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Points West Archive Films
The Stroudwater Canal
Stroudwater Canal: 1974
In 2002 work began on restoring an overgrown section of the Stroudwater Canal in Gloucestershire, but thirty years before there was much talk about reopening the canal to commercial craft – as John Craven discovered in March 1974.
Although he doesn't appear in the film, John Craven's distinctive voice carries the notion that even in 1974 he enjoyed reporting from the countryside - bearing in mind his previous role as presenter of BBC 1's 'Countryfile'.
In the mid-seventies, regional news was still using black and white film stock, and the rather dark shots of the derelict Stroudwater Canal underline the seriousness of the task facing those hopeful of reopening the navigation.
Stroudwater Canal campaigner
The canal was completed in 1779, the project financed by the woollen industry based in the Stroud Valley.
But with the arrival of the faster, more attractive Great Western Railway, the Stroudwater's commercial potential was dashed, and by 1941 all but the last boat had sunk into the history books.
Since that time the waterway slipped into dereliction and any thought of reopening the canal seemed pointless.
But following recent fuel shortages, a group of like-minded visionaries got together to investigate the idea of restoring the Stroudwater and making it an alternative means of transporting freight.
The group claimed the canal would be four times more economic than carrying bulky goods by road, and had set about asking 30 firms in the Stroud valley for their views.
In his film John Craven suggested the cost of such a venture would be in the region of a £1M a mile; in his reply, the interviewee argued construction would cost less than that required to build a mile of motorway.
Despite this optimism, as you watch the film you can't help but feel the whole ideas is doomed from the start.
The sombre images of a dark, derelict waterway are hardly inspiring – and this, coupled with John Craven's questioning commentary, leaves you wondering if the venture was just a bit too fanciful for the times.
But nearly thirty years later, on 26th November 2002, restoration of a stretch of the canal at Ebley Wharf near Stroud started a new phase in the life of this Cotswold waterway and proved a step closer to linking the waterway with the Thames and the Severn once again.
last updated: 21/01/2009 at 14:15
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