Issue date: 10 September 2015
A pivotal figure in the struggle to save Britain’s inland waterways from decades of institutionalised neglect and destruction has finally secured public recognition for his efforts, 101 years after his birth.
The Inland Waterways Association today unveiled a blue plaque commemorating the life and work of its co-founder and first chairman, Robert Aickman, at his home and workplace at 11 Gower Street, London.
Leading actor and TV presenter David Suchet CBE, much loved for his portrayal of Agatha Christie’s iconic detective Hercule Poirot, revealed the plaque in a ceremony at the central London location.
Mr Suchet, himself an avid waterways campaigner, said: “Without Robert Aickman we wouldn’t have the waterways we so enjoy today. His efforts, and those of the organisation he founded, are an inspiration to us all and demonstrate what can be achieved through ingenuity, commitment and tenacity.”
Commenting on his predecessor’s achievements, IWA’s current chairman Les Etheridge said: “Aickman’s IWA, driven by his ability to write, orate, organise and lead, revitalised the waterways agenda.”
“IWA continues his work with as much urgency today,” he added, “we are determined to make the waterways better by maintaining political support at Westminster, working closely with navigation authorities to protect and improve our navigable waterways and continuing to drive the now thriving restoration movement to extend them further.”
In the decades following World War II successive governments pursued a policy condemning the country’s historic canal and river navigations – the “motorway network” of the Industrial Revolution – to decline and decay, abandoning the waterways and selling off tracts of the system for housing, retail and industrial development.
Robert Aickman and his colleagues, who founded IWA in protest in 1946, fought a determined battle to reverse this policy and win over political and public opinion with an assertive campaign to recover and restore the waterways network.
The success of Aickman and IWA is evidenced by today’s 3,600 miles of navigable canals and rivers, now rightly recognised as one of the country’s richest heritage and leisure resources.
Press contact: The Inland Waterways Association - Alison Smedley
firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 07779 090915
Notes for Editors
Robert Aickman 1914-1981
Robert Aickman was born and brought up in London, the son of an architect and grandson of Richard Marsh, a popular Edwardian novelist. After setting up a literary agency at his flat in Bloomsbury, Aickman’s interest in the theatre took him in 1945 to Stratford-on-Avon where, during a walk, he discovered the neglected state of the local canal. At this time he was reading LTC Rolt’s recently published book Narrow Boat. Aickman visited Rolt on his narrow boat Cressy at Tardebigge and the two decided that a body should be formed to promote the regeneration of the canals.
In 1946 the first meeting of the new campaigning organisation was held at Aickman’s office and home in Gower Street. Robert Aickman became chairman and Tom Rolt the honorary secretary of The Inland Waterways Association. The direction and leadership of the Association were to absorb most of Aickman’s energy and time over the next eighteen years. IWA went on to fight numerous battles to prevent the destruction of Britain’s canals and in the formative years of the Association this victorious campaign was largely masterminded by Aickman.
Robert Aickman and 11 Gower Street
Robert Aickman lived and worked at 11 Gower Street between 1943 and 1973. The inaugural meeting of The Inland Waterways Association was held in February 1946 in the large living room of Aickman’s two-floor apartment. Over the following five years this room, which became known as the ‘Waterways Room’, was the office of the new campaigning organisation.
The Inland Waterways Association
The Inland Waterways Association, a registered charity, leads campaigns to conserve, maintain and restore Britain’s network of canal and river waterways. With a membership of around 16,000, IWA provides a strong voice for waterways users, working with navigation authorities, local and national government and other organisations to keep all our waterways alive.
IWA's Waterway Recovery Group provides practical support to waterways restoration projects across the country as well as providing skills training for volunteers.
Photo Caption - "Les Etheridge and David Suchet at the unveiling of the blue plaque recognising Robert Aickman" - photo by Alicen Stenner
Photo Caption - "David Suchet unveiling the blue plaque at 11 Gower St" - photo by Tim Lewis
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or phone 07779 090915