Society History

In the early 1960s, the Shrewsbury and Newport Canals Association was formed with the aim of restoring and re-opening this branch of the Shropshire Union system, closed by the 1944 Act of Abandonment. When the British Waterways Board chose instead to sell off the line of the canal, attention turned to the restoration of the Montgomery Canal and the more generically named Shropshire Union Canal Society was formed from the SNCA in 1966. Its mission is to protect and enhance the canals of the historic Shropshire Union system across both England and Wales. Whereas enhancement has taken place across the entire network, restoration has focussed on the Montgomery Canal which fell into disuse following a breach in 1936.

The first physical restoration of the Montgomery Canal was in Welshpool. The Welsh Office had proposed the route of the canal through the town be used to accommodate a bypass. SUCS joined forces with other groups and over one October weekend in 1969, volunteers from far and wide restored ¾ of a mile of the canal – an event which became known as the Welshpool Big Dig. The publicity and goodwill generated eventually persuaded the Welsh Office to select an alternative route and much enthusiasm to restore the whole canal all the way to Newtown resulted.

Between 1970 and 2006 the restoration group restored 10 locks, all in Wales. Details of these projects can be found on the Restoration page. From 1992 a variety of enhancement works were simultaneously undertaken providing towpath improvements, moorings, benches and picnic tables across the network. Hedge-laying at various locations along the Montgomery Canal has been a popular activity during the winter months particularly in the period from 2008 to 2016.

In 2008, restorations works turned to extending the navigable section of the Montgomery Canal in England. Two major projects, comprising multiple phases, have been undertaken to restore the channel between Redwith and Pryces bridges (bridge 83-84) and between Pryces and Crickheath bridges (bridge 84-85). Both have been challenging in a number of ways. Again, details of these projects can be found on the Restoration page. The current project to Crickheath basin is due to complete at the end of 2022 and, once rewatered in 2023, will add a further 1¼ miles of navigable channel connected to the national network. Funding has been aided by a substantial grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Society has organised a variety of different events over the years. The ‘Montgomery Meander and Dinghy Dawdle’ began in 1985, intending to draw attention to the ‘dropped’ or lowered bridges that obstruct continuous navigation along the Montgomery Canal. Photographs in the press of people carrying dinghies, canoes and kayaks across roads illustrated the point. Difficulties in supervising the road crossings meant that the Dawdle began to use routes that avoided the dropped bridges and so became more simply a social event. 2011 saw the final Dawdle, but from 2012 the Friends of the Montgomery Canal have run a Triathlon of ‘bikes, boats and boots’ along the full length of the canal.

Boat rallies ran for a number of years, at Whitchurch, Norbury and latterly at Ellesmere. The last of these was in 2012. Lock winds were organised for publicity and fundraising, the last of these being in 2019 due to the outbreak of the Covid19 pandemic.