Ashby Canal: Past, Present & Future by Geoffrey E Pursglove

A ‘must-have’ book for anyone interested in the Ashby Canal

Reviewer: Harry Arnold


IF ASKED to suggest who should write a book on the Ashby Canal one would immediately recommend Geoff Pursglove. As not only the professional project officer (just retired) and a long-time volunteer enthusiast, his knowledge of and practical involvement in this Midland waterway is possibly currently second to none.
Coinciding with his retirement he has researched, written and published Ashby Canal: Past, Present & Future. In addition to Geoff’s labours, I would first like to mention the design of the book – credited to Eddie Gaylard. You only have to glance at the attractive cover then flick through the superbly laid out pages – a great mix of text, colour and black and white historical and contemporary illustrations – to get a ‘must have a copy’ feeling. As someone involved in artwork, I find some book layouts pretty boring. Certainly not this one though.
The history of the Ashby is traced through from the original proposals for a waterway from the Coventry Canal to tap the coalfield of the Measham, Oakthorpe, Donithorpe and Ashby areas: It never went to Ashby-de-la-Zouch of course.
There are good profiles of the engineers, the Whitworths, father and son, and the powerful local entrepreneurs, Joseph Wilkes and the 2nd Earl of Moira; the latter the original owner of the then unsuccessful Moira Furnace, now a major tourist attraction.
A fascinating map of an unsuccessful proposal for a link to the River Trent at Burton-on-Trent is published; one of a number of ideas which would have prevented the current dead-end situation. The tramways and Midlands Railway ownership era, right up to the present local reopenings, are detailed as are local coal mining operations and their effect on the canal: with some fascinating previously unpublished pictures.
Colliery closures and the effect of mining subsidence, resulting in the closure above Snarestone, dealt the Ashby a severe blow, but under the auspices of the Ashby Canal Association (ACA) and later Ashby Canal Transport Ltd, coal traffic still originated on the canal. A lasting tribute to the pioneers such as Tom Henshaw is the establishment of narrowboat traders as accredited coal merchants.
All this is chronicled in detail, as is the final section on the canal’s revival through the local authorities working with the ACA and now the Canal & River Trust. The remarkable but separate rebuilding of the northern end, including a new lock, around Moira, and the recent extension of the existing navigation beyond Snarestone; plus current work and future proposals to initially reach Measham.
I have to declare an interest in that the author is a friend, but my unbiased opinion is that this is one of the best – and economically priced – individual short waterway studies to be published in recent times.
Ashby Canal: Past, Present & Future by Geoffrey E Pursglove is published by Ambion Publishing in softback, priced £9.95.
ISBN: 978-0-9935925-0-8