First Narrowboat on the canal – 19th August 1995
Dragonfly magazine issue 58 featured a narrow-boat on its cover; inside, the editor John Wood waxed lyrical: “Fantastic, marvellous - what else can I say? Wootton Bassett Branch have put a narrowboat on our Canal and boated up and down. It must be 90 years at least since a narrowboat was last used on the Canal. Look at the cover picture - it could be anywhere in the country, any canal. I believe that the true importance of this step has probably not yet sunk in.”
In the Branch notes, John Allen began: “Like our Anniversary event in 1993 celebrating the Canal's bicentenary of the original Wootton Bassett meeting, this Open Day arose from a challenge made in the last Dragonfly ' ... have a narrow boat on one of our watered stretches? Who will be first?' On Saturday 19th August 1995, as the canal boat sailed in front of a flotilla of small boats cutting the tape, that challenge was answered.”
John continued with a full account of what needed to be done in a short time. It was done – and he described Saturday August 19th as follows: “The day itself was one of complete contrast with a frenzy of activity on and around the various attractions in the field whilst gentle slow boat trips went on and on all day for the ever-growing queues of people determined to be in on the first mile in water.”
The next day, John had a surprise: “ On Sunday morning I drove down clearing the site of rubbish and along the original section saw what I thought were lots of piles of rubbish left from the Open Day. As my heart sank and I walked along past the sewer pipe to the first wood bridge with two empty black bags, those little piles started to come alive and fly into the Canal. We no longer have one family of ducks, we have over 100 all from a neighbouring pond that must have run dry.”
Vic Miller provided the first two photographs from the Saturday while Ron Robertton provided the third. The Sunday photo was from John Allen's collection.