A TELEVISION historian and the star of Blackadder is throwing his weight behind a scheme bringing new life to Uttoxeter Canal.
Sir Tony Robinson, better known as the not-so-bright Baldrick in the comedy, said he believes people should understand the importance of canals in history after The Canal and River Trust published an online map to inspire people to unearth more of the history of their town, and help save where they live.
Work started back in 2013 to transform a bridge crossing Uttoxeter Canal to restore it to its former glory, by undertaking lime mortar repairs and relaying stonework.
Volunteers will also be involved in path improvement work, installing wooden fencing and clearing the non-native invasive plant Himalayan Balsam from along the line of the town’s waterway.
The Uttoxeter Canal was built in 1811 and ran for 13 miles from a junction with the Caldon Canal at Froghall to a terminus in Uttoxeter.
By the mid-1840s it was taken over by the North Staffordshire Railway, which went on to close it.
In 2005, the first section of the canal was reconnected to the network at Froghall Basin.
Sir Tony, who also presents Channel 4's Time Team, said the canals were nearly lost for good and has thrown his support behind projects to restore them.
He said: “The waterways network is part of the fabric of our nation but it’s easy to forget that not so very long ago some of our most popular canals were almost lost forever.
“The fact that we can still enjoy them now is thanks largely to the vision, dedication and sheer hard work of volunteers in the 60s and 70s.
“These inspiring men and women just wouldn’t take no for an answer and worked on the basis that nothing was impossible.
“We need to recapture that same spirit within our communities to support today’s volunteers in bringing more of these once-proud waterways back to life.”
At the height of the industrial revolution the nation boasted more than 5,000 miles of waterways, helping to transport goods and raw materials across the country.
Historians said they were the envy of the world and helped to establish Britain as an industrial powerhouse. Over time, with the growth of road and rail, sections of the network fell into decline and were almost lost completely, but for the intervention of dedicated and visionary volunteers in the mid-1900s.
Richard Parry, chief executive of the trust, said: “Canals have played a major part in shaping the country we live in today and it’s alarming to think that we once almost lost them forever – just imagine Birmingham, or even somewhere like Bingley, without their canals.
“Sadly there are still too many miles of precious canal in need of restoration ,but the lesson from the canal restoration movement of the last 50 years shows just what can be achieved if enough people get behind an idea.
“We want more people to appreciate the importance of these historic canals and play their part in supporting and championing the heroic efforts of local canal restoration groups.
“In doing so more lives will be touched by canals, more communities will feel the benefits that rejuvenated canals can bring in terms of regeneration, jobs and leisure opportunities, as well of course as corridors for wildlife – and that can only benefit everyone.”
More than 200 miles of canals have been restored since the turn of the millennium and a newly published report by the University of Northampton highlights the economic and social benefits a restored canal brings to a community.
The report states that historic canals can once again bring prosperity to communities, boost property prices and help people to lead active, healthy lifestyles.
The trust, alongside the Inland Waterways Association, said it wants to see more people get behind their local restoration efforts.