AS the crowds enjoyed the joyous celebration of two history-making pioneers, whose Stratford Canal and Avon restoration sent ripples round the country, the event organisers were already working on the next big splash.
The Avon Navigation Trust (ANT) and the Canal & River Trust (CRT), which marked the achievements of Charles Douglas Barwell OBE, David Hutchings MBE and an army of volunteers with two special plaques, have teamed up with Stratford & Warwick Waterways Trust (SWWT) to make history again.
The teams are conducting a feasibility study, with the support of the Inland Waterways Association (IWA) for the Avon Extension, which will clear the way for navigation right up the Avon to Warwick, providing a whole new visitor-pulling cruising loop that will benefit town and businesses all along the river.
"In 1635, when the river navigation was first planned, and authorised by Charles 1, the intention was to get as near as possible to Coventry, which was a major city then too, but they only got near to Warwick," says Avon Navigation Trust Trustee and Engineering Director Roger Clay, who is also SWWT's Company Secretary.
"When David restored the river to Stratford, the intention was to press on to Warwick. We aim to realise that dream, and as years ending in four seem to resonate on this stretch, we'd hope to have it completed by 2024."
Prompted by a family boat trip that was halted by the choked Avon, Charles Douglas Barwell bought the navigation rights and restored the river from Tewkesbury to Evesham.
David Hutchings spearheaded the drive to reopen the southern Stratford Canal with the National Trust, and restored the river from Evesham to Stratford for the Upper Avon Navigation Trust, which combined with the Lower Avon Trust to become ANT in 2010.
They were helped by hordes of volunteers, some of whom were there on Friday July 4, when the two men's sons, Job Hutchings and Nick Barwell, unveiled the plaques at Bancroft Lock to mark the 40th and 50th anniversaries of the official opening of the Canal and River by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
The event, which recreated the 1964 and 1974 Royal boat trips with the help of Bancroft Cruisers, also featured members of Orchestra of the Swan on board ANT's floating pontoon as a reflection of David's Royal event, which included the entire Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
VIP guests this time included long-time ANT Patrons Timothy West and Prunella Scales, civic leaders from Stratford, Wychavon and Warwickshire, and representatives from the National Trust, RSC, The Stratford on Avon Canal Society, the Inland Waterways Association and the CRT.
Also there were representatives from the the Royal Engineers and HMP Winson Green, which sent teams to help with the restoration.
"It was inspiring to see so many boats assembled at the Festival from both river and canal to celebrate the two anniversaries," says Clive Henderson, of The Stratford on Avon Canal Society, one of the town groups who supported the event.
The gathered boats also enjoyed the concert from Orchestra of the Swan, led by guest director Colin Touchin. "It was a fantastic experience, and shows what an incredibly flexible orchestra we are," comments Artistic Director David Curtis. "The weekend before we were at the Royal Albert Hall with Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel, on Friday we were on the river and last night we were in a beautiful church."
"It was a great day, a wonderful promotion of the waterways and a huge credit to the organisers, particularly to Roger Clay and ANT," says CRT Chairman Tony Hales OBE.
"It was important to mark the achievements of two men whose pioneering work was the precursor for the restoration and development of waterways across the country.
"It would be lovely to see Stratford connected to Warwick, which would be the ultimate achievement of their early dreams."
In his address, ANT Chairman John Tomsett paid tribute to a gentleman who was much missed at the ceremony.
"Our President Emeritus, Dudley Matthews OBE, now 95 years, was sad to miss the celebrations, due to doctor's orders. Dudley was one of the initial volunteers recruited by Douglas Barwell," John reports.
"Diane Brennan and Penny Clover, who were able to be with us, are both daughters of dedicated volunteers who were closely involved in the Avon restoration.
"Today every one of the Avon Trust's Council are volunteers. Along with the many other volunteer workers and boaters in general who enjoy cruising on the River Avon, we owe so much to the dedication and determination of those early pioneers Douglas Barwell and David Hutchings, and their loyal followers."
*Photograph by Peter Wilkinson, courtesy of the Avon Navigation Trust and the Canal & River Trust.