Sonia Rolt - life

Sonia originally trained as an actress at the London Theatre Studio under Michel Saint-Denis. With the outbreak of the war, she worked for a spell in the Hoover factory at Greenford working on the wiring for military aircraft before volunteering as a trainee boatwoman on the canals. She fell in love with everything about the canal world and stayed on the canals after the end of the war, meeting and marrying her first husband, George, a working boatman.

In the mid 1940s Sonia became increasingly politically active on behalf of the threatened boating community, and through this met Tom Rolt.

Tom and Sonia began their life together in Wales. Tom had been one of the instigators of the Tallylyn Railway Preservation Society and Tom and Sonia both worked on the railway in the first crucial years, before, in 1953, moving to Tom's family home in Stanley Pontlarge, Gloucestershire.

Here, Tom settled into writing, while Sonia raised their two sons and began work for the Landmark Trust and the National Trust, furnishing their properties. More recently Sonia worked for many years on the Landmark Trust's book collections.

Sonia was a stalwart committee member for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). She also sat for 18 years on the Gloucester Diocesan Advisory committee.

In the early 1990's Sonia was appointed honorary Vice-President ot the Inland Waterways Association (IWA), and resumed her campaigning for the continuance of our inland waterways.

Sonia was a polymath, maintaining multiple interests right up the end of her long life. She was an honoury life member of the Talyllyn Railway Preservation Society, the Vintage Sports Car Club, the Bugatti Owners Club, the Newcomen Society, the Institute Of Structural Engineers, to name but a few.

Mention should also be made of the time and energy she gave to promoting Tom’s name, working to keep his books in print, re-releasing new editions and providing new introductions. In 1997 she published her own book - A Canal people - The Photographs of Robert Longden.

In 2010 she was awarded an OBE for services to industrial archaeology and to heritage.

In September 2014 Sonia was honoured with a lifetime achievement award at the Living Waterways Awards.

Read some of the tributes to Sonia in the national press and media, some of which show photos of Sonia's early life on the canals.

photo of Sonia on a  canal boat in 2010
Sonia on board 'Heron' in 2010, descending the Foxton lock

photo of Sonia South as a child  photo of Sonia South acting

photo of Sonia steering butty boat  photo of Sonia and Tom Rolt

photo of Sonia steering 'President'

photo of Sonia receiving an OBE