903 raised the toll on Buxworth Lime to Manchester from 6/6 (33p) to 17/- (85p), and the current surcharge on coal delivered to boats applied by the Coal Board. He concluded with a call for modernisation and better dredging of the canals.
Monday and Tuesday appear to have been arrival days as the Rally opened with a review of the craft by the mayor of Macclesfield, Alderman J B Hidderley (also an IWA and NCCC member) on the Wednesday. Maud Robson reported that there were visits to a silk mill and Hovis bakery, then on the Thursday returning on Friday there was a cruise to Whaley Bridge with an overnight stop and a supper dance held at Lyme Hall. The cost of the supper was 12/6 (63p). Cheshire Life has some splendid pictures of the cruise including a front page image of Oak Day under way (also reproduced in Diamond Reminiscences). There was also an Illuminated sail past on the Saturday evening headed by the North Cheshire Cruising Queen, Miss Christine Lesley Barlow, who arrived to cheers and after disembarkation was pulled on a lorry to Victoria Park by Sea Scouts and Sea Rangers. The planned torchlight Tattoo in Victoria Park was cancelled due to inclement weather. Earlier in the day had been an exhibition of canoe handling by boys of Bollington Secondary School. These events had been preceded by a nautical competition but there are no details of what was involved. On the Friday evening there was a reception at Macclesfield Town Hall hosted by the Mayor, during which the Lady Mayoress presented the various awards. The reception was addressed by Robert Aickman with an illustrated talk, whose theme was the importance of the inland waterways in the conveyance of goods and the current dire threat to about 800 miles of canal, pointing out that many local authorities did not know what a good thing they had in their canals (It was current DIWE aspiration to transfer the uneconomic 800 miles of canal to local authorities or other such bodies. But these bodies were reluctant to take on the extra financial burden this would involve). The address was reported in the local papers.
Was the Rally a success? Robert Aickman was in no doubt when writing his account in Bulletin 40: “it had promoted the objectives of the Association from first to last”. He was particularly pleased because the range of events, presentations and civic acceptance had demonstrated the amenity potential of the canal to the local authorities present. Additionally some 20,000 people were estimated to have attended the Rally and numerous press articles were generated including those in the Daily Telegraph, Manchester Guardian, Cheshire Life and Macclesfield Times. All this raised public awareness of the threats facing the canal network as a whole and the Macclesfield canal particularly which provided additional publicity for the IWA and its cause. This mission was repeatedly brought to the public attention by Dr Wallis, during the Rally; which was praised by Aickman. It was the first of the directly campaigning Nationals that highlighted a local issue of national importance. There was about this time a proposal to close Bosley locks, appears to have been abandoned. The fight to retain the whole of the APM assumed national importance in later years with the struggle to reopen Marple Locks and to restore the Ashton canal. This involved another national rally at Marple in 1966, direct action including defiance of BWB at Marple and later the celebrated Ashton canal clearances, this time with the support of BWB. Additionally there was no doubt a lot of personal and private lobbying. In retrospect the Rally can be seen as an important and successful beginning to a long campaign, placing the canal and its potential for amenity use firmly before the public. As for the NCCC they were praised for their contribution to the organisation and provided many of the attending craft, also they are reported to have gained many new members.
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