Recollections of the early days by H W Downs.
This is one of a series of articles that first appeared in the Ditchcrawler March/April/May/June 1964.
An introduction by the Chairman
One of the outstanding characters of our Club’s history is our Honorary Member and doyen, Mr H W Downs. Commencing with this issue, we are publishing some of his memoirs on the Club’s formation. May I personally, on behalf of all the members who have enjoyed his company, wish him many years of happiness in his retirement.
L Cohoon, Chairman.
A Clash with Authority
Although the railway company never let us forget that we were there by privilege, it was a very quite and peaceful time until, In 1937, we were dealt the blow which was eventually responsible for the formation of the Club. This was when the local Rating Overseer decided, for the first time, to levy a rate on the boathouses, and a number of the dissatisfied owners gathered under the aegis of Dr Shiel of Poynton.
A solicitor was employed, but after a great deal of correspondence with the local council it was decided that there was nothing for it but to pay up. A stand was made however, against a plan to backdate the rate, in some cases up to six years, and this claim was not pressed. At the conclusion of the affair the solicitor’s fee worked out at 6/5d per head, but two of the people concerned did not pay - not a happy omen for a future club.
The Club is formed
A meeting of all interested parties was called which was held in the open in front of the Scout’s Hut and using chairs and tables which they provided. About sixteen people were present and, although the minute book has since been lost, I can still remember many of their names.The election of the chairman and the secretary was confirmed. Mr Shaw elected treasurer, and a committee of five, which included Mr Kennerley was chosen. Only one sailing officer, the commodore Mr Martin, was elected, but he was not happy in his membership of the Club and finally resigned after four months. I was then elected commodore, a position I held for the next four years.
We now had to find a name and, having had much to do with the North Cheshire Water Board the Name North Cheshire Cruising Club came naturally to mind and this was adopted. Though at the time I was not aware that ’NC’ was the international flag signal for distress. A prize of 5/- was offered for the best design for a Club burgee and was subsequently won by Mr Bill Axon for the only design submitted.
Mr Axon worked manfully with barrow and shovel, dumping the lot in a corner of the yard. The roof was supported by a knee post truss, the tie beam of which was Inserted in the chimney breast. After years of large fires the end of this beam was completely burnt away, so the whole truss was suspended by one end only. I propped the truss, cut off the burnt end of the beam, pieced It out and supported the broken joint with a corbel from the chimney breast. When the debris had been removed Mr Kennerley and I concreted the floor. However, it never was a nice place for meetings, although once it held 40 people for one of Mr Gabbott’s lectures, and I was not sorry to move to the Conservative Club for meetings.
Repairing the Crane
Through carelessness the jib had snapped off at the root so the crane was unusable. At this time Manchester Corporation were doing away with the electric trams and the overhead gear was being stripped. I carefully measured one of the upright steel poles and found it just right for a jib, so I asked Mr Glenesk’s permission to repair It. His chief engineer came to talk it over with me, and sent us a jib complete with tie rods. Mr Glenesk even sent the testing barge and crew, tested the crane and issued a certificate which enabled us to get insurance on it.
A Clash with the Police
Mr Martin, the Chief Commissioner for Scouts, was allowed a little petrol for training purposes. He had taken some scouts by boat to Bosley for a week’s camping. On the way back the boat broke down at Macclesfield. He contacted Harry Hazeldine to arrange a tow back to High Lane. Harry left the arm at 10 pm and towed the boat back from Hurdsfield, using Mr Martin’s petrol. At Poynton Deeps he was hailed by a cyclist on the towpath, so he stopped at the low bridge. The cyclist stepped aboard and said he was a police officer. Harry truculently ordered him off his boat. The policeman told Harry he would be summoned, but at 2 am let him proceed, after much argument. Harry reported this to Mr Martin, who told him he would attend to it and nothing further was heard of the affair.
In 1944 the towpath between the railway and the canal bridge began to subside, so a retaining wall had to be built and the canal emptied for one length. It was decided to use the draw off at the bridge north of High Lane bridge, and that entailed drawing off the arm. At a meeting we decided to take as many boats as possible to the deep water beyond the first bridge. The problem was how to get them all down. My boat was not completed but as the engine was in order I took three in tow. We proposed returning to our boathouses In the same way. Most of us had a small amount of petrol for charging and could make the short distance on what we had saved.
The news went round High Lane that the canal length would be refilled at 4 pm on Sunday. The inevitable crowd assembled on the bridge to watch the fleet return, and among them I noticed the High Lane policeman in civvies. After Harry’s encounter with the police the week before, we decided to disarm suspicion and made a quick change of plan, so we hired the diesel barge which was in attendance to tow us back, six boats in a string. I well remember the chaotic mess when they threw off their tow lines. At the horse bridge Mr Masterson came up at this moment with his boat, a 40 footer, towed in the opposite direction by a pony on the towpath. Imagine the confusion - one diesel barge, six unpowered craft and one pony-drawn 40 footer, inextricably mixed up, stuck In the mud inside the wide hole opposite the horse bridge, with a fierce west wind blowing! I couldn’t pole my boat through the bridge hole for the wind but, knowing that the High Lane policeman had gone through Sammy’s Wood, I started the engine and was soon moored. Mr Plant also started the Miss Betty engine and with two boats out of the way the confusion subsided.
Our First Social Occasion
The Club’s first really social event was a Christmas party organised by Mr Axon and held at Hartley House, High Lane. It was wartime and catering was difficult, but a lady in High Lane said she would make meat pies if we would obtain the meat. Mrs Higginbotham got her ample supplies from a source that it is not polite to enquire into, and we had a very nice spread. Mrs Kennerley set the tables and generally organised the catering with her usual efficiency. A band, a solo violinist and a singer was engaged for the evening. Apart from the cold it was all very enjoyable. The house is the 18th-century mansion of the Hartleys who were large landowners in the district.
For the party we had the three rooms downstairs; the dining room and drawing room for dancing, and the library was fixed up with card tables for people wishing to play. The drawing-room had a very Dickensian character with its oak beams, wainscoting and the magnificently carved mantelpiece with the Hartley arms boldly carved on the lintel. This setting was ideal for a Christmas party. Alas! The bulldozers have been at work and the house is no more.
Crippled Children’s Outing No.1
(I think that he failed to turn up because he hadn’t any boots). We embarked them at the wharf, and my, didn’t it rain! The children enjoyed themselves very much despite such bad weather. 11 boats turned up for this occasion.
I cannot let this opportunity pass without a few words of appreciation for the original band of enthusiasts who really formed the Club. They were willing and worked without acrimony or dissension, and the Club has much to thank them for. I should like to pay tribute to Mr Albert Ridgeway, who was my mentor in canal lore. He died suddenly In 1943, before the Club was formed, but I have no doubt that had he survived he would have been one of our most shining lights. He was a genial man with a certain dry humour. He had about ten years experience of the canal when I first came in 1925. He was a first rate craftsman and had a great knowledge of the canal and its habitués.
I am sorry that I am unable to take any further part in the activities on the canal, but I have had my share, with more than four years as Commodore, and two two—year periods as secretary. In conclusion I should like to point out to you that many things which are now taken for granted were only obtained by much scheming and hard work. Good luck!
H W Downs - 1964.
This page was last updated 11 April, 2007