Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Robert Aickman and The 1950 Festival of Boats

In Chapters Sixteen and Seventeen of The River Runs Uphill (1986) , his account of the campaign to save Britain’s canals, Robert Aickman explains how the Inland Waterways Association planned a festival of boats to draw attention to their cause and celebrate this form of boating. This took place in 1950 at Market Harborough, Leicestershire and this charming 16mm film records the event.

Aickman was Chairman of the Market Harborough Committee and it was the occasion of (though not the only reason for) the rift with his fellow ghost story writer and canals campaigner Tom Rolt, caused in part by differing views about the programme.

‘The 1950 Festival,’ wrote Aickman, ‘changed the entire prospect for the waterways of Britain; in the main, by simply reminding people, other than specialists, of their existence, and especially by manifesting the enormous potential for pleasure boating.’

The crowds on this film certainly seem to be enjoying themselves. I am not sure that the great man himself can be glimpsed (can he?) but it may be worth a careful look. In any case, this rare film gives a good idea of aspects of the festival.

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