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I Dig Canals


Capturing stories of how women helped save Black Country canals

Between September 2019 and February 2020, we recorded unheard stories from women involved in campaigns to save and restore canals in the Black Country in the 1960s and 1970s. Then from April 2021 to April 2022 we returned to I Dig Canals, focussing this time on stories based in Birmingham.

Over the course of the two projects, we collected stories that brought canal history to life – of trying to sell tickets on the towpath while looking after a hungry baby, entertaining visiting dignitaries on a boat that suddenly ran aground, of working boats and industry, of first impressions of canal-scapes, and simply keeping the family safe and fed amidst all the digging and debris.

We share those stories as part of our work, be it through our book, a series of podcasts, a short film, an online gallery or in performance.

More about I Dig Canals

The Black Country has some 100 miles of canals, enjoyed by walkers, boaters, fishers or those simply admiring them from a train.

Most, if not all, of the area’s canals exist today because a group of dedicated campaigners wouldn’t give up when they fell into disrepair. They protested, lobbied, dug out the weeds, removed tons of rubbish, took risky journeys through tunnels to prove they were still navigable, and learned how to lay bricks. There are lots of accounts of these campaigners, but they are mostly about the role played by men.

“I Dig Canals” was a phrase used in the 1970s by canal campaigners. The project is all about hearing and saving stories like these.

A wonderful team of volunteers helped us record oral histories and memories, summarise the recordings, search the archives for documentary material by women – articles in canal society newsletters, correspondence between the women involved in the early days of campaigning to save the waterways just after the war and much, much more.


womens history network
Highly Commended in WHN Community History Prize 2020

2019/20 project funded by

National Lottery Heritage Fund logo