Sunday, November 27, 2011

25th anniversary of the death of K&A Canal restoration legend Sir Hugh Stockwell

It was 25 years ago today that Kennet & Avon Canal legend General Sir Hugh Stockwell died. He had been an inspirational leader in the battle to save the K&A canal — and far more successful in this than in his battle over another canal when he was  ground commander for the Allied Task Force in Suez.  

General Sir Hugh Stockwell
That experience prompted him to say to the Queen, "I've lost one canal Ma'am — and I'm buggered if I'm going to lose another one."

The General, as he was always known, had joined the Kennet & Avon Canal Association in 1962 the year it became a Trust. He became the Chairman of the Wiltshire Branch and in 1966, after the resignation of Captain Munk, he became Trust Chairman.

When the General retired from the Army in 1964 after 42 years service he came to live beside the canal at Horton where he lived until his death.

The General is remembered for his charm and clear vision and his chairmanship has been described as "firm but friendly". He was prepared to change his mind completely if convinced and he never failed to show his appreciation of every effort, however small, always taking time to congratulate the unseen and unsung volunteers.

The General’s warmth and generosity was contagious, he was never mean, devious or scheming. He was a renowned General, but a people described him as a truly great gentleman. The struggles of the Trust to overcome apathy and to set a course for the re-opening of the canal was very dear to his heart.

Sir Hugh Stockwell outside his canalside cottage at Horton
In the obituary to the General in the Trust journal, The Butty, Trust Council member, Don Collinson said, "My memories of Sir Hugh are legion. From 1967, when he took over as Chairman from the founder of the Trust, Captain Lionel Munk, it became my privilege and pleasure to continue to serve as Vice-Chairman under his leadership until 1974 when he was appointed President. 

"They were exciting formative years; he was tireless in his efforts to give the canal ‘the kiss of life’ and stimulate a holding position to one of progress and advance." 

In October 1967 the General was appointed Vice-Chairman of the new Inland Waterways Advisory Council and he commissioned the first printed costed practical ‘Restoration Scheme’ booklet for the Kennet & Avon Canal ready for the first meeting. He carried the day and the scheme, broadly, still formed the pattern of restoration when he died in 1986. 

Another triumph for the General, the result of many meetings and boat trips with Bath Corporation, British Waterways Board and Trust officers, resulted in the, then unparalleled,  grant in July 1969 of £7,500 to be matched by the Trust for the first joint restoration scheme for the Widcombe Flight, Bath. This scheme was to be the catalyst for the success story of the K&A and many other waterways. 

Don Collininson concluded: "We all respected his authority and command, and yet, everyone felt at ease in his company. He was a gentleman in every way and all his friends and the Trust owe much to him and his inspiration."

Mike Corfield added to the obituary: "We were fortunate in the Devizes and Pewsey Branch that the General lived between our two main centres, we could rely on his support at all our events. Whatever the event, from wine and cheese parties in Devizes Town Hall through canal fairs on Devizes Wharf to barbecues at Pewsey Wharf he would be there. He was a great enthusiast for voluntary work on the canal and he always asked about anything taking place.

"He had worked hard to get the scheme to restore the Crofton Flight under way and was very distressed when the 1976 moratorium on voluntary work was imposed and such work as we were able to do he took a keen interest in — even if it was just the surreptitious removal of a fallen tree from the canal.

"He gave us constant support while we built the Canal Centre, although he was not able to join in the physical work he gave us every encouragement; as the Centre came to be used he was a regular visitor, to the office where he could check on restoration progress, to the shop where he regularly bought his Christmas gifts and later to the exhibition. 

"On the Trust Council, the General could be relied on to get to the root of matters that we might have argued back and forth for some time. Impatient of anything that might delay the opening of the canal, he would castigate the Waterways Board, their workers and local councils for what he saw as either indifference or procrastination. 

"As we progressed and completion became a reality rather than a dream, he became lavish in his praise for everyone concerned, encouraging where he had previously scorned."

General Sir Hugh Stockwell, GCB, KBE, DSO & Bar (June 16, 1903 – November 27, 1986)

K&A Canal Trust Vice President 1963, Chairman of Wiltshire Branch 1964-67, Trust Chairman 1967-74, Trust President 1974-86.

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