David Blagrove 1937-2016
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).