The late Captain Lionel Munk was chairman of The Inland Waterways Association from 1958 to 1970, guiding the Association through one of the most difficult periods of waterway history, culminating in the passing of the 1968 Transport Act. This resulted in a new order for much of the waterway network. He also served as chairman of the Kennet & Avon Canal Association (later to become the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust) and the Association of Pleasure Craft Operators (APCO).
He is probably best remembered, however, as the founder of Maid Line, later Maidboats Ltd. From humble beginnings, this became one of the largest and most famous canal and river hire fleets. Expanding from the Thames, Captain Munk subsequently established a base at Brinklow on the Northern Oxford Canal. He was one of the first operators to regularly display canal cruisers at the London Boat Show at Earls Court, thus attracting many new people to the waterways. It was often said that he elevated the status of boating holidays in the social order of things: to take a canal holiday, in comfort, was no longer deemed to be eccentric.
IWA co-founder Robert Aickman once remarked: “History may well decide that Captain Munk’s most important contribution to the waterways cause was the Maid Line fleet. For large scale boating for pleasure as envisaged by Captain Munk played an entirely indispensable part in securing the survival of the waterways.”
Whilst primarily associated with holidays on the Norfolk Broads, the major agencies Blakes and Hoseasons began to represent canal-based hire companies in the 1970s. They advertised minimum standards of comfort and facilities, and gave newcomers to the waterways a sense of security with the product they were booking. Both still operate today, with Blakes having some 470 craft available in the UK, and Hoseasons advertising 2,300 boats worldwide.
Other agencies have joined them in recent years, most of them internet-orientated. They include Drifters, Latelink.com and Waterways Holidays, based in Aldershot.
(above): Captain Lionel Munk with IWA activist Felix Pearson. (David Bolton collection)
(below): Maid Line’s Maid Mary Sheila at Watford Locks on the Leicester Section of the Grand Union Canal in the 1970s. (Waterway Images)