Wirral woman given historic funeral after decades of volunteering

Diana became involved in the museum’s work in 1974. Credit: The Canal & River Trust

A woman has been given a historic funeral on a canal boat after decades of volunteering at a local museum.

Diana Skilbeck, 80, was given a send off at the National Waterways Museum in Ellesmere Port on a boat she once helped to save and restore. 

Following a memorial service at her local Holy Cross Church at Woodchurch on the Wirral, her coffin was transported along the Shropshire Union Canal before a cremation ceremony near Chester.

Diana, known as Di, became involved in the museum’s work in 1974.

She and her students joined the first working party to restore the site and then became regular Sunday helpers.

Diana was one of the hard-working band of enthusiasts who rescued the derelict port and transformed it into the national home for the UK’s historic boat and waterways collection.

By 1995, she was president of the Boat Museum Society who were crucial in establishing the museum in the 1970s. 

Diana helped restore the Gifford. Credit: Canal and Waterways Trust

Diana personally led the major restoration of two historic boats – the tar boat Gifford and Box boat 337. 

In recent years, she continued as an enthusiastic volunteer at the museum, regularly dressing up in traditional costume and giving tours to visitors.

Diana volunteered for decades at the museum. Credit: Canal and Waterways Trust

In 2012, Diana was awarded an MBE for Services to Heritage and in 2015 the University of Chester presented her with an Honorary Master of Art degree from for her outstanding contribution to heritage and education.

She was also given a Canal & River Trust Outstanding Achievement Award in 2016.

The Canal & River Trust charity, which runs the National Waterways Museum, will be hosting a special memorial service celebrating her life on Saturday 8 April at 9am, as part of the Easter Boat Gathering Festival over the bank holiday weekend.

Diana's coffin was transported by boat along the Shropshire Union Canal. Credit: Canal and Waterways Trust

Richard Parry, chief executive of the Canal & River Trust, said: “Di Skilbeck MBE has been a passionate waterways supporter for half a century and she has given so much to them in that time; her record of achievements is remarkable. 

“As a retired schoolteacher and head mistress, Di had a natural gift for sharing her knowledge and enthusiasm with adults and children alike. 

“Always a source of generosity and good humour, she will be greatly missed by all who knew her.  

“Everyone who today shares Di’s passion for our working canal network owes her a debt of gratitude - a great lady and a giant of the waterways.”

King Charles also sent a letter of condolence from Buckingham Palace to say he was sorry to hear of her death. He described her role as an early volunteer at the Boat Museum as “inspirational”.

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