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Port of Gloucester 400
My version of the Story...recounted forty years after the event
In the 1970’s Gloucester docks were being run down day after day, no one loved it, The City did not love it, Waterways did not love it, traders did not love it, the public did not love it, boaters did not love it. The only exception was a few members of Gloucester Civic Trust who thought it had wonderful potential. Every night the Gates were locked, boaters were locked in and the public locked out. Gloucester Docks...Keep out..this means YOU
I was approached over an idea that we could celebrate the four hundreth anniversary of the City being given a Charter enabling it to be a Port by Queen Elizabeth the first in 1580. Why me , well with members of the Stroudwater Canal Society we had staged a small Rally on the Canal in 1974 called Gloucester Water Festival.
An enabler for the upcoming 1980 event was the Gloucester Citizen Newspaper who’s one reporter was allied to the Civic Trust and he promoted the idea and publicised the scheme and a meeting was called where most of the key players for the event came forward.
Now to get British Waterways to approve us and the first hurdle to letting the public on site in large numbers was safety as this was still a working dock. They also required fire insurance on all of the warehouses for £1m for each one which was a substantial amount of money at the time. This was impractical, but a member of the team was a fire officer from Gloucester who stated ..”No, you would only burn down one warehouse not all of them”. We soon agreed with British Waterways to insure any one warehouse in the Docks against fire Friday to Sunday for £1m and we would put the name of the building in should it happen...which of course it did not!
Over the spring of 1980 the idea grew and grew but had no main organisation behind it. The Gloucester Civic Trust were the main instigators. The Inland Waterways Association in Gloucestershire were very small as were Gloucester Yacht Club. The Stroudwater Canal Society who had run the previous Water Festival were in a very dark place at the time and made it very plain that they would not be involved. Many of the new key players for the event had no affiliation other than a love of the City Docks.
As the event grew and grew in planning the City Council and British Waterways latched on and realised this could be a welcoming event for the city. The Duke of Gloucester was invited to open the event which also automatically drew in the local MP, civic dignitaries and British Waterway hierarchy. Sir George Dowty was invited to be patron of the event which he accepted.
With an amateur event like this always the problem is money and one may soon spend lavishly on printing, tents, toilets, banners and how do you pay for it. A golden rule is that by the Friday evening of any event you have broken even so if it rains all weekend and nobody comes, you do not owe anybody. Sponsers were found and a giant raffle was organised which leads to a major side event. Miss Port of Gloucester.
The idea was to have a publicity contest to appoint a “Miss Port of Gloucester 1980” and judging took place about a month before the actual event. The lovely lady chosen would attend all of the civic functions and be sociable to the public over the weekend. Another requirement was to sell raffle tickets. A local ladies dress shop providing generous vouchers as a prize.
In the lead up to the event it became very busy and volunteers were spending whole days on site and British Waterways were magnificent in providing office space, typing and photocopying, teas, coffee and all their staff were charged with helping us in every way possible, power, ropes, barges, more manpower...but I know they all enjoyed it!
Come the weekend of the main event on 21st.and 22nd June 1980 and the weather was delightful and for the first time ever the docks were crammed with visitors. Dignitaries came and went, a Civil Lunch was provided by the City on board the MV Conway Castle, chartered for the weekend. Traders were happy. Waterways were happy. Visitors were happy The City Council were happy. It is my belief that this weekend turned the key to unlock the City Docks to what they are now.
After the event we had a reasonable stash of money which none of the organising groups or people needed or wanted. So it was split many ways and donated to the charities and benevolent funds of services that had attended the event. A small amount went on a buffet held in the ground floor of a rapidly swept out Vinings Warehouse where everyone that had contributed towards the event happening were invited.
A few weeks after the event the treasurer phoned asking to bring over the final statement of accounts...sat in the front of his car was Miss Port of Gloucester 400...the rest is history.. and they now own two amazing daughters and a grandson. That made the whole event worthwhile.