Dam Busters

25 years ago, in the early summer of 1992, the protests at Twyford Down had undergone a fundamental shift; the long standing campaign of local residents, backed by Friends of the Earth was starting to draw in new people and direct action was happening almost daily.

A major focus of these early protests was the attempt to dam the Itchen Navigation – a canal that was still, legally, a navigable waterway.  Olive, a small rowing boat, was used to block the construction of the dam – frequently a dangerous task.

Stories from this time, collected for the Twyford Rising book, tell of optimism and the excitement of something new happening, for this was the first time such protests had taken place in Britain.  The stories tell of an eclectic mix of former Greenham Common peace women standing alongside students, New Age travellers, local residents and Earth First!, a network for radical ecological action then recently established in the UK. The sense of changing times is palpable throughout.

I remember two or three of us going down to the Itchen at night and opening up the weir to flood the construction site. We did that regularly.


3 thoughts on “Dam Busters

  1. mike hamblett

    Best time of my life – totally recommend a bit of direct action for nature. At least the next generation won’t hate us; we did something. Best wishes to all those out there today, against fracking and coal, saving trees, etc, all over Britain.


  2. Paul

    This day was my first ever protest, aged twenty. I got the travelled up from Southampton, not knowing anyone else who was planning to be there but got chatting to a couple of people on the bus who were also going. The music and speeches on the Down had dragged on somewhat and I wandered south toward the Itchen. There I came across the scene captured perfectly in the picture here. I didn’t think twice about wading in and getting involved. I suddenly and desperately needed to join this act of resistance. It was so ugly, what they were doing to this place, but what I saw was a beauty in the rage of those in the people water. The police moved in at some point, arresting a handful including my bus companions. Afterwards I walked through Plague Pits and up St Caths. I was born in Winchester, though did not know it well. You could see it all from up there. I felt I had connected to some deep lost part of myself, both in that place and in the act of defiance I had just taken to protect it. A week later I’d persuaded a friend to come back with his tent to share. We found a small group of others camped in a teepee doing the same and we pitched with them. So began what for me was five years of activism against road building. The fight against the work on the navigation went on for weeks, sometimes with just two of us. Two of us against a world intent on consuming itself was how it felt.


  3. Chris

    I was the owner of Olive; she was, I was told, an Australian design , a dory , polystyrene coated with fibreglass unsinkable. It was marketed in Oz by being driven out into a patch of water and cut in half with a chain saw and then both bits were rowed back to land I bought her for £50 from a chap from Stubbington who used her for fishing in the Solent. She came with a trailer and oars. I still have the oars and rollocks, The trailer stated falling to bits as we drove her back from Stubbington and continued to do so from Cherbourg to South Brittany but she managed there and back to our house in Twyford with all our camping stuff in too.
    She was the perfect craft for testing the right to navigation on a disused canal with very little water in. She was launched into the Navigation beside Five Bridges Road and two of us dragged her along the it and under the by pass to where the M3 diggers were getting underway.
    The great advantage of the boat was that that when any one was in it they could claim that they were not trespassing because there was a Statutory Right Of Navigation; when on foot there were no rights of access for protestors.
    I think that held up potential prosecutions for some days.

    I have forgotten if the Contractors found the weakness in that position which is that the right of navigation conferred by on the later Itchen Navigation Acts applies to vessels of 14 ft x 75 ft rather than 8ft x 4ft dory’s.

    Olive then stayed in place when the days protesting was done; she, being a stout and quite heavy craft, was able to withstand a good deal of bad treatment. She had long repaid my £50 outlay.
    Olives other weakness was that she could be picked up with some ease by one of the Contractors Diggers. And so she was. One morning we found her put on the roof of the site managers portacabin …for safe keeping they claimed.
    The contractors in the meantime kept working whenever the could , filling in the old Navigation until there was nothing for Olive to float on.



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