W J Ainsworth, Manager of Wilts & Berks Canal in final years

William Ainsworth (always addressed as 'W J Ainsworth') was the final manager of the Wilts & Berks Canal Gravel advert 1895until its closure in 1914. He was born in 1855 in Clarendon, near Salisbury, into a farming family.

In adult life, he had various other business interests apart from managing the canal and fending off the creditors.

He protected the interests of the Wilts & Berks Canal by enforcing the byelaws of the Canal, while attempting to earn income from trading at the wharf in Swindon.

His son Reginald's memoirs tell us that they moved to Swindon in 1892 when he was 10 years old. He says that the canal "was navigable at that time and used a good deal for transport. There was a rather dilapidated houseboat kept for the use of the manager, and the elder children spent many happy hours in it, among the reeds and other water plants that grew by the side of the water."

According to both the 1901 Census and the 1911 Census, he lived at 'Summerville' on the Bath Road in Swindon. He described himself not as a 'Canal Manager' but as an 'Auctioneer and Estate Agent'. In 1901, two sons and two daughters lived at home. He was an active politician, becoming a local Councillor; his daughter Kathleen took up the cause of women's suffrage, being the local secretary in 1913. There is a family history available on-line of W J Ainsworth and his son Reginald.

He is mentioned in the national press as an expert on railway and canal tariffs, and seems to have believed that if railway and canal competition could properly br regulated, then there was a future for canal transport.

Unfortunately, in latter years, the canal suffered from the closure of the Thames & Severn Canal and the Somerset Coal Canal, severely restricting the traffic on the Wilts & Berks Canal particularly through Swindon.

He did fight to make Swindon Corporation take its share of maintaining the towpaths that were used by so many residents.

After the canal closed, he moved back to Bath, and gave a talk on canals to the Rotary Club at a time when the Kennet & Avon Canal itself faced closure. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall!

He lived to a great age, dying during the Second World War.

1891: Tenders for Dredging operations – W J Ainsworth

1892: The Board of Trade and Canals - W J Ainsworth

1894: The Board and the Canal Company – W J Ainsworth

1894: Canal Rates Enquiry; Wilts & Berks Canal - W J Ainsworth

1895: W J Ainsworth on transferring Thames & Severn Canal to public ownership

1897: W J Ainsworth on Nationalisation of Railways

1927: W J Ainsworth's talk to Bath Rotary Club on Canals

1943: Death of W J Ainsworth, former Manager of W & B Canal