The President Michael Blamire-Brown welcomed 79 members 19 visitors and 7 new members to a presentation by Roger Butler entitled A Circumnavigation of the West Midlands: A Canal Journey in 1971.
Roger’s illustrated talk was based on two of twenty inherited photograph albums. They contained beautifully drawn maps, ‘photos and captions recording a journey circumnavigating the West Midlands Canals. It was undertaken between July 2 and July 16 1971 by 4 people in a 6-berth cruiser named Leif Ericson which travelled at 4 miles per hour. By recording their travels recording they intended ‘to show the cut in its infinite variety’.
Roger showed photographs of many locks; Bratch, Greensforge, Holt, and Hyde at Kinver to name but a few and he explained the variation in the skill required to navigate them. Fascinating lock keeper’s cottages were encountered along the way; some so small that they were little more than sheds. 0n the stretch of the journey along the Shropshire Union Canal the travellers encountered several high bridges in beautiful settings.
From a social history perspective, the talk was a gem. Clothing, hairstyles, cars, shops, signage, the food that the travellers cooked and consumed and the complete lack of life jackets all recalled a bygone era. A sign outside one pub on their journey offered ‘roast lamb and all the trimmings for 50p’. The ‘photos taken, as they passed through Birmingham were of special interest. They recorded the construction of Spaghetti Junction and the significant number of buildings which were being erected alongside and over the canal at that time.
It was noticeable that throughout the journey the canal was mostly populated by old fashioned cruisers made of fibreglass or timber; there were very few narrowboats. Roger explained that many canal cruising clubs came into being in the 1970’s and that diesel pumps were available at the side of the canal to accommodate this.
The captions that accompanied the ‘photos were often humorous and frequently displayed the writer’s disdain for the lack of efficacy of the British Water Ways Board. This was apparent in the Birmingham leg of the journey where the shortfall of environmental control was clearly evidenced by the detritus in the water and the parlous state of the canal towpaths. As Roger said boating through Birmingham in the 1970’s was pioneering stuff!
The President thanked Roger for his enjoyable and informative talk.
The next meeting is in the Wollaston Room at Stourbridge Town Hall on Thursday 15th March when Ned Williams will speak on 'Prefabs; Palaces for the People'.
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