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Canal Curios: NarrowBoat, Spring 2020

Sarah Henshaw considers how women can still wear the waterways with pride

In 2016 the Canal & River Trust joined forces with the Girl Guides to launch a new Canal Challenge Badge, encouraging its members to explore their local waterways. To achieve it, participants can give roses and castles artwork a go, make a bird box, forage hedgerow fruit to make chutney, go on a bat hunt, learn how to identify fish and try canoeing, all the while learning about the rich history of our canals. While it might sound wonderfully progressive, it is in fact pre-dated by another badge that encompassed all that – and more – some 75 years ago. Even better, it allowed adult women in on the fun...IW myths The IW badge has gone down in history as the inspiration for the ‘Idle Women’ moniker we now, erroneously, call the canal boatwomen trainees of World War II. Mike Constable, an expert on the subject, says the initials (which stood for Inland Waterways) were never used contemporaneously in this way. Rather, the myth was propagated by Susan Woolfitt&r…

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