Just as a handful of inspired engineers built Britain's canal system in the late 18th century, so too did a handful of inspired individuals rise to the challenge of saving the system from threatened closure in the 1950's. In the case of the Kennet & Avon Canal, the efforts of John Gould of Newbury are the stuff of legend, for it was he who inspired so many to embark on a 40-year restoration campaign that ended with the reopening of the waterway by Her Majesty the Queen in 1990.
Born in Newbury in 1913, John Gould began his love affair with the waterway as a small boy playing with toy boats on the River Kennet, which flowed past the backyard of his grandfather's harness shop in the market square. Little did he know then that he would become involved in the canal throughout his adult life - as canal labourer, crewman, boat proprietor, hirer, skipper, trader, agent and, most unexpected of all, as one of the waterway's saviours.
For over 40 years, John Gould devoted his considerable energy and expertise to the restoration cause. He played an active part in the Kennet & Avon Canal Association (later to become the Trust), acting as secretary of the Newbury Branch and as a Trust Council member, typically turning up to meetings wearing his favourite duffel coat, complete with windlass poking out of his pocket! He ran his hire boat business until the late '70s and even after retirement he continued to manage moorings in Newbury and act as a British Waterways agent. In 1986 he was made an Honorary Life Member of the IWA and in 1992 was awarded the MBE.
In 1997 the Kennet & Avon Canal Partnership (established to oversee the HLF Grant, awarded to BW and the K&A Canal Trust to complete the restoration of the canal) invited John to unveil a plaque at Newbury Lock recording a public vote of thanks for his dedication to the waterway.
At the same time, BW donated a trophy, to be called the "John Gould Award" and presented annually to a person or group who has "undertaken noteworthy actions or deeds for the Kennet & Avon Canal in the past year". The award is made by the Chairman of the K&A Partnership, acting on advice from the Trustees of the K&A Canal Trust.
Nominations are sought for the 2012 award. These should be submitted to the Chairman of the K&A Partnership, Rob Dean via Jean Cook firstname.lastname@example.org by the 28th of February 2013, and should be accompanied by a 1-page submission summarising the reasons for nomination.
(Biographical notes on John Gould compiled with acknowledgment to David Harris, Elaine Kirby, and Waterways World, May 1999)