History - David Vause

David Vause, canal enthusiast and boat builder

early photo of punts early photo of punts Punts outside what is now the Water Witch. We are grateful to Graham Hibbert for allowing reproduction of photos from his Flickr photostream, which is well worth a look for the many photos of Lancaster. Photos believed to date from 1960s or 70s. Colour photo 1975. early photo of punts Punt-shaped signs hanging over the door of the Old Stables. Another Graham Hibbert photo.
David Vause moved his family to Lancaster in the mid 1960s and took up the cause of restoring the neglected canal, towpath and associated buildings more or less single-handedly, at a time when canals were no longer used commercially but had not yet been recognised for their potential by the leisure industry. His first project was the restoration of an old houseboat called the 'Spahi' which was moored by the old Packet Boat Stables (now the Water Witch Pub). Three years of hard work resulted in the conversion of a wreck into a family home.

As a musician himself, he liked to work to the accompaniment of classical music, naming the punts that he built in the Old Stables after favourite pieces, e.g. 'Fennimore' and 'Tristan and Isolde', and hired them out on the canal, either propelled by a pole in the traditional manner or powered by a small motor.

David's son Louis remembers helping his dad fish rubbish out of the canal and retrieve punts that had been abandoned along the canal. Louis grew up on the canal with his siblings and witnessed its transformation from an overgrown rubbish-strewn backwater to a revitalised waterway.

The two photos below show David Vause at work at the Triangle after the conversion of the Old Stables to the Water Witch. Directory "Sept/October 1986 Mark and myself near completion of 'The Lark Ascending'. Photo by David Crowther of Lancaster City Architects for a demonstration to Nicolas Ridley MP, Department of Environment Secretary" (written on reverse of photo by David Vause)

old photo of a punt in the workshop "David had a lovely wood-burning stove just where he is sitting." (written on reverse of photo by Simone Vause)


Tragically, David contracted MS but continued to work on his punts from a wheelchair. He died in 1996, and the Lancaster Guardian for 31 May that year celebrated his achievements as follows:

The canal network was largely ignored in the 1960s and the council rejected Mr. Vause's plans so he decided to fund the work himself. He paid the council to take lorry loads of rubbish which he and his family fished out the canal. He unblocked the drains, cleared the towpath of water, cut back the undergrowth, laid gravel from Penny Street Bridge to Aldcliffe Road, cleared the cobbles, restored the buildings and built 17 punts, an off‑licence and shop.

(With grateful acknowledgments to Simone Vause)


History pages by Jane Swan