PRESS RELEASE by Braunston Marina
15th July 2019
The very successful 2019 Braunston Historic Narrowboat Rally was held over the warmest June weekends for several years, with Saturday’s temperature into the eighties. It was almost too hot for some, but great for the real ale sales in the Dry Dock Inn – the quayside beer tent offering fine views of the parades of former working narrowboats. The event attracted about 7,000 visitors, some travelling from afar afield as Canada and Australia to attend it, providing an important visitor-spend for the local economy.
The rally was formally opened by Ivor Caplan, Chairman of the Inland Waterways Association, steering the former Fellows, Morton & Clayton (FMC) narrowboat Panther, into the marina from the Grand Union Canal and declaring the Rally open. The Panther is now owned and operated by the Coventry Canal Society. Ivor was assisted by his wife Joan – both wearing traditional boatmen costume – she steering the Chesterfield Canal Trust’s former FMC narrowboat Python.
These narrowboats have led similar lives. They were both built in 1929 for FMC by Yarwoods of Northwich, and so are now celebrating their 90th birthdays. They were also built in the ‘P’ batch of that year – boats were built in batches of up to five at a time, and each was given a sequential letter, with the boats named accordingly – hence Panther and Python. In time they became canal maintenance boats for British Waterways and were shortened to their present length. Both are now owned by active canal societies, and are used for educational purposes, and volunteer canal maintenance and restoration. Before the official opening each canal society was presented by their respective steerers, Ivor an Joan, with a cheque for £1,000 from the Braunston Historic Narrowboat Rally – part of over £6,000 donated to canal and local causes.
A number of celebrity guests joined in the opening, which this year included Timothy West and Prunella Scales. They steered respectively the 1936 pair of former Grand Union Canal Carrying Company’s narrowboats, the Nuneaton and Brighton. These are owned and operated by the Narrow Boat Trust, with the primary objective of continuing canal carrying with a pair of working narrowboats. Other guests included Richard Parry, CEO of the Canal & River Trust, and Tony Hales OBE, retired Chairman of the Canal & River Trust. Tony still continues his passion for the waterways and has attended every Rally since 2009 – always attired in traditional boatman costume. This year he was joined by his wife Linda, likewise attired, and both adding to the colour of the occasion.
Prior to the Rally opening, a plaque was unveiled on the ‘Braunston Wall of Fame’ in memory of Aubrey Berriman, the shipwright to the wooden butty Raymond, which was built by Samuel Barlows in 1958 at what is today Braunston Marina. Aubrey died earlier this year aged 93. The plaque was unveiled jointly by his daughter Julie Kavanagh and son David. Timothy West and Prunella Scales attended the ceremony, and each gave readings. Tim’s was an extract from David Blagrove’s classic book Bread Upon The Waters, in which Aubrey received a mention, working as foreman in the large dock in 1962. A video of the plaque unveiling, and the Rally as a whole is now on the Braunston Marina home website home page.
The event seeks to be both a rally of historic narrowboats, and a waterways festival, with a variety of entertainments reflecting this theme. The Guild of Waterways Artists were again provided with their own marquee, sponsored by the Rally, and eleven of its members had their works on display, making this the largest-ever exhibition by their members since these rallies began. There was also a trade marquee shared with the number of canal societies, and also a number of other exhibitors such as the RNLI and the local Air Ambulance, who were given free space.
Other entertainments included the canal-travelling Alarum Theatre, with their new play, Acts of Abandon which received its ‘world premier’. Also giving a live performances were Theatre in the Dock and The Boat Doctors with their show They Built Boats in Banbury. For the second year, children were entertained by Professor Diamond’s Punch & Judy Show. There was a new villain for this year – Boris Johnson – who because of his wickedness, is eaten by the crocodile and disgorged as ETON MESS. There was also a group of Morris Dancers – Mortimer’s Morris. Music was provided in the famous beer tent – the Dry Dock – by a number of groups. On the Sunday evening to close the event, the Rally sponsored a candle-lit choral concert by the Elizabethan composers Byrd and Tallis across the meadows at the ancient church of Wolfamcote.
Tim Coghlan of Braunston Marina said, ‘For me what was most pleasing was the number of boats that came which had never been before, and the comments from so many owners that it is events like the Braunston Historic Narrowboat Rally, which inspires them to restore and maintain their boats which are such an important living and moving part of our canal heritage. Each year I hear the same gratifying story, which makes organizing the Rally so worthwhile. The Rally has come a long way since the first one in 2003, when 29 boats attended – which seemed a lot at the time.’
The Braunston Historic Narrowboat Rally is sponsored by Braunston Marina and Towpath Talk, and is supported by the Canal & River Trust. Braunston Marina will be hosting the event again next year on 27th and 28th June, 2020.
Ivor and Joan Caplan present the cheque to Jan Warsop and the rest of the Python crew – Shirley Atkinson, Dave Atkinson, Dave Warsop and Sentley Wilson. Tim Coughlan, Managing Director of Braunston Marina, is extreme left.
Actor and canal enthusiast Timothy West on the Narrow Boat Trust’s motor Nuneaton, with Howard Williams steering, assisted by Barry Adams. (Tim Coghlan)
Pru and the tattoo! Actress and canal enthusiast Prunella Scales on Narrow Boat Trust’s butty Brighton, steered by the young Alastair Bates (24). Alastair is one of several young enthusiasts who have joined the Narrow Boat Trust in recent times and has been trained to steer the Nuneaton. (Tim Coghlan)
Boats galore on the Grand Union Canal in the traditional parade of boats. (Tim Coghlan)
Smiles all round after the unveiling of the plaque to the late Aubrey Berriman, shipwright to the Raymond L / R Ivor Caplan, Chairman of the IWA (partly obscured), Aubrey’s son David, Timothy West, Aubrey’s daughter Julie Kavanagh, Prunella Scales and Tim Coghlan. (Victoria Jane Photography)