THE anniversary of a standoff which saved British canals is set to be remembered at an event in Stourbridge.

The Battle of Stourbridge saw a group of boating enthusiasts take on the government over their right to navigate inland waterways - a battle they won which prevented closure of much of the network.

Stourbridge Navigation Trust's open weekend will mark the 50th anniversary of the battle, when activists who believed their cause was being sabotaged by government officials were threatened with arrest.

Bob Clarke, from Kinver, was among the group of campaigners who decided to defy waterways authorities and clear a section of the Stourbridge canal to allow a rally of around 100 boats.

Mr Clarke, aged 77, said: "Without the battle, canals would have disappeared from the landscape. The plans were in place, they were leaked to us, we would have been left with a series of disconnected duckponds.

"It would have irreparably damaged the nation's industrial heritage, the network creates thousands of jobs, is worth £2billion each year and there are 35,000 boats on the canals."

The confrontation took place in 1962 between members of the Staffs and Worcester Canal Society and the British Transport Commission (BTC).

The society formed in 1959 to highlight neglect of canals but was frustrated by a series of mysterious incidents including piles of bricks dumped to jam lock gates and canal banks collapsing.

The group decided to hold a rally at the end of the Stourbridge canal arm but found the canal blocked and invoked a legal right of navigation.

The committee in charge of the rally opted to bring in a dredger to clear the waterway and, fearful BTC would drain the canal if they got wind of the plan, brought the machine in at night.

The machine should have been hidden out of sight, but it is believed the machine's driver was too drunk to move it and by the following morning BTC lawyers and police were at the site, threatening to arrest the protestors if the machine touched the water.

Undaunted, committee members ordered the dredging operation to begin and, after the incident hit the national headlines, the publicity drove authorities to accept the right of navigation and keep waterways clear.

The incident forced the government of the day to reverse their policy of allowing canals to decline and close.

The legacy of the battle lives on - restoration work on the Stourbridge canal became the model for all similar projects and today is still used as a blueprint for bringing neglected canals back to life.

The Stourbridge Navigation Trust open event will take place at The Bonded Warehouse, Canal Street, Stourbridge, from 10am on Saturday October 20 and Sunday October 21.

Entrance is free and attractions will include boat trips, a craft fair, children's rides and a display of classic vehicles.

Chris Dyche, president of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Society and director Stourbridge Navigation Trust , said: "If the Stourbridge canal had closed, the whole through-route to Birmingham would have been lost.

"This year’s event is a very special, celebrating a turning point in the history of our nation’s waterways."