The official opening of the Pryces Bridge to Crickheath Basin section of the Montgomery Canal was celebrated on Friday, June 2, 2023 on a glorious sunny day and featured numerous VIPs, historic boats, lots of towpath visitors, shanties, ribbon cutting and the start of a sustained outbreak of cake eating. Read on…
Crickheath Basin looked as we had always hoped that it would – full of boats including former SUCCC flyboat Saturn and former Samuel Barlow motor Beatty – and alive with interested spectators.
The official opening started shortly after midday with the arrival at Crickheath Wharf of the steamboat Ictus with a number of dignitaries on board. A ribbon across the canal was skilfully cut by local MP Helen Morgan and Julian Glover (National Lottery Heritage Fund trustee) and the event was underway.
The VIPs were introduced to a number of society volunteers before joining fifty or so other invited guests for a reception in a marquee on the wharf. They were greeted by the Shropshire Boatmen who sung a specially composed shanty to mark the event. The volunteers took the opportunity to explain the society’s work to the various guests.
There were speeches from a number of guests. Helen Morgan and Shropshire Council Leader Lezley Picton both praised the society volunteers for their achievement and then unveiled a plaque to mark the occasion. They were followed by Richard Parry (Canal & River Trust Chief Executive), Julian Glover and John Dodwell (Chair of the Montgomery Canal Partnership), all of whom were effusive in their praise of the society’s work. David Carter (SUCS Chair) thanked the other speakers for their kind words and also the various funders, partners and supporters who had made the work possible. He then introduced Fred Barrett, the oldest society volunteer to have worked on the project, to cut a celebratory cake.
John Dodwell had another important duty to round off proceedings: he announced a new “Restore the Montgomery Canal!” appeal for the next stages of restoration. With a target of £250,000, the new appeal, again supported by TV canal stars Timothy West and Prunella Scales, aims to support the restoration of the two ‘dry’ miles between Crickheath and Llanymynech. The first stage of this work is, of course, the section of channel between Crickheath and Schoolhouse Bridge on which the society volunteers are currently working. Details of this appeal will be forwarded to members shortly.
And so, to Saturdays events. The society has entered a partnership with Monty’s Brewery, based close to the historic town of Montgomery, who have launched a new ale called Navigation Pale, a 4% pale bitter. Commission on each pint consumed goes to the society. The funds generated by this initiative will be used for the restoration of the Crickheath South section where we have already started work. As part of the publicity effort a barrel of beer was transported from Audlem on the SU main line and ‘arrived’ at Crickheath on Saturday afternoon. This was followed by the official launch of the beer by Russ Honeyman, Monty’s Brewery’s Commercial Director, who remarked that this revived the custom when the canals were first dug in the 1800s to reward the navvies with a barrel of beer. Although the beer has only been on sale for a matter of weeks, it has already raised several hundred pounds toward the restoration. It is a very palatable beer and is highly recommended!
The day was concluded by a barbeque attended by many of the volunteers who had worked on the restoration of the Montgomery Canal between Pryces Bridge and Crickheath Basin. As well as excellent hot food, and beer – the “navvies” were only too happy to maintain the tradition! – another celebratory cake was cut. A very pleasant event graced by warm summer weather and a wonderful way to conclude the opening formalities.
It should be said that as well as the jollifications, a work party also took place during Saturday and Sunday. A report of this appears elsewhere including the third cake cutting ceremony of the weekend. This is surely a record that will stand until, well, the next opening ceremony!