February 21, 2012, by Sarah Colborne
Water work: the staff of the River Trent Catchment Board
A large leather-bound photograph album, found amongst the archive material I’ve been cataloguing for our water records project, gives an introduction to the work of the Engineer’s Department of the River Trent Catchment Board and the significant events that affected its activities in the years 1932-1939. These events include the building of new premises, and the serious floods of 1932 which highlighted the need for urgent maintenance work on the rivers within the catchment.
The album gives some insight into what it was like to work for the Catchment Board, from the scenes of female staff at work in the Drawing Office, to action photos of elderly workmen in flat caps balancing heavy barrows along narrow planks linking river banks to dredging vessels or pontoons. Curiosities include photographs of a whale pulled from the River Trent near Keadby in Lincolnshire, and a shot of the Board’s head office on Derby Road protected by sandbags for the ‘September crisis 1938’ (perhaps in reaction to the Munich or Sudeten crisis – any suggestions are welcome!).
Fred Westacott suggests in his Biography ‘Shaking the Chains’, that the government of the day engineered an atmosphere of hysteria, sandbagging important buildings in preparation for ‘imminent’ war prior to Chamberlain’s meeting with Hitler in September 1938 which resulted in the ‘Munich Agreement’ and the ‘Peace in our time’ speech.