Robert Aickman, founder and vice president of The Inland Waterways Association, formed IWA in 1946 in the company with Charles Hadfield, Tom Rolt and three other interested people. He led the campaign most energetically and capably during the early years when the fight needed the most pugnacious tactics, designed to defeat the lethargic attitude of the many and various authorities which controlled individual navigations before nationalisation in 1948.
He achieved steadily increasing publicity for the cause and gathered about him a number of enthusiastic disciples who gave his efforts comprehensive support. His leadership in those early days was unmatched, his vision all-embracing and his uncompromising attitude most effective. Gradually and steadily he built up membership and knowledge of the waterways by the people at large and the Governments of the time. He was convinced that the only way to save our waterways heritage was to develop the network for all concievable multi-use purposes, including commercial carriage, pleasure boats, water supply and drainage, fishing, the preservation of the varied archaeology of the waterways and walking along the towpaths. He regarded the formation of a National Waterways Conservancy as the only way of saving the waterways.
Robert Aickman was largely responsible for the discovery and co-ordination of such renowned early enthusiasts and workers as Sir Alan Herbert, Sir Geoffrey de Freitas, Sir Peter Scott, Stan Offley, Raymond Slack, David Hutchings, 'Crick' Grundy, Douglas Barwell and many others, whose achievements were prominent in the great efforts to save and rebuild navigations, including the Southern Stratford-upon-Avon Canal, the Lower and Upper Avon Navigations, the Cheshire Ring and the Kennet and Avon Canal.
He was the prime spirit in the organisation of the national boat rallies and festivals starting with the Market Harborough Festival in 1950 and succeeded by annual festivals and rallies all over the country, attended by hundreds of boats and thousands of the general public. The main purpose of these rallies was campaigning to achieve publicity for a waterway in jeopardy and to get boats moving around the system.
National movements are bound to result in major differences as to the tactics that would best serve the general interest. Some enthusiasts felt that the best effect would be to concentrate on certain highly important waterways and to relax efforts for the less valued, but Robert would have none of this. He felt most strongly that every waterway should be saved without exception and he campaigned on the thesis that it we chopped the branches and less significant canals, then the trunk system would die, and this basis was developed as the cornerstone of IWA policy.
But some IWA members fought hard for their theories and this resulted in several conflicts which caused him distress and unhappiness. Particularly in about 1965, prominent members considered that the general anti-establishment attitude should be modified after IWA's initial successes had been achieved, and a more flexible attitude adopted towards the authorities. In 1966 Robert decided to leave IWA's Council [its board of trustees], and in succeeding years allocated the main part of his energies to towards certain campaigns, such as the Yorkshire Derwent and Avon Navigations, which he perceived as important.
He was not always an easy person to work with. If the Council failed to follow his ideas, he became discouraged and disenchanted. His fighting capacity against authority undoubtedly made him unpopular in high circles and was an illustration of the weakness of the British Honours system. If ever anyone deserved a high national award, it was Robert Aickman. To the great dis-credit of successive governments, such an award was never made.
Outside of IWA, Robert Aickman was a nationally recognised and noted author of ghost stories and on other matters, incuding the inland waterways. He had an intimate and comprehensive acquaintance with the theatre and included amongst his friends many famous stars of screen and stage, some of whom were pressed into service to support the waterways.
Born on 27 June 1914, Robert Aickman died on 26th February 1981 following a long illness.
[Edited from an obituary by Lionel Munk, which appeared in the April 1981 edition of Waterways magazine]
Born: 27th June 1914
Died: 26th February 1981