This month’s Dewsbury Canal Festival at Savile Town Wharf gives us an opportunity to reflect on the history of this country’s canal stystem.
Canals were the lifeblood of the Industrial Revolution, they were seen as working waterways, transporting essentials such as coal to our local industries.
During the 1930s canals faced stiff competition from newly-built roads and became neglected. There was concern that narrow boats would disappear.
Campaign groups were set up to fight for the future of the canal system with the aim of bringing back working traffic.
There was an increase in usage during the 1960s, but many canals had been left derelict.
Local canal societies persuaded British Waterways to transform the network and clear out the locks and rubbish. Volunteers spent several years restoring the canals.
When the late Barbara Castle was minister of transport she saw canals as a big opporunity for leisure and tourism. She introduced a transport act which gave them a secure future.
Nowadays more than 200,000 people holiday on canals and more than 20,000 people live on narrow boats.
On a recent visit to the Navigation pub in Mirfield, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the people whose boats were docked at the side of the pub. It is a way of life they enjoy with a passion.