John Gould, MBE talks to the Newbury Branch of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust
Updated Wednesday, 11 December 2002

I was tidying up the disk on my computer and found this write-up of a talk which John gave in February 1995. John gave a similar talk to the Newbury Society which I did managed to capture on video. I would love to know what happened to John's slides - I do hope they are in a safe place and can eventually be put on the Internet.

 From Robert F. Willis
Old Bath Road, Newbury, Berkshire.

26 February 1995

The Editor
"Newbury Weekly News"

Dear Sir

Your readers may find the following report of interest.

Best wishes

Robert F. Willis


John Gould, MBE entertained members of the Newbury Branch of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust, with a talk illustrated by slides made from some of the many hundreds of photographs and memorabilia in his vast collection.  Mr. Gould's knowledge of the canal  and the River Kennet Navigation in Newbury is unique.  Indeed, many consider him intertwined with its recent history and the restoration of through navigation between Reading and Bath.

In true scholarly fashion he began by showing maps of the area, one before the canal was built.  That a new channel above Newbury Lock was cut came as a surprise to many.  As the map showed the course was very different, although it seems that what became the lock cottage existed, as a warehouse, some decades before the canal was built.

Mentioned was made of British Waterways Board's presence in Newbury.  Indeed, John was once employed by BWB, and showed several slides of the gang at work, including one of them bow-hauling a work-boat above Newbury Lock.   John was quite a dab-hand with his mother's box-brownie camera capturing many every day inconsequential scenes which today are revered with much nostalgia by all who make Newbury their home.  All that remains of the BWB operation is the Stone Building on Newbury Wharf.  Gone are the large workshops in which lockgates and other apparatus essential for the working of the navigation were made by men skilled in woodworking and blacksmithy.   The augers and other hand-tools now adorn the  Stone Building - how good it was to see photographs of them in use!

It appears that Newbury folk have always loved their waterway, be it the Sunday School outings on halcyon summer childhood days,  the frivolity of watery carnivals when banks at Victoria Park and the Newbury Wharf were packed to overflowing, or the fun of the now well-established crafty-craft race.  In many ways Health and Safety rules and other regulations, important as they are, have killed off the impromptu and innocent amusements of the 1950s and 60s.  Sadly, one can no longer hire a rowing boat or Canadian canoe to go a courting!

John Gould packed so much of our recent past in his talk, punctuating each set of slides with either an amusing anecdote or a tribute to an otherwise forgotten hero who made possible the heritage we have to day.  People like the late Inspector Cyril Rogers of BWB who manoeuvres at the edge of his official remit made eventual restoration that bit easier for the armies of volunteers.  People in an odd assortment of crafts, many made from converted wartime pontoons, held rallies to Hampstead Marshall lock, the western limit of the Newbury cruiseway that the  authorities were obliged to keep in working order.  Amongst the amusing stories was the one about the narrow boat which was mysteriously temporarily sunk whilst it was supposed to be supporting the girders during the rebuilding of the railway bridge below Bulls Lock, the eastern limit of the cruiseway.

Thanks to Rod Thomason, a stalwart of the K & A, who painstakingly made slides of many of the items in John Gould's archive, making the folk-culture it contains available to a wider audience.  Perhaps Mr. Gould can be persuaded to repeat his talk in the not too distant future, especially if a video camera can be present to capture the event for posterity.

                                                                                                                                Robert F. Willis


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