Colourful canal boats from across the country have gathered for another 40th anniversary celebration at Ellesmere Port’s National Waterways Museum.
The 40th Easter Boat Gathering has been taking place since Good Friday and ends today Easter Monday at the South Pier Road attraction.
It follows on from last year’s 40th anniversary of Thomas Telford’s historic docks first opening to the public and traditionally heralds the start of the boating season.
Colourful boats and barges have been taking centre stage with the museum coming to life with four days of music, theatre and activities for the whole family.
Music fans have been enjoying a weekend of performances from some of the folk scene’s finest with the line-up including award-winning folk artist Phil Underwood, popular duo Mick Ryan and Paul Downes and Chester-based five-piece Full House.
They have been joined by local folk band and regular visitors to the museum the Wirral Singers and Ringers.
Waterway history has been be explored by Heather Wastie and Kate Saffin in their presentation of ‘Idle Women of the Wartime Waterways’.
‘Idle Women’ were nick-named from the initials they wore while volunteering on the inland waterways during the Second World War with Heather and Kate looking at their fascinating but rarely told story through theatre, poetry and music.
Visitors have been able to research their own unique waterway history in the waterways archive, a national collection of thousands of items including documents, diaries, letters and photographs.
The Canal & River Trust National Archive, based at the museum, is said to be the most significant collection in the country, recording 200 years of waterways history with more than 37,000 archive records also available online.
Children and families have been enjoying music created just for them by David Gibb with the chance to sing and play along while open music sessions with other local and visiting folk musicians have offered the floor to anyone willing to share their tuneful talents.
Graham Boxer, head of museums for the Canal & River Trust, the charity that runs the museum, said: “The Easter Boat Gathering is always a special event as it marks the official start of the main boating season.
“But this year is even more notable as it marks four decades of coming together at the museum.
“Music and performance is integral to our waterway heritage and we’re delighted to have so many great performers joining us to entertain those who have travelled the canals and waterways to be with us.”
The trust, he said, had been looking forward ‘to a memorable long weekend’.
Mike Turpin, a long-standing volunteer at the museum, who has been involved with the Easter Boat Gathering since its first year, said: “The Easter Gathering attracts owners of historic craft from all over the country travelling three-four days to get here.
“They come to enjoy the friendly atmosphere and to renew acquaintances with other boaters as well as to support the museum.
“The Ellesmere Port site is itself a fantastic location for this spectacle with wide and narrow locks, upper and lower basins all within a wonderful set of historic canal buildings.
“Our collections and entertainments are both inside and outside throughout the site.
“Because of the museum’s location on the banks of the Mersey, both narrowboats and barges (wide boats) are able to attend and be on show to our visitors.
“Many of the craft moor stern on in the upper basin providing a grand spectacle and one that recreates the way boating families would enjoy mooring together to catch up on news and gossip.”
He continued: “There will be many types of narrowboats mostly over 80 years old showing the development of canal transport in its heyday.
“Nearly all the visiting craft and all the museum’s collection are recognised on the National Historic Ships and small craft registers.
“Many are looked after by private owners who will have lived on the boat in the small back cabin whilst travelling many miles to attend the event.
“For owners it is both a chance to show their support for the museum and to start the boating season at a friendly and welcoming venue meeting friends from all over the country.
“Many boats return regularly whilst for others it will be their first visit.”
He concluded: “The Easter event began in 1977 when the museum was run entirely by volunteers. Today volunteers are still heavily involved with all the activities of the museum and play a major part in all aspects of planning and running the event.
“Only one year had to be missed because of the foot and mouth crisis when boating had to be restricted all over the canal system.
“It has grown into the first and one of the most significant national events on the waterways calendar.”
During the museum’s 40th anniversary year the president of the Boat Museum Society Di Skilbeck, associated with the venture since the earliest days, was recognised by the Canal & River Trust for her work at the museum.
She has been busy over the weekend welcoming visitors to ‘Gifford’, a historic horse drawn narrow boat maintained at the museum.