Canal expert Roger Wilkinson Writes…
David Suchet Proud to honour Robert Aickman in Central London
On 10th September, the Inland Waterways Association unveiled a blue plaque commemorating the life and work of its co-founder and first chairman, Robert Aickman, at his home and workplace at 11 Gower Street, London.
Aickman, a pivotal figure in the struggle to save Britain’s inland waterways from decades of institutionalised neglect and destruction has finally secured public recognition for his efforts, 101 years after his birth.
Well known actor and TV presenter David Suchet CBE, much loved for his portrayal of Agatha Christie’s iconic detective Hercule Poirot, revealed the plaque in a ceremony at the central London location.
Speaking in the very room where the IWA’s first meeting was held the actor, now a vice-president of the IWA, disclosed how he was inspired to purchase his first boat aptly named “Prima Donna” when playing at the theatre in Stratford on Avon. The very next year he was again in Stratford with his new narrowboat when he heard a commotion outside the theatre. He was lucky enough to witness HM The Queen Mother alongside Robert Aickman at the re-opening of the Stratford and Avon Canal as a navigable waterway in 1974.
Les Etheridge, IWA’s Chairman, told those gathered that “Robert Aickman’s vision is maintained today where IWA’s on-going mission remains vital to the future of our waterways. The Association is determined to make the waterways better and continues to promote top-level political interest by providing the secretariat at Westminster for the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Waterways. We work closely with navigation authorities to protect and improve the now 3,600 miles of navigable waterways and we continue to drive the now thriving restoration movement, supporting local restoration societies with practical help through our specialist Waterway Recovery Group - bringing back stretches of waterways that have been derelict for years.”
Robert Aickman lived and worked at 11 Gower Street between 1943 and 1973. The inaugural meeting of The Inland Waterways Association was held in February 1946 in the large living room of Aickman’s two-floor apartment. Over the following five years this room, which became known as the ‘Waterways Room’, was the office for IWA. The building is currently the headquarters of the UK Warehousing Association who’s Chief Executive, Peter Ward, joined the celebrations.
David Suchet referred to the inspiration that Robert Aickman was to him. He mentioned that since 1974, both he and his wife Sheila have “never been without a boat, so my personal thanks to Robert Aickman, my personal thanks to the IWA and aren’t we proud to be vice-presidents of the very association he founded.”
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