A waterways pioneer widely known as the saviour of the Stratford canal has died at the age of 78.

David Hutchings, a trained architect, worked as an engineer, labourer and gang boss, politician, truck driver and diplomat in order to achieve his dream of restoring the Stratford canal and upper Avon navigation.

He first started campaigning in the 1960s when canals were a political deadweight, nationalised as an offshoot of the railways, with many simply ignored as uneconomic.

The southern section of the Stratford canal was derelict and the local authorities and the British Transport Commission announced they had decided to close it.

By law, if a waterway remained unused for three years it could be deemed "unwanted" and shut.

But campaigners, led by Mr Hutchings, forced a canoe through the 13-mile section to prove it was still in use.

The National Trust bought the waterway and gave Mr Hutchings the job of repairing it. Its metamorphosis began with a fund of #42,000 from well-wishers and charities, and Mr Hutchings' subsequent battles for cash with local authorities became legendary locally.

In a pioneering move, he recruited teams of prisoners from Birmingham's Winson Green jail to help with lock building, and in 1964, the Queen officiated at the opening ceremony of the renovated canal.

Mr Hutchings, fresh from that triumph, then turned his attention to the upper Avon, which linked Stratford and Evesham and ceased to be fully navigable in the 1870s.

He took over as project manager for the Upper Avon Navigation Trust and began the battle again.

Five years on the Queen Mother re-opened the restored river. The work provided the missing link in a 110-mile waterway circle joining Birmingham, Stourport, Tewkesbury and Stratford.

David Hutchings was born on March 13, 1927. He was educated at Birmingham College of Art, where he met his wife Joan who was studying painting.

They set up home on a narrowboat and drifted round the waterways of Birmingham and Coventry, where Mr Hutchings had his offices.

Mr Hutchings received an MBE in the New Year Honours list in 1965.

In 1969, the Inland Waterways Association awarded him the Cyril Styring Trophy for his work on the restoration of the Stratford canal and the upper Avon.

He was elected vice-president of the IWA in 1998.

He is survived by two sons and a daughter, and his former wife, Joan.