History of Northampton Branch

The formation of Northampton Branch in the early 1970s is one of geographical evolvement. The Eastern Branch of the Inland Waterways Association - itself founded in 1946 - was formed at a meeting held at the Plough Hotel in Northampton on 28 June 1968. Until then the nearest Branch was the Midlands which held meetings in Birmingham.

The Eastern Branch covered a large area of East Anglia and the South Midlands including Peterborough, Cambridge and Norwich. Later it spawned a Cambridge section which became a branch in its own right in 1971. The Eastern then became the South-East Midlands Branch, later changed to Northampton Branch when branches were formed at Peterborough and Milton Keynes.

In its early years, the Branch campaigned unsuccessfully for the retention of grain traffic to Whitworth's Mill at Wellingborough. In 1971 came the organisation of the highly successful National Rally of Boats at Becket's Park, Northampton, with over 600 boats attending. This was also the first IWA National Rally where the Waterway Recovery Group assisted at and benefited financially from. 1973 witnessed Branch opposition at a Public Inquiry into the building of the A5 diversion through the line of the Old Stratford (Buckingham) Arm instead of over it. Unfortunately this did not succeed, which makes restoration of the Buckingham Arm more difficult. Over the next decade the principal campaign centred on the reopening of the Blisworth Tunnel, closed for a long period for repairs. After a Public Inquiry, the Branch also managed to get the Blisworth by-pass moved further away from the locks on the Arm and with added screening.

In recent years the Branch has pressed for the reinstatement of listed lift bridges below locks 10 and 13 on the Arm, removed some time ago, and restoration of the crane that stood near lock 17. Newly-fabricated bridges are now in position. The crane has now been restored by Bellway Homes, developers of the South Bridge West site at Far Cotton and it has been re-installed in its original position.

It is always the aim of the Branch to obtain positive benefits through planning consultation. A good example of this was the the installation of a pontoon and access ramp on the upper navigable section of the River Nene for boaters wishing to visit a retail park. Another active campaign by the Branch focused upon improving the waterfront at Becket's Park, Northampton, especially with regard to safety and security. Northampton Borough Council have now installed CCTV cameras to cover the waterfront. The Branch has also supported a local initiative to regenerate the pocket park alongside the Westbridge Branch of the River Nene in Northampton and was involved in consultation with Northampton Borough Council on the detail for for a marina and other initiatives at Becket's Park on the main river. The new marina opened in 2011 followed by a skate park in 2012/13.

An annual boat gathering is normally held at Becket's Park over the May Day Bank Holiday, which encourages boats to use the Westbridge Branch of the River Nene (re-instated by the Branch in the 1980s after it had lain derelict for decades), ensure early summer use of the Arm and raise money for waterway causes. A plaque is available for boaters cruising the Northampton Arm (please contact any committee member) and a Northampton Arm guide is available from a box (BW key needed) on the wall of the sanitary station at Gayton Junction.

In June 2005 the Branch also helped to organise a major Canal and Village Festival to commemorate and celebrate the 200th Anniversary of the opening of Blisworth Tunnel, working alongside British Waterways, The Waterways Trust, the Blisworth Heritage Society and other local partners. In August 2009, Blisworth Tunnel celebrated the 25th anniversary of it's re-opening in 1984 and the two canal partnerships at Blisworth and Stoke Bruerne organised another festival with the help of the Branch.

Northampton Branch participates fully in a number of local canal partnerships to promote investment and assist with the creation of sustainable development for the waterway environment in our area.

The Branch area for membership used to cover the NN postcode area. The Branch boundaries were changed in 2002 to the Northamptonshire County Boundary, but including Welford and the Welford Arm of the Leicester Line. The waterways covered are the G.U. main line from Cosgrove to Braunston, the Leicester Line to its junction with the Welford Arm, Welford Arm, Northampton Arm and River Nene to Thrapston. The Buckingham Canal, which is located on the boundary between Northampton and Milton Keynes Branches and parts of which comes within both our areas is under restoration by the Buckingham Canal Society. A new canal to connect Daventry with the Grand Union Canal near Braunston Tunnel was being promoted by Daventry District Council, but the scheme has now been abandoned/shelved.

Recommended Reading:

Published by David and Charles:

The Canals of the East Midlands by Charles Hadfield

The Grand Junction Canal by Alan Faulkner

The Leicester Line by Philip Stevens

Published by Northamptonshire Libraries:

Waterways of Northamptonshire by David Blagrove

Published by Braunston Marina:

At the Heart of the Waterways; The Story of the Canals in the Village of Braunston by David Blagrove, £6.95 (Hardback)

Published by Wharfside Publications:

Two Centuries of Service; The Story of the Canal at Blisworth and Stoke Bruerne by David Blagrove, £9.95 (Hardback)


One of the two re-instated lift bridges below locks 10 and 13 on the Northampton Arm

The crane in its original position near Lock 17 (before restoration)
The late David Blagrove MBE

David Blagrove MBE was a household name throughout the inland waterways world, as an historian and author. He had a deep knowledge and association with the historic narrowboat scene. As a Branch, we were very fortunate that David lived in our area, in Stoke Bruerne, and was a founder member of our Northampton Branch in 1971-2.  He was a former Branch Chairman and remained a loyal supporter of our work to the end. A trust has been set up in his name to continue his good work in the community:  http://www.dbct.org.uk/index.shtml