The man who rescued, from underwater, a Lincoln built steam navvy that is now the world’s oldest working excavator has been honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award

Engineering conservationist Ray Hooley, aged 95, from North Hykeham, spent three years planning the recovery of the 48-ton steam navvy from 25 feet of water in the Blue Lagoon at Arlesey, Bedfordshire.

He needed the help of oceanic flotation experts, the Bedford Sub Aqua Club, a 90 foot crane, and many other companies and individuals to bring the navvy to the bank in October 1977.

It had been underwater for 47 years after being left at the bottom of what was then a chalk quarry when work ceased because of the Great Depression in 1930.

The citation from the National Transport Trust, who awarded Ray their LAA for 2022, noted his organisation of the rescue and his long custodianship of steam navvy number 306, which he bought for a pound from the lake owners while it was still underwater.

Thanking Ray in a ceremony at Lincoln’s Guildhall, Lady Judy McAlpine, President of the NTT, described his years of conservation work as amazing and told how the Trust is doing all it can to encourage younger people to take an interest in the preservation of British engineering heritage.

The Award was made on behalf of the NTT by the Mayor of Lincoln, Cllr Rosanne Kirk, who paid tribute to Ray for his spirit and persistence.

The gathering heard also from Sara Basquill of Lincolnshire County Council about various machines rescued by Ray and now on display at the Museum.

And from Henry Ruddock, businessman and historian, who described Ray’s background in the Fleet Air Arm and the Blue Streak missile project before he became Librarian and archivist for Ruston and Hornsby, and how he still helps owners of historic Ruston machines around the world.

In reply, Ray recalled his run-in with the local sailing club who didn’t want the navvy to be removed because they used the jib – the only part above the water – as a marker for their sailing races. Eventually the navvy was found to lie in the one-fifth of the lagoon that the sailing club did not rent. Today the navvy – built by Ruston Proctor & Co in 1909 – is kept at the Vintage Excavator Trust at Threlkeld, Cumbria, where it is steamed and worked on open weekends. Ray’s rescue is the subject of a DVD and streamed documentary, “The Ruston in the Blue Lagoon,” from Blow by Blow Productions. Producer Andrew Blow is available to give talks about the rescue.


Cover Photo (from left to right): Andrew Blow (Filmmaker) Stuart Wilkinson (Chairman of the National Transport Trust), Ray Hooley, Cllr. Rosanne Kirk (Mayor of Lincoln) Lady Judy McAlpine (President of the National Transport Trust) Sara Basquill (Lincolnshire County Council) Henry Ruddock (Ruddocks Design & Print)