Melville Gray

Restorer of Scotland's canals


Melville Gray, accountant, conservationist and local politician: born Edinburgh 26 May 1920; MBE 1997; married Judy Main (two daughters); died Livingston, West Lothian 11 March 2006.

The lowland canals of Scotland, particularly the Union Canal, between Edinburgh and Glasgow, owe a huge debt to Melville Gray. It was Gray's enthusiasm which led to others' beginning to take notice of the canal's fall into decay and the formation in 1975 of the Linlithgow Union Canal Society, which concentrated effort and funding on clearing and restoring key areas of the canal.

In the 1960s, it looked as if the Edinburgh and Glasgow Union Canal, opened in 1822 and 31 1/2 miles long, would fall into such disuse that it would erode away. Work to halt this decline started at Linlithgow, where Gray's house in Royal Terrace bordered the canal's northern bank. Gray, and his wife Judy, energised the Scottish Inland Waterways Association.

Their first concrete achievement was the launch in 1974 at Linlithgow of Pride of the Union. The peregrinations of this barge up and down part of the canal were only possible because Gray had used his position on Linlithgow Town Council, of which he was a well-regarded independent member for 31 years, 1954-85, to persuade fund-giving local authorities to carry out work such as maintaining and restoring the four bridges over the Union Canal numbered 19-22.

A particular triumph was to make safe the aqueduct carrying the canal over the River Almond at Lin's Mill. In 1977, the society began a museum in a disused stable at the Manse Road Basin, which exhibits records, photographs and artefacts associated with the Union Canal. In 1978, the barge Victoria was purchased, and Gray's crowning achievement was to come years later in 2001 when the Pride of the Union and the Victoria met under the newly constructed bridge carrying the M8 motorway over the canal. His friend and partner in canal affairs Ronnie Rusack describes Gray as

"Mr Canal" - a man who devoted much of his spare time during his working life and almost his entire retirement to the cause of bringing the canal back to life.

As a local MP, I admired the way in which Gray and his colleagues, through the Seagull Trust, developed the work begun by the Rev Hugh Mackay of Torphichen in using canal activities for the education of the disabled, and creating confidence in vulnerable teenagers.

Melville Gray was born in 1920 in Edinburgh, shortly after his father, a farmer who had fought in the First World War, died of his wounds. On leaving Melville College he became an apprentice chartered accountant. During the Second World War, he was a training sergeant specialising in the use of searchlights. After the war he was an accountant successively for James Gray and Company, seed merchants, and Coastal Radio Electronics, ending up as chief accountant for the huge United Bakery Co-operative Society. From 1982 to 1990 he represented Linlithgow on the very successful Lothian Regional Council for the SDP.

In 1997, Gray was appointed MBE for services to the Scottish canal community which he had done so much to create.

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