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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. Stories of trying to sell tickets on the towpath while looking after a hungry baby, entertaining visiting dignitaries on a boat that suddenly runs aground, or simply keeping the family safe and fed amidst all the digging and debris.

We’re now working on creating ways to share those stories. We’ve already collected many of the stories into a book; made a series of podcasts and a short film and hope to bring them to life in performance in 2021.

You can buy the book in our shop.

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