Hereford & Worcester

Droitwich Canals: Volunteer restoration leader 'very proud'

Max Sinclair
Image caption Max Sinclair hated to see the canals being destroyed

Decades of toil by thousands of volunteers has paid off in Worcestershire, where more than 4,000 boats have now travelled on two restored canals.

And one man has more reason to be proud than most. Max Sinclair, 82, led dedicated helpers who bought diggers, moved tonnes of mud away, built locks and made new towpaths.

The Droitwich Barge and Junction canals represent a slice of history from the Industrial Revolution, when salt was taken along the route to Birmingham.

But by the 1920s the canals were no longer in use after traffic declined with the coming of the railways.

The eight-mile (12.9km) stretch only reopened in June last year, after a £12.7m restoration.

'What a mess'

Father-of-six Mr Sinclair first became interested in the canals' decline more than five decades ago, when his young family were growing up.

He said: "We had a family boat for holidays.

"We'd bought a boat and restored the boat and then started cruising... finding what a mess it [the canal] all was.

"If you'd lived through the war, through the bombing when the nation was being destroyed, you'd hate it and I hated it. I wanted to see things saved, not destroyed... I didn't want to see our canals destroyed."

Image caption Mr Sinclair has won an English Heritage award for his canal work

The Barge canal, from Droitwich to the River Severn at Hawford, was one of the oldest in England, opening in 1771. The Junction canal from 1854 was one of the newest, linking Droitwich to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal.

Mr Sinclair, a former Ffestiniog railway volunteer who also helped to found the Black Country Living Museum, set about recreating the past when he established The Droitwich Canals Trust in 1973.

And his idea had an immediate impact, as 1,000 volunteers turned up on the first day.

He said: "When we started there was no canal, but [at] the end of the weekend, even the locals who didn't know they'd got a canal found they'd got one.

"We cleared all the trees and all the brambles and all the rubbish... and the canal came to life."

Mr Sinclair said the volunteers went on to remove 1,000 "dead elm trees".

His love of Britain's waterways is clear in his Lower Broadheath village home which is decorated with canal and river paintings.

He added: "We did a lot of scrounging, going around companies who made bulldozers and said 'have you got a spare one?'

"Now the Droitwich Barge Canal looks pretty well as it was when it was built.

"I'm very proud of it... It will go on now hopefully for 100 years."

'Years in wilderness'

More than £1m was raised by volunteers over the years, through the likes of bring and buy sales, raffles and sponsored walks.

On the Barge canal, eight locks, which lift or lower a boat up a hill, were restored by volunteers.

Then in 2005 a total of £4.7m in Heritage Lottery Fund money was awarded and the £12.7m restoration scheme involving British Waterways took off.

With Advantage West Midlands, Worcestershire County Council, Wychavon District Council and British Waterways also giving money, the locks that the volunteers had restored were upgraded and four new ones were also created on the Junction canal.

Image caption Boats enter Lock 1 at Hawford, where the barge canal meets the Severn

The project also included work on bridges and installing pontoons, which boats are tied to below the lock.

And Mr Sinclair has been rewarded for paving the way for the recent transformation, winning the English Heritage Angel Award for the Best Rescue of a Historic Industrial Building or Site.

The award celebrated "his drive, commitment and vision that made the restoration of the Droitwich Canals possible", English Heritage said.

Mr Sinclair is modest about his achievements. He said: "It recognises all these volunteers. That's all that pleases me... At last, after years and years and years in the wilderness, the work has been recognised."

Jason Leach, former British Waterways project manager on the scheme, said the initiative was "ahead of schedule with the project benefits we'd predicted".

He said after guessing there would be 87 permanent moorings, there had in fact been more than 240 and there was also a 20% to 30% increase in the number of people walking on the towpaths on the Barge canal.

Mr Leach estimated there had been up to 75,000 extra visitors to the canal area in the first year since the restoration was completed and about 96% of them were people on towpaths.

Paying tribute to the volunteers' efforts, he said: "Without their work to make sure they [the locks] wouldn't be lost completely, we would have been nowhere."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites