The Rochdale Canal lost a stalwart and a key figure from its restoration with the death of Brian Holden on 25 September.
He was a founder member when the Rochdale Canal Society was launched in 1974, as the restored Ashton and Lower Peak Forest Canals were reopening, local volunteers were looking for somewhere else to work – and the main transPennine length of the Rochdale beckoned.
Many thought that it was so far gone that it could never be restored (“People may have thought we were round the bend” as he put it), but ‘never’ wasn’t a word in his vocabulary, and in his role as secretary of the society, he spent 28 years gradually turning back the tide of dereliction.
Time was spent organising trailboat rallies to raise awareness, and building up grassroots support with local clubs and societies. “I must have done every Rotary Club, Round Table, church meeting and Women’s Institute in the area” he said. Victories came with the winning of a public inquiry in 1986 to ensure provision for the canal when the M66 motorway was built, and then the gradual opening of lengths of canal from Hebden Bridge to Todmorden in the late 1980s, then to Sowerby Bridge and Littleborough, and finally through to Manchester thanks to the Millennium Fund in 2002. Meanwhile he cruised in boat Tim Bobbin, and wrote a book about the Rochdale Canal, published in 1985.
But there was much more to his life than canals. He played church organ, most recently for Spotland Methodist Church, of which he was an active member and unofficial caretaker; earlier before retirement he had been a classics teacher, teaching Latin and Greek at schools in Bolton and Rochdale (and taking sixth form students on boating holidays and canal restoration working parties).
And he always found time to regale people from his fund of local history and stories.