August bank holiday weekend saw a significant birthday being celebrated by the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Society – the 250th anniversary of the opening of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. The waterway between the River Severn and Autherley opened in 1772, and to mark the event, a rally, attracting around 26 boats, was held just below the unique Bratch Locks in Wombourne in the West Midlands.
The canal’s actual birthday is on the 28th of May when, in 1772, it officially opened, having cost around £100,000 to build. It remained open and, apparently, prosperous until 1948, when commercial traffic ended. According to Staffs and Worcs Canal Society committee member Tony Gregory, previous rallies have attracted more significant numbers of boats, which, although made for an impressive sight, caused problems when trying to accommodate them all. Numbers at this event were described as being “more manageable”.
The setting was ideal, as was the weather, and many visitors attended to look at both traditional and modern boats. A number of trade boats also participated, although not as many as you might have expected to see but, given the other events being held over the bank holiday weekend it is unsurprising; however, it was good to see groups of visitors interested in hearing the history of some of the craft from their current owners.
The event also benefited from the impressive locks as a backdrop, with many visitors taking time to walk up to the toll house and watch the volunteer lock keepers help boats through. Thankfully there was enough traffic to demonstrate the work of the lock keepers to visitors. Current restrictions, caused by the drought conditions, did cause the organisers some concern before the event.
The Rally and Festival was opened by Chris Dyche, who, along with the Canal and River Trust’s Chief Executive Richard Parry, officially opened the event, watched by a number of local councillors who attended along with good numbers of local people.
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