Shropshire Star

Volunteers look back on great year for Montgomery Canal

Volunteers from the Shropshire Union Canal Society (SUCS) say 2023 will go down in its history, with a huge amount of restoration work undertaken on the Montgomery Canal.

Restoration work photo Chris Bryan Smith

Society chairman Dave Carter said: "We had funding from many sponsors, especially the National Heritage Lottery Fund, but without our team of volunteers who turned out in all weathers and worked so hard, none of this would have been possible. The challenge now is to keep this rate of progress going in 2024, and with Tom Fulda taking over as project manager this is assured”.

The work of SUCS volunteers had, he said not gone un-noticed and in June the society was awarded the Tetlow Cup, an IWA regional trophy for outstanding services to the waterways.

Restoration work photo Chris Bryan Smith

“Without doubt the crowning achievement was the opening of the canal from Pryces Bridge to Crickheath Bridge within the time limits set by The National Heritage Lottery Fund, within budget and all despite the Covid lockdowns," said Mr Carter.

Attention then focussed on the Crickheath Wharf to Schoolhouse Bridge section, with work on the crumbling wharf wall, a wash-wall and an unsafe towpath to be tackled.

Mr Carter said the project began with a design brief from the Canal and Rivers Trust engineers coinciding with the fundraising team granted £14,400 from the Association of Industrial Archaeology for new coping stones for the wall and £1,300 from Oswestry Rural Council for the towpath.

Restoration work photo Chris Bryan Smith

He added: "Work dismantling the wharf, including removing some enormous trees, was completed by SUCS volunteers. The project got a great boost as experts from the Cheshire branch of the Dry-Stone Walling Association stepped up to use their expertise in the restoration of the wharf wall. All this activity went on as the plant operators began the profiling of the canal bed.

"The powers that be in Shropshire clearly recognised the work the society is doing, as the Lord Lieutenant of Shropshire made a surprise visit to a work party and stayed for much of the day, seeing the volunteers in action."

Volunteers with the late chairman, Richard Hamp photo Chris Bryan Smith

The society says that fundraising remains a vital activity as the push to complete the canal to Schoolhouse Bridge continues.

In June 2023, an appeal was launched to raise £250,000 towards the first section of the restoration, and by the turn of the year £125,000 had already been donated.

Work behind the scenes to raise funds and public awareness was supported by a wider communications team and a new website launched with ”hits” on social media steadily increasing.

Mr Carter added: "The successful launch of Navigation Pale Ale in casks producing over £1,000 in donations and led to a decision to sell the beer in bottles in time for the Christmas ’23 market."

The society did not just focus on restoration in 2023, it restarted a volunteer team on enhancement with the purpose of helping maintain the main network for the benefit of all canal users. The first stretch, agreed with the Canal and Rivers Trust was on the Llangollen Canal from Ellesmere past Blakemere.

"Sadly, the year ended with the death of Rich Hamp, an inspirational chairman of SUCS for many years, who finally lost his brave battle with cancer – he will be much missed," Mr Carter said.