How the Trust began
The Cotswold Canals Trust owes its existence to the vision and determination of Michael Ayland
‘How it began for me’
by Michael Ayland – Founder of ‘The Stroudwater Canal Society’
I consider the Stroud School I attended had given me a very sound education and in twenty minutes had covered the complete history of Britain’s canals, which by four o’ clock I had forgotten most of… save that Brindley’s horse was called Bess!
The Stroudwater had been abandoned and derelict and I cared not until January 1972 when a dear friend invited my wife and I to take a week’s holiday with him. Enquiring about the exotic location, he informed us that he thought of going from Rugby to Oxford. I was certain that we were off on a hiking holiday. Only to learn that we were to take a canal boat for a week. I must shamefully admit I did not know a canal went between the two places. The task was to instantly become a canal enthusiast.
We lived close to Saul Junction. This was obviously the place to look at canals.
The Gloucester and Sharpness canal was fine but what great despair confronted me when we explored the adjoining Stroudwater! Infilled, mutilated, truncated and obliterated. And worse still… it was being infilled while I watched!
How could anyone have let this happen. I was furious and, as ever, the recipient of my wrath was my wife who as always willingly took the blame.
Never talk to a journalist
At that time I worked in Dursley in a building opposite Alan Guy, the local reporter for the Bristol Evening Post. I lambasted him with my concerns that this waterway was being destroyed whilst elsewhere in the country canals were being repaired and restored.
Rule One – Never ever talk to a journalist! The very next day his newspaper ran headlines along the lines of “Canal to be reopened to Stroud – Exclusive” That was not what I had implied but it would do!
The next few days were mayhem and out of control with people telephoning me to say what a good idea it was and how they wanted to help… elation ruled.
Then this joyful start was shattered by a press statement from the Company of Proprietors of the Stroudwater Navigation. A few terse words to the effect they owned the canal and any ideas involving reopening it would not be happening!
No one I knew, or I had spoken to at that time, even knew of the existence of the Company of Proprietors.
The learning experience was vertical! Suddenly I had a group of people around me with the same desire to see the canal open to Stroud but we were uncoordinated, informal, totally unprofessional and most importantly completely inexperienced as none of us had done anything like this before. We were also totally unprepared for the organisation that was to follow.
A public meeting
To put it on to a sound footing we felt we needed a society and we called a public meeting at the Subscription Rooms in May 1972. I booked the George Room which would take fifty people as we thought there would be twenty or so likely to come.
A couple of days before, we realised it may be more like one hundred so hastily the Subscription Rooms agreed to let us have the ballroom which was just as well as over three hundred people attended the meeting at which the Inland Waterways Association’s John Humphries wooed the assembly with tales of other restoration projects and the Stroudwater Canal Society was born. Within the early months membership grew rapidly but most of the early joiners had a bigger objective than the Stroudwater Canal that of the jewel of restoring the Thames and Severn Canal.
For many of us we knew little of its detail. Weekends would be spent on exploratory visits to the canal with a copy of Humphrey Household’s book of the Thames and Severn Canal in one hand and a Gloucestershire County Council gradient diagram of the canal in the other.
It should be said that previous to this time, way before the Canal Society was thought of, a two man working party in the form of Graham Pegler and Nigel Rowe had already begun clearing and rewatering the concrete section of the Thames and Severn. They are the real restoration pioneers.
The Stroudwater Canal Society realised that the super goal was to restore the inland canal route between Saul and Lechlade. The Society sought trust status as The Stroudwater, Thames and Severn Canal Trust.
The Cotswold Canals Trust of today
Over the years the trust has flourished and grown into the Cotswold Canals Trust of today. The Trust’s success may easily be measured by the length of the reinstated canal and the number of rebuilt bridges and locks.
Its greater unmeasurable success is in the comradeship, joy, happiness and pleasure that this project has brought to so many of its members and to the public in this shared adventure.
For me the desire to take a boat from Saul up to Stroud then up that hill and through that big old tunnel out into the Coates sunshine and on down to Latton and the Thames at Inglesham is as eager and exciting as it was in 1972 and as it must have been for its original promoters in 1780.
Let’s Make it Happen.