Bill (Willie) Walker – Obiturary – August 1939 to June 2023

Willie, enjoying himself whilst working on the ‘Tote’ at our 2023 Race Night

Very sadly, one of our longstanding Club members Bill Walker, known throughout the NCCC as ‘Willie’ died suddenly at his home on Sunday 4th June 2023, following a cruise on his adopted craft, the traditional fly boat ‘Saturn’, which had been invited to navigate a recently restored section of the Montgomery Canal in Shropshire, close to the Welsh border.

Born in August 1939, Willie grew up in the Edgeley neighbourhood of Stockport, leaving school in his ‘early teens’ to undertake an apprenticeship in the motor trade, where later as an accomplished mechanic he became involved with performance cars customised for rallying purposes. Whilst in his late twenties and early thirties he volunteered to work on the nearby Ashton Canal restoration initiatives which led to a ‘career change’ driven by his new found inerest in canals, whereupon he worked for British Waterways and later the Canal and River Trust, moving into Wharf Cottage in 1982, following the passing of one our founder members Bert Kennerley, who had previously lived in the cottage for over thirty years.

At the time of his ‘career change’ Willie took up cycling and long distance running, competing in the London Marathon and running the full length of the Pennine Way. Also at this time he was able to develop his love of narrow boats and the culture of the bygone working boatmen, something in later years he would happily share with his fellow boaters whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Living on the Club site, Willie assisted with the running of the club, volunteering his services behind the bar. On one occasion in 1989, during a Club day excursion by coach to Hebden Bridge, Willie and myself legged a trip boat through Fallingroyd Tunnel on the Rochdale Canal, where at the time a short length of the partially restored canal had been re-opened for navigation. No stranger to tunnels, Willie had also legged a work boat through Standedge Tunnel on more than one occasion. On another Trans-Pennine work boat journey, he navigated the entire heaviley locked Rochdale Canal following its full restoration.

More recently, working as a Club Director and Archivist, in conjunction with the re-vamped Club Website, using his Canal and River Trust contacts, Willie had managed to retain and download numerous photographs of the Anderton Lift during its recent restoration, many of which may have been inadvertently discarded. 

Willie’s Canal ‘Tunnel Legging’ Certificate

The 70th anniversary memorial hand crafted by Club member Ian Spooner in 2013

Heading up the Club’s forthcoming eightieth anniversary arrangements, Willie had campaigned to have our commemorative stone relocated to a more prominent position close by the entrance to our headquarters.

In short, Willie’s pervading ‘waterways persona’ was truly unique, hence the NCCC and the boating world in general has lost a dedicated waterways enthusiast who possessed a wealth of information on our canals and their associated culture.

R.I.P. Willie, you deserve a place on board a traditional craft meandering along those tranquil waterways in the sky.

Your onetime ‘fellow tunnel legger’ John Suggitt.