THE BOATING community of Stratford pulled out all the stops to say a fitting farewell to a ‘much loved’ boatman who poured his life into restoring and promoting the river.
River traffic stopped as a mark of respect on Monday as Bancroft Cruisers’ John Macartney-Filgate, who died aged 75, passed by on his final Avon trip to Holy Trinity Church.
“I knew John was popular, but I was stunned by the turnout,” said his business partner Fiona Rae, who organised the farewell with the help of the Avon Navigation Trust (ANT).
“He would have been very moved, and tickled pink, to see how many people have such respect for what he did on the river and the canal.”
Fiona, John’s two step-children, Mark Curnin-Waterson and Vivien Taylor, other family members and Bancroft Cruisers crew accompanied the coffin on board The Rita Ellen, the wide-beam cruiser John had built and named in memory of his long-time partner, who died ten years ago.
His boat was turned to point at the Bancroft Gardens’ memorial bench in her name, before making its way to the church.
Local operators joined the procession in tribute, with Nick Longdon’s Countess of Evesham, Colin Pike’s Jennifer May, a boat from Nick Birch’s Avon Boating and Chris Best on the Stratford Boat Club launch paying their respects.
The Avon Navigation Trust’s tug boats Tug Eric and Tug City, which led and followed the coffin, also gave a mournful blast of their horns as John left the river for the last time at the mooring by the church, where over 200 people were gathered to say their goodbyes and pay their respects.
Nature did her bit for the special occasion too.
“As The Rita Ellen docked a flight of seven swans flew overhead, like a Red Arrows fly past in white. Everyone wanted to know how we’d organised it,” said ANT general manager Clive Matthews.
Tributes have flooded in for John, who had done so much for the river in the past 40 years.
Birmingham born, and Solihull-raised, the engineer became passionate about the Avon when he moved to Stratford in the 1970s and opened a marine engine business.
John, who also loved classic cars, went on to run many businesses.
He was the first to introduce narrowboat hire and continue the tradition of river trips on pleasure boats on the Stratford Avon reach.
He was a first class boatman who worked as a volunteer alongside David Hutchings to reopen the Southern Stratford canal with the National Trust. This was followed by his involvement with the restoration of the Avon as a volunteer of the Upper Avon Navigation Trust (UANT).
John later became a UANT Director, served a term as chairman and helped found the Avon Extension-promoting Stratford & Warwick Waterways Trust, which he chaired for ten years.
ANT Chairman John Tomsett summed John up.
“He was in every way a gentleman, open, loyal and unstinting in his generosity to friends and to the cause of the Avon alike.”