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 John Reeve ‘Together We Succeeded (Waterways in Northern England)’

John Reeve retired in 1994 after 20 years with ICI as an electrician and planner. Today, he gave us a very interesting talk on the restoration of the Ouse, Ure and Ripon canal.

The canal was finally abandoned in 1956 when Bell Furrows and Rhodesfield Locks were demolished. Part of the canal was culverted in 1958 and John showed several photographs from the 1960s which starkly showed the sad sights of destruction and decay.

A campaign to reopen the waterway gradually grew in strength with the support of Ripon Canal Society and British Waterways. However, not until 1985 was the Canal Society able to start work on the first phase. Work was carried out by a combination of volunteers, trainees from the Manpower Services Commission and professional staff from British Waterways. After 2 years, work was completed, making the canal navigable to Littlethorpe Road junction.

The next stage was to raise funds to complete restoration to the original terminus basin and to provide visitor mooring. The Inland Waterways Association purchased gates for Linton Lock and British Waterways eventually took over the lock. The Ouse and Ure River Trust, incorporated in 1989, realised that the scale of the work needed government involvement.

There were several major difficulties to be overcome. For example, a proposal for the Ripon Relief Road cut the canal in two between two restored locks. This led to a campaign for a bridge over the canal. All the stakeholders were mobilised, including British Waterways and Harrogate & Ripon Council. The lobbying was successful and a bridge was constructed, maintaining a wide towpath and footway.

For phase 2, John joined the Canal Society and was elected to the committee. A grant of 100% was received from the government, on condition that work was to be completed within 6 months. In 1994, the road was built and work started on the restoration of the terminus warehouse. The tight timescale was achieved using the resources of a contractor.

Finally the years of dedication were rewarded and the canal was opened by David Curry MP. The Secretary of State agreed that British Waterways would take over Linton Lock and subsequently BW took over responsibility for the Ouse as far as Selby. In earlier days, there had been 3 navigation authorities, which had caused difficulties with licences and insurance. The waterway is now navigable from Ripon to Guildford and Bristol.

In response to questions, John said that puddle clay had not been needed for the reconstruction of the canal because the underlying ground was impermeable.

He explained that British Waterways no longer exists, but the River and Canal Trust had taken over responsibility. So far this seems to be working well. The government provides some money and the Trust raises funds as a charity. British Waterways was never keen on the use of volunteers, but the Trust does not have a difficulty in using them.

After completion of the work, Ripon Canal Society was disbanded, but the Ripon Motor Boat Club keeps an eye on the state of the canal.

The maximum draught is about 1 metre and the maximum beam is about 15 feet. The maximum length of a vessel, dictated by the locks is 57ft. 6in.