Middle Level Watermens’ Club

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Club’s History

 CLUB HISTORY by Founder Member Brian Gowler

On a number of occasions I have been asked about the origins of M.L.W.C. and seeing that I am the sole surviving active founder member then perhaps I am the person best suited to give an  account .

Those boating the Middle Level today often complain of narrow or weedy waterways but few have any idea of the situation in 1963, when M.L.W.C. was formed . Since those days the Sixteen Foot,Twenty Foot,Forty Foot,Reed Fen, Pophams Eau, Bevil's Leam and other sections of the navigation have almost doubled in width and depth. The weed problem in 1963 it was a different story completely, the condition of the watercourse giving birth to our club,the weed growth and the shallow water made many sections of the level impassable to the average inboard or out board motor after the month of May.

For example on my first trip to Northampton in July 1963, it was necessary to bow haul my craft from Ashline Lock to Stanground taking 12 hours .Couple this with the started demolition of Horsey Toll Lock and the sell off of Marmont Priory Lock Cottage and Lock Side, it seemed inevitable that the level would close to navigation through default. Since commercial traffic had long since ceased and the number of visiting craft could be counted on one hand, Clearly something had to be done.  At this time about 8 locals had an interest in boating and with the help of The East Anglian Waterways Association we formed The M.L.W.C.

Five of those original members were also members of March British Legion and had moorings among the shrub and bushes at the bottom of the current, now much altered site. There was no slipway, water point or hard moorings in those days neither did we have Sutton Staithe which did not become usable till the early 1980's. It was natural the that our Base became the Legion, it was also natural that, as we developed the site The Legion wanted something in return, namely our membership and our custom, so was born the association between the two.

From the outset the new club busied itself with providing Club facilities, lopping trees on parts of the system, where necessary, building landing stages at various lock sides erecting signposts etc. We badgered the A.N.R.C until they allowed us into the fold. We staged annual Rallies to attract people here, but above all, we cruised to other parts to prove that if we could reach there then it was possible for them to reach here “It Worked Didn't It!?”. There was less in the way of hedonistic pursuit in those days the accent being very much more on pioneering boating and when a member pulled a boat out for repair virtually every member of the Club turned out to help “GREAT DAYS” and I miss that pioneering spirit.

For the record, the founder members were :The late Fred Houghton, Commodore. The late Henry Breeze, Vice Commodore. The late Cecil Simpson, Secretary. The committee were the late Lou Doubleday, the late Jonson, Sid Go to bed, Les Heaton, Brian Gowler the late Alf Yardy and Pam Witney was later co-opted on as asst.secretary and there you have it. Every member of the club was either an officer or a committee member! Our first President was the late Teddy Edwards, Secretary of the E.A.W.A. Author of The Inland Waterways Of Great Britain and the main man for restoring the Old West River navigation .

For my part I have been involved with M.L.W.C. for the whole of my married life and I am indeed fortunate that my wife shares my love of the river and its wildlife. I am also proud to belong to a small Club which has done so much for the benefit of others who might not be passing this way but for the early efforts of M.L.W.C.

I hope that other members can share that pride with me.