200-year Pageant and boat rally at Wootton Bassett, September 1993
Issue 51 of Dragonfly magazine in December 1993 celebrated the bi-centenary of the first meeting of the Wilts & Berks Canal proprietors held in Wootton Bassett in 1793, along with the opening of the first part of the restored canal in the town, as well as the 1993 AGM in Wootton Bassett, all on 25th September. Peter Scatchard's 'Chair Chat' set the scene in these selected quotes:
Official Opening, Templar's Firs
"Passengers on the InterCity 125 trains that thunder past within a mere few yards of the canal must bave wondered what on earth was going on, but by the time the tape had been cut by the Mayor of Wootton Bassett and the two halves of Damsel-fly freed from official duties to perform their primary role as trip-boats), there could be no doubt there was quite a party going on!
"Burger stalls, John Marchant's Bouncy Narrowboat, canalia stalls etc., all added to the festive atmosphere, considerably aided by weather which rapidly improved from dull and overcast first thing to bright and sunny by the time of the official tape-cutting, so even the gods smiled on us.
"There's nothing like open-watered canal to drive home the point that we're all forever trying to make, that a long stretch of water running through our otherwise poorly-provisioned countryside where rivers and streams are so few-and-far-between, and often so insigniftcant when found, makes a dramatically significant contribution to the environment, both aesthetically in terms of landscape value and practically in terms of habitat for fauna and flora and its role as a 'Green Corridor'.
"Templars Firs makes that point as dramatically as any stretch of the W&B; after a not-inconsiderable plod along abandoned, overgrown canal, little more than a weed-engulfed ditch, the deep-watered section bursts upon the senses through a screen of trees, disappearing round a slight bend into the distance. On the offtcial opening day, the scene was busy to the point of being almost frenetic, the tow-path buried under the sea of people who'd made the trek up, the water disturbed with the comings and goings of the two halves of Damsel-fly.
Meet the Ancestors
"The afternoon saw a dramatic re-staging of that first meeting of the W&B Canal Company in the very building where it originally took place, Wootton Bassett's original Town Hall, now the very attractive little local museum. I got to meet my illustrious forebear, the Earl of Peterborough, who chaired the first meeting, his very attractive Wife, and the assorted Gentlemen and Esquires who formed the original Board of Directors of the Canal Company, courtesy of one of the local amateur dramatic groups.
"The tiny Town Hall was packed to witness the re-enactment, which culminated in the Chairmen of the original Board and current Board jointly presenting the Mayor of Wootton Bassett with an oil painting of the newly-restored section of canal as a lasting memento of the day the canal came back to the town."
Further photos: People on towpath in front of marquees; Celebration cake; Evening dinner.
With special thanks to the late Vic Miller who presented so many of these photos to the Trust archive.