WATER music will ring out as the late Queen Mother’s two boat trips to relaunch the Avon and the Stratford Canal as navigable waterways are recreated next week.
Members of The Orchestra of the Swan’s wind and brass section will play aboard two floating pontoons next Friday (July 4) to mark the 50th anniversary of the restoration of the canal and the 40th year since the river was reopened from Evesham to Stratford.
The event is being organised by waterways charity the Avon Navigation Trust (ANT) and Canal & River Trust, with help from Bancroft Cruisers.
Young Midlands industrialist Charles Douglas Barwell was prompted to act when a 1948 family boat trip from Birmingham was unceremoniously halted by the choked up route.
He and an army of volunteers moved heaven, and a lot of earth and mud, to reclaim the river from Tewkesbury to Evesham. Tireless Birmingham architect David Hutchings, who had already spearheaded the successful rescue of the canal, went on to clear the way through to Stratford.
“They were both pioneers.” said ANT engineering director Roger Clay, who has organised the event with the support of town groups, including The Stratford on Avon Canal Society.
“The river and the canal became the life blood of the area’s leisure and tourism industry. We owe a lot to both men, and to all those who supported them.”
Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother travelled by narrowboat to officially open the canal in 1964, and to celebrate the river relaunch in 1974.
Some of the people who were there then will be among the guests, along with representatives of organisations who supported the restorations, including the National Trust, RSC, local authorities, The Stratford on Avon Canal Society, the Inland Waterways Association and the Canal & River Trust.
Other guests will include Job Hutchings, and Nicholas Barwell, the respective sons of David Hutchings and Douglas Barwell, who will unveil commemorative plaques.
Representatives of the Royal Engineers and Birmingham’s Winson Green Prison, who both sent many teams to help with the original work, have also been invited.
The Queen Mother’s two journeys will be repeated to take the groups to the unveiling ceremony and concert at Bancroft Lock at approximately 3.30pm, before boarding Canal and River Tours’ new full-size barge Jennifer May to hear the concert by the Orchestra of the Swan, pushed along the river by Eric the tug boat.
Roger added: “We were keen to have a floating orchestra because David Hutchings had the whole of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra on a floating platform of barges in 1964.”
The award winning Stratford-based orchestra’s Artistic Director David Curtis said performing on the river would be a first.
He added: “We’ve played on a train to London for Chiltern Railways, but never on water.”
The ANT event, which will also include a specially composed poem by Canal Laureate Jo Bell, will be followed by the town’s River Festival on teh saturday and Sunday (July 5 and 6).
Visit www.avonnavigationtrust.org for further details.
The Queen Mother, accompanied by David Hutchings (standing) and Robert Aikman waves to the crowds during her trip along the river which formed part of the 1974 celebration. (Photo Guy Johnson – The Stratford on Avon Canal Society). (s)