Waterfront Podcast: heroines of the canals

Join us as we journey to Stoke Bruerne on the Grand Union to hear stories about the Idle Women in this suffrage centenary special

Heroines of the canal


It was all hands on deck for those left behind at home to keep the country running during the Second World War. And while many of us have heard of the Land Girls and their contribution to the war effort, less well known are their canal-based counterparts; the so-called ‘Idle Women’. These women volunteered to operate barges carrying vital supplies through the country’s canal network; mainly steel from London to Birmingham, and coal on the return journey.

In this special episode that marks the centenary of women’s suffrage, Waterfront heads to Stoke Bruerne on the Grand Union to meet local resident Kathryn Dodington, who recalls memories of her aunt, one of the founding Idle Women. Meanwhile, Heather Wastie and Kate Saffin from Alarum Theatre share joyful stories of these wartime heroines through drama, poetry and song.

We also catch a boat trip through Blisworth Tunnel, the third longest navigable canal tunnel in the UK, where boaters historically had to ‘leg’ their vessels through the narrow passage. Just a short walk along the towpath from the tunnel is The Canal Museum, where you can learn lots more about the Idle Women and the history of this fascinating waterway.