Pennine Dreams - The Story of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal
by Keith Gibson
I mentioned previously that I had been reading Pennine Dreams as I made my way along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, a copy I picked up at the Marsden gift shop but nearly balked at the hefty £16.99 price tag.
It was, of course, a fitting companion to our trip along the canal as we journeyed its 20 odd miles from Huddersfield to Ashton under Lyme.
The book is a meaty read by any standard, its 150 pages crammed with details and photos which represents a definitive anatomy of a canal restoration, written from the perspective of the Huddersfield Canal Society who spearheaded the project. They moved it from a fanatic's pipe dream to a living reality which gripped the imaginations of the various local communities along its route.
The book gives heart to any would be canal restorers - if they can reopen the HNC you can restore anything!
Most tellingly it reveals how the restoration movement grew from small beginnings and little official support to an organisation which employed hundreds. The project moved with the times, embracing whatever grant or scheme was available, labour under the Manpower Services Commission's job creation scheme, local grants, municipal council grants, reclaimed land grants, European monies and finally the National Heritage Lottery Fund.
Its the story of the persistence of a few and the contributions of many over a period of 25 years. They tackled what they could, where they could, slowly gaining credibility and momentum till finally the towns of Huddersfield, Slaithwaite and Stalybridge embraced it to the extent that they re-modelled their town centres to accommodate the reinstated channel.
Maybe it was a project of its time, coming to fruition when the planets were in alignment, but I think it proves that if you press on through the seasons, the good times and the bad, waterways dreams can come true.
The end was somewhat bittersweet. After restoring nearly 1/3rd of the canal themselves the big boys rolled in to oversee the restoration of the final (huge) elements and in so doing wresting much of the glory for themselves. I guess it was inevitable really, but with the canal society having primed the project for a successful conclusion its a shame they glory was not more equitably shared.
This book goes a long way towards setting the record straight, crediting all and sundry for contributions made. All in all its a fascinating read for restoration enthusiasts and general boaters alike.
So, as you labour your way over the Pennines this book provides a fascinating insight to the shoulders on which you are standing, and the implausibility of a single Pennine Dream which was realised twice - nearly 200 years apart.