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Ben Williams

Ben Williams, who died on Christmas Eve at the age of 89, was one of the key figures in IWA Manchester Branch in the latter part of the 20th century.  He was a co-director with the late Ian Gall of several big events including the International Festival at Ellesmere Port Boat Museum and the 1993 International Festival in Castlefield.   He was one of the main workers at the annual Castlefield Festival until the local authority took over.

Ben led on IWA’s Waterways for Youth scheme in the Manchester area and cruised just about every inland waterway there was to cruise.   He was active in Worsley Cruising Club and both the Federation of Bridgewater Cruising Clubs and the northwest region of the Association of Waterway Cruising Clubs.   Ben was the originator of IWA Manchester Branch’s ‘Ringing the Ring’ concept for the Cheshire Canal Ring, which was a scheme to promote the installation of hundreds of mooring rings at sites all around the Cheshire Ring.   He was an active member of the Manchester Bolton and Bury Canal Society and many of the Society’s council meetings were held at his home.




[The photo, left, by Harry Arnold, shows Ben at former IWA national chairman’s John Fletcher’s wedding, at which Ben was Best Man].

Ben Williams was born in Preston in 1933, and his family moved to Derby soon thereafter.  His earliest waterway memories were visiting the boats on the then working Derby Canal at Borrowash.  His family moved from Derby to Macclesfield in 1938 and to Middleton early during World War II, where he recalled seeing working boats on the Rochdale Canal.  After an apprenticeship in Trafford Park and national service, including in Malaya, his working career covered engineering, soap, steel and local government.

Ben’s first boating experience, other than a cruise around Manchester Docks, was in 1965 when, as a youth worker, he took a group on a 12-foot fibre glass dinghy from Monton Turn to Dutton Stop Lock and back.






[The photo, right, taken in 1986 by John Fletcher, shows Ben and his first wife Connie at Astley Green, on the Leigh Branch of the Bridgewater Canal]

In 1974, he and his first wife Connie hired a boat from Tewkesbury, which they took to Stratford-upon-Avon, but were unable to go through the last lock as it was about to be opened by HM Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.  Thereafter, Ben soon joined IWA and became an active member, noted for his engagement with and encouragement of new members.  He occupied many committee roles, latterly as a branch vice president, and was the recipient of a Richard Bird Medal.  He was also a member of the Mersey Basin Trust for several years, served on an Inland Waterways Amenity Advisory Council sub-committee and was a contributor to the  hugely successful 1988 National Festival at Castlefield.

Outside of the waterways and his career, Ben was a voluntary youth worker for over forty years and a magistrate for 22 years up to 2003.  Ben’s first wife, Connie, died in January 1998.   Ben looked after her himself until her final week.   He re-married in 1999 to a fellow youth-worker – Jean – and they travelled together extensively in this country and abroad, until her health began to deteriorate.   She died in November 2018 which left Ben bereft.   Ben’s own health began to deteriorate a couple of years ago and he moved into a care-home in August 2022.



[Photo, left, by John Fletcher, taken in 1999, shows Ben receiveing a region award at an event at Astley Green]