Tonight we are in Newbury, birthplace of John Gould, the man who saved the Kennet and Avon Canal. Inspired by Tom Rolt’s book Narrowboat, after WWII Gould went to work on the canal, first as an engineer doing repairs, and then setting up his own business as a carrier, with two narrowboats. There was not much demand for canal transportation in the early 1950s, but Gould brought salt from Middlewich to a Newbury laundry. Middlewich was the northern most point on our trip. We passed through there more than six weeks ago. Admittedly Gould was not making as many stops for tea, but that is still a long way to go for a load of salt.
When the railway system developed, railway companies often bought up competing canals, and allowed them to fall into disrepair, and this is what had happened to the Kennet and Avon. It was nationalized after WWII along with the other canals, but the government had little interest in keeping it open, and allowed many of the locks to become derelict, stranding Gould’s boats. Gould sued the government for removing his source of income, and the judge ruled that the government must follow the law like everyone else, and that you could not close a navigable waterway without an Act of Parliament.
This gave Gould and others time to organize. The Act of Parliament to close the canal was never passed, and though the canal suffered from further neglect (at its worst time, 86 of the 104 locks on the canal were derelict) a mere forty years later in 1990, the final section of the K&A was restored. Gould received an MBE in 1992, and died in 1999 at the age of 86. His coffin was moved to its final resting place along the canal.
Even before the canal, the Kennet river was navigable as far as Newbury, but little remains of the wharf now apart from one crane that was used for unloading barges.
As you can see, the town is dangerously swan infested, but otherwise pleasant enough. There is a Tesco where you can take the carts down to the towpath, moorings (with mooring rings even) next to a pleasant park, and a church with two sides entirely free of scaffolding.
The main shopping street is a pedestrian zone by day, but in the evening the bollards go down and cars get to use it.
It was a fairly easy journey here today, as we shared the locks and worked the swing bridges with another boat. The skipper of that boat wanted everything run his way, which was fine (he knew what he was doing) but it did mean I go to use a joke written by a friend of mine on Paula.
Andrew: Knock knock.
Paula: Who’s there?
Andrew: Control Freak. Now you say, “Control Freak who?”