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John Baylis

John Baylis, who died on 7th July 2022, a few days short of his 82nd birthday, was possibly the most influential character in the East Midlands waterways over a period spanning near half a century. He was an IWA trustee for thirty years, a deputy national chairman, and one of the most hard-working committee chairmen in IWA’s history during his eleven year stint as chairman of IWA’s Navigation, Technical & Amenity Committee. The hand of John Baylis was behind the early days of virtually every waterway restoration scheme in the East Midlands. He was one of Graham Palmer’s trusted friends from the early days of WRG. He served as a director on WRG’s board for forty years, and was WRG deputy chairman for most of that period.

John was born in Mansfield in 1940 and educated at Brunts Grammar School. He joined the Research Department of the Boots Pure Drug Company, initially making organic chemicals for testing as drugs and agricultural products. He stayed with the company all his working career, developing new medicinal drugs for worldwide use before a redundancy opportunity arose, and he took early retirement in 1994.

John became interested in the Chesterfield Canal through a friend in the mid-1960s and then took a hire boat holiday on the River Thames in 1968. John and his wife Christine joined IWA in 1969 after a holiday on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. In 1969 he joined the committee of the North Midlands Branch of IWA based at Sheffield and was harbour master of the Sheffield Rally in 1970. In 1972 they launched their first boat, a 36 foot Springer hull, which he fitted out, and cruised, much of the Midland Canals network. A second boat followed in 1976 and his third boat, a Les Allen 60 foot Trad with a Lister HR2 engine, in 1981. During that time John and Christine, who married in 1966, cruised most of inland waterway network, much of it many times, earning a near record number of IWA Silver Swords.

In 1974 he formed an IWA and Retford & Worksop Boat Club initiative to restore Morse Lock on the Chesterfield Canal to create a winding hole above Worksop; this led to the creation of the Chesterfield Canal Society in 1976. British Waterways were opposed to this restoration at the time, and built a large piles winding hole below Morse Lock. After many years the Chesterfield Canal Society acquired money and convinced BW of the merits of restoration, and by 2005 the whole of the connected part of the canal was restored to Norwood Tunnel.

In early 1976, John established a plant depot for IWA Nottingham Branch which led to the formation of WRG East Midlands. When WRG was incorporated in 1981, John became a founder director and deputy chairman. He remained on the WRG board until his death.

In 1975-6 John worked with the Erewash Canal Preservation & Development Association clean-up of Ironville Locks driving a lorry and a JCB excavator. In 1979 at WRG founder Graham Palmer’s request, he took over the restoration of Frankton Locks on the Montgomery Canal, assisted by the ECP&DA, Trent & Mersey Canal Society and several WRG groups and Canal Camps. After travelling for thousands of miles to work parties by car and by boat, his was the first boat down the locks at their official reopening in 1987. He then started the restoration work at Aston Locks passing this on to Mike Palmer after the completion of Lock 2. During this time he spent nearly £200,000, which with the volunteer work was valued at about £1M.

[The photo, right, shows John Baylis working a WRG Smalley excavator on the Ashton Canal in 1975 – photo by Mark Tiddy]

In 1980 he was elected chairman of IWA East Midlands Region and a trustee. After several years on the Navigation, Technical & Amenity Committee he became chairman in 1990, a post which he held until 2001. Following an illness in 1999 he gave up the region chair in April 1999 for a break of three years although he was elected back as a trustee in September 1999. From the AGM in 2002 he once again took over the Region Chair which he continued until retiring in 2009. Throughout this period, and almost up until his death, he was a director or IWA nominee of several waterway restoration groups and partnerships in the East Midlands.

In 1994 John was an IWA representative on the Groundwork Trust initiative that resulted in the Binnie & Partners Engineering Feasibility Study for restoration of the Cromford Canal between Langley Mill and Ironville, IWA Honorary Engineers having a great input in the detail and the final report. He was later involved in the Groundwork Trust attempts to find funding to restore the locks through Ironville and advised the Midland Railway Museum at Butterley in dredging the section of Cromford Canal from the Newlands Inn to Butterley Tunnel. John was a founder member of Friends of Cromford Canal in 2002 and at times, chairman, deputy chairman, treasurer and executive secretary.

[The photo (left) shows Phil Dalton (editor Aegre, IWA East Midlands Region magazine), Ken Goodwin (IWA National Chairman) and John Baylis, at an award presentation for best IWA newsletter in 1987.]

For many years since 1974 John was involved with IWA national rallies and festivals on the installation of water and toilet systems. After a few years break he became a three-week worker and site tractor driver at Huddersfield from 2002. In 2005 he took over as Festival Quarter Master transferring to the new Tardis at the Runcorn national. In addition to the Nationals he has helped organize several trail-boat and campaign rallies in the East Midlands. In more recent years his main work was with the Erewash Canal Preservation & Development Association at Langley Mill, where John moored his boat, Thornbury, including organising health and safety work on the restoration work from the Great Northern Basin to the A610 embankment.

John continued running WRG East Midlands from the ECP&DA/WRG workshop at Langley Mill where he provided steel work for British Waterways, IWA Festivals and others. In 2008-9 he designed the Erewash Canal paddle security locks for BW. John’s advice was frequently sought from all levels within British Waterways and elsewhere. During 2008-9, along with Roy Sutton, IWA Consultant Engineer, he managed the restoration of Woolsthorpe Top Lock on the Grantham Canal with a legacy of £100,000 and various donations adding a further £125,000. John provided a great deal of funding himself, often in ‘anonymous’ donations, and he personally provided funds via IWA towards the employment of staff for the Chesterfield Canal and other restorations.

John was a recipient of IWA’s most prestigious award, the Cyril Styring Trophy, he was awarded IWA Honorary Life Membership in 2010 and awarded a British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee honours list in 2012.

[The photo (right) shows John beside pumping equipment in one of the buildings at Langley Mill]