David Bla­grove 1937-2016

Canal Boat - - News -

WA­TER­WAYS CAM­PAIGNER, WORK­ING boat en­thu­si­ast and au­thor David Bla­grove has died peace­fully at home in Stoke Bruerne af­ter a long ill­ness.

Born in 1937, he grew up by the Thames in Abing­don where he was fas­ci­nated by the life of the river, cadg­ing rides on Sal­ters’ steam­ers, watch­ing work­ing boats de­liv­er­ing coal from the Ox­ford Canal, and get­ting in­volved in sail­ing and row­ing. His fam­ily moved to Read­ing in 1950, just as the cam­paign was get­ting un­der­way to save the Ken­net & Avon Canal, so this was the first canal he came to know in de­tail.

Al­though ini­tially ar­ti­cled to a so­lic­i­tor, by the early 1960s he, along with two friends, had ac­quired a trip-boat busi­ness on the Ken­net, he spent win­ter work­ing nar­row boats for the Wil­low Wren Canal Car­ry­ing Com­pany, and he worked as a Thames lock-keeper.

Trapped in the ice at Stoke Bruerne in the hard win­ter of 1962-3, he was in the right place to help out with set­ting up the Canal Mu­seum in time for the open­ing at Easter 1963, and he con­tin­ued his in­ter­est in 1968 when he and his wife, Jean, moved to Stoke Bruerne, where he be­came a pop­u­lar teacher at a lo­cal sec­ondary school, and re­mained for the rest of his life. Many will re­mem­ber meet­ing him in the Boat Inn and have ap­pre­ci­ated his tal­ents as racon­teur and en­ter­tainer with canal songs, sto­ries, and rec­ol­lec­tions from the work­ing boats.

He also pub­lished his first book in 1968, on the his­tory of Stoke Bruerne’s canal, fol­lowed by fur­ther books on lo­cal canals and his other great in­ter­est, rail­ways. In the 1980s, fol­low­ing his re­al­i­sa­tion that mem­o­ries of canal car­ry­ing were pass­ing into his­tory, he be­gan writ­ing down his rem­i­nis­cences be­fore they were for­got­ten: these formed the ba­sis of Bread Upon­theWaters and The Quiet Wa­ters By.

Fol­low­ing the demise of reg­u­lar freight on the nar­row canals, he set up a re­tail coal op­er­a­tion in as­so­ci­a­tion with Ashby Canal Trans­port as a way of keep­ing work­ing nar­row boat traf­fic go­ing. He later helped to set up the Com­mer­cial Boat Op­er­a­tors As­so­ci­a­tion, be­com­ing its first Chair­man, and al­ways be­lieved that there was still a niche mar­ket even for the smaller canals as a safe and en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly way of mov­ing goods.

An ac­tive mem­ber of the In­land Wa­ter­ways As­so­ci­a­tion since the 1959, he was in­volved in its 1971 Northamp­ton rally, was later made an Hon­orary Vice Pres­i­dent of the As­so­ci­a­tion and, in 2006, he was com­mis­sioned to write its of­fi­cial his­tory for the IWA Di­a­mond Ju­bilee. In 2014 his con­tri­bu­tion to the wa­ter­ways was recog­nised with an MBE in the Queen’s Birth­day Hon­ours List.

He be­came more closely in­volved in the mu­seum a decade ago when it was at risk of clo­sure for lack of fund­ing; he was one of the founders of the Friends of the Canal Mu­seum, which he chaired un­til ill health led him to stand down and be­come its Pres­i­dent. The pop­u­lar Stoke Bruerne at War events will not be quite the same with­out a bowler-hat­ted David as the vis­it­ing ‘Mr Churchill’ ( pic­tured above).

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