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Alaska.
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Posts: 1404

Canals, Locks, Fly Boats, Basins, Boatmen.


You can find many articles on the history of the regions Canals, and a great many stories as well. This piece may prove to be of some interest though, as it deals with a little explored side of the goods carried. Everyone knows, that huge amounts of coal, Iron, Limestone, and manufactured products, were transported via the Waterways. People as passengers however, isn't the first thing you think of. Within a few years of the opening of the Canals, special boats were being built, to offer express passenger services. The boats came with not one, but two cabins, the rear for the Gentlemen, and the front for the Ladies. A small space was left open for the carriage of parcels and luggage. Both cabins had small stoves for heating, a boon on cold winter days, and far better than a draughty Coach. When you concider the state of the roads in the 1800s, full of holes and ruts, the smooth ride on the canal would be a great temptation to the traveller who was not in a hurry. The boats didn't breakdown either, no broken springs or shattered wheels to disrupt the journey. Pulled by teams of two horse's, which were changed every five miles, the boat could average a good nine miles per hour. Sometimes, especially in bad weather, a lot faster than the Coach. They were called " Fly Boats ", and in theory at least, they had right of way over the slower cargo boats. A good boat could get you to London in a day, with enough time to spare, to conduct a little business. From Stratford-on-Avon, you could catch the daily fly boat to Gloucester, or on to Bristol. From Wolverhampton, it was possible to book passage to Chester, Liverpool, or Manchester. The gentlemen could enjoy the comforts of a little tipple, or even a little gamble, if the company permitted. The Ladies I am sure, were just as well looked after, although I suspect their persuits were a little more refined. It didn't take long for some boat owners, to latch on to the idea of faster travel. The right of way over other boats was the main attraction, so they craftily built a few fly boats, with just a small cabin, and plenty of cargo space. One of the older fly boats can be seen in the Gallery. These boats mainly travelled overnight, there being less traffic about, and they didn't have the comforts of the family run boats. The passenger boat companies had some rather fancy names, a lot of them biblical, like the one I am going to mention, " The Euphrates Packet ". This company, in the 1820s, ran a boat from the Factory Road Canal Basin, Tipton, to the Friday Road Bridge, in the Gas Street Basin, Birmingham. The journey took two hours, the first class fare being 1/6p and second class 1/-. The route took it through Dudley Port, Tividale, Oldbury, Spon Lane, Smethwick, and Winson Green, before the passengers dis-embarked in Birmingham. It's a very pleasent trip on a warm summer evening, I know, I've done it several times. But what about the winter months, I hear someone ask, no problem really. Birmingham Canal Navigation, had a special boat constructed, strengthened at one end, a design to be pulled by several horse's, through the Ice bound canal. It required about twelve of their employee's, rocking the boat from side to side as it progressed, and pulling out the broken Ice, to keep the waterway clear for travel. No stove on this boat, at just thirty feet long and deckless, there wasn't the space. They kept blankets over the horse's though, BCN were a very conciderate and caring company. The advert for the Euphrates Packet, shows a rather idealic scene. Dudley Castle in the background, an impossible number of men and women on the cabin roof, and young ladies trailing ther hands in the water. Rather them than me, in the 1820s the canal was full of all kinds of pollutants, and more were killed by the toxins than were ever drowned. Just one of the hardships of working on the boats, as if it wasn't hard enough already.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

August 10, 2011 at 3:44 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Canals, Cargos, Locks,


I thought I would follow the theme above with this post, about how hard life could be on the Canals. Winters could be bitter on the waterways, but in 1822, the weather was appalling. George Bird watched the ice boat progress rather unsteadily down the Canal Wharfe. Pulled by a heavy horse, and rocked from side to side by a party of boatman, it was the only way to clear a path through the inch thick ice. Earlier that week, 5 boys, playing on the iced up canal at Hockley, had drowned when the fragile surface gave way. One of his boats, recently arrived from collecting a heavy cargo from the Black Country, was awaiting the last of 50 chests of Birmingham made Guns. The cargo was bound for London, and due to the inclemant weather, he was already two days late. It was just after midnight, when his crew, Simpson and Kelsey, tied down the last chest, and set off. The date was December 24th. Now you may find that  very surprising, but it needs to be remembered, that Christmas, as we know it, is largely a Victorian invention. A few days later, he was informed that the boat was stuck at Leamington, another of his fleet was stranded in Regents Basin in London, and yet another at Itchington. The canal network was well and truly stopped up. Making the most of a bad job, George Bird could only wait and se how long the bad weather lasted. Longer than he thought. The new year came and went, and on 11th January 1823 he found out that the boat that had been stranded in London, was now iced in at Weedon, on the Grand Union Canal, on the return trip. The freezing conditions only relaxed their grip in early February. Poor old Simpson and Kelsey finally arrived back at the wharfe, on 12th February, after a truly epic journey of 50 days. Tough as old boots were the canal men of yesteryear. Not everything ended up so well, times were hard, competition was cutthroat, and many went to the wall. Old George was not immune either. In March 1826, he purchased, as he expected to sell at a good profit, 320 Iron jointed bedsteads. They were delivered to the wharfe in several waggons owned by Charles Bache. Mr Bird however, short of a few readies, was late in paying for them, and he had to watch, impotent to do anything about it, as a boat, owned by his rival Pickfords, loaded them off his wharfe. The County Sherriff was in attendance, and no doubt the boat master, John Kitchen, was still having a good laugh as they left. As they say though, you can't keep a good man down, and he would rise again, as you will see in the next post.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

October 25, 2011 at 4:26 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Canals, Passengers, Fly-Boats,


Following the bad weather of the pevious year, George Bird decided to delve into other enterprise's. All the rage, in 1823, was the new fangled, and quite dangerous activity, of Flying.  The daredevils of the day were the Ballonist's, dangling underneath a big bag, inflated with hot air, and called Fire Ballons. Approached by a Mr Sadler Junior, George and a few friends put up the money for a flight from near his wharfe in Birmingham. Well advertised, it drew many to the prime vantage points, and ticket's, for the less well off, also sold well. He kept reciepts and records, and these show that the event raised £22 in bank notes, £33.17shillings in Gold, £154. 2shillings and 6d in Silver, and £17.13.and 6d in Copper. ( Refreshments were included in the ticket price ) Amongst the spectators were a Mr Spooner, and 66 School Boys, who were charged a shilling each. ( On condition that they held on to the ropes of the Ballon, and helped to erect the fencing. One intrepid soul, James Busby, paid £20.00, to take to the air as a passenger. Altogether, the day raised £264. 1shilling and 3d, which, set against the expences, Gas, Pipes, and Labour, Fencing and Carpenter, and other Sundry items, gave the group a profit of £219.7shillings and 3d. Not a bad day for the backers, but what about the Ballon flight I hear someone ask. It set off, about 2.30pm, to much cheering and flag waving, with a gentle breeze, blowing in a westerly direction. It was visible to the assembled crowd for almost 20 minutes, and was then lost to sight. It was followed on the ground by a multitude of carts and horse's, and a few of the more agile citizens on foot. Slowly passing over Edgbaston, Halesowen, Pedmore, and Stourbridge, it finally came down in a field near to Enville, having scared the living daylights out of the villagers of Kinver. A flight of almost 18 miles. A satisfied George Bird, being a bit of a social climber, would dine out on that story for many years.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

November 8, 2011 at 11:05 AM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Canals, Accidents, Birmingham Canal.


As some people know, the old Birmingham Canal passes Dudley just to the northeast of the town. This Canal has quite a few branches, one of which, a mile from Dudley, was called the Park Head Branch. In the mad rush for coal and minerals in the mid 19th century, it was enevitable, that parts of the canal system would be undered mined by the pits, which sprang up everywhere. One mine, the owner of which was well aware that a canal was above his workings, had the tunnel shored up, for a distance, which was thought to be a wide as the canal. It wasn't. Fortunately, it being Christmas, most of the miners were absent, possibly, too drunk to turn up for work. A case of excessive beer drinking, that just for once, saved a few lives. On the morning of the 28th December, 1862, with an ominous crack, the timber supports gave way. For a while, nothing happened, then to the astonishment of the boatmen, the water level dropped drastically. They could only watch amazed, as boats and cargo's were swept away, capsized or badly damaged. Over two miles of the canal disappeared into a hole in the ground, described by one witness, as like a giant whirlpool. It would have been much worse if the lock gates had been in use at the time. The entire mine was flooded, putting the workforce of 40 men out of a job. If the mine had been open though, the gravediggers would have had plenty to do.The damage was so great, that the mine never really recovered, and was closed for good some months later. By a strange quirk of fate, 4 of the wrecked boats were carrying coal, all of which had only been dug from the mine, 6 days before. Now thats what I call a good bit of re-cycling.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

December 10, 2011 at 2:52 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Canals, Explosions, Accidents, Goods.


There are many families still in the area, whose parents, or maybe their grandparents, lived, worked, and raised children on the inland waterways. One such family, the Holloways, came from Oldbury, Worcestershire. They had been working the canals since at least 1786, their various offspring having been born in a variety of Towns up and down the land. John Holloway though, had been born in the families native town in 1826, and his first born, was born in Paddington, in London. His wife Caroline, next gave birth in her home town of Leicester, this time a son, no doubt staying with her own family, who were also canal people. In the 1850s, they were living in Orchard Street, Oldbury, close to the many canal basins. the family having become now to large to fit on a Barge. John Holloway seems to have secured a good job with The Grand Junction Canal Company. At the age of 11, his young son, also John, (who was born in 1856), joined his father, and also began working for the same company. The work was long and hard, and entailed travelling all around the countryside, carrying cargo's of all sorts. The pay was such that in 1867, they moved to slightly better accomodation in Stoney Lane, which today would be in that part of Tat Bank Road, just before Popes Lane. Things went well until 1869, when John Holloway Snr, sadly died. This was a serious blow for Caroline, with only her one son working, and him being away most of the time, she was reduced to being classed as a Pauper. Even if she had known, that sometimes the cargo's carried were very dangerous, I doubt she would have raised any objection to her son staying on as a Boatman.


In 1874, young John Holloway, was one of three men who made up the crew of the Fly Boat "Tilbury". The man in charge, Charles Baxton, ( or more likely Baxter ) came from Loughbough, near Leicester, and would have been known to the Holloway family, or even a distant relative. Canal people were like that, a very close knit community. William Taylor, at 25, was the other crew member, and also came from near Leicester. In early October, they were in the Basin of the Regents Canal in London, loading the boat for a trip back into the midlands. The cargo cosisted of Straw Boards, Nuts, Sugar, Coffee, Benzoline, ( an early type of Petroleum ) and a large quantity of sacks/bags, that contained loose Gun Powder. In total, 5 tons of the highly explosive mixture. The Company had of course carried it before, and the crew had also had experience of the stuff. It was to them, just another cargo. In the early hours of the 10th October, in what was a fairly routine occurance, several barges were linked together, and towed up the canal, towards the junction with the Grand Union. About 4.55am, the convoy reached Regents Park, and just as the Tilbury was passing under North Gate Bridge, there was a fearful explosion. London had never heard such a bang, and indeed, it was not until the second World War, that such a one occured again. The noise was heard nearly two miles away, and the devestation was immense. The entire Bridge was demolished, and over 280 houses were damaged. Of the Tilbury and her crew there was no sign, just a few broken planks and scattered metal pieces, found in the wreckage of the house's. John Holloway had made his last trip. Frantic efforts by the remaining boats, ( one had been sunk but would later be salvaged ) found no one alive, indeed, they didn't find any complete bodies either. Thankfully, there were few injuries to the sleeping population, who had been so violently awoken from their deep slumbers. But what caused the Explosion?


Everyone knows that you can put liquid in a wooden barrel and it won't leak out. Fumes and gas'es however, are an entrely different matter. Combined with a fire in the cabin stove, of almost every barge of the day, the deadly Benzoline fumes had started a fire that caused the explosion. No health and safety then of course, and most people had never realised, that Gun Powder was transported on barges. Just how they thought that the stuff arrived in the Mining area's, was never discussed. The Canal owners knew the danger, they charged double the carriage rates for each cargo. Despite the public outrage, the practice was back in operation within a week, and no one could compell the Barge'es to put out the stoves either. After all, they had to cook and eat, didn't they. So down in London, they have possibly the only canal bridge with three names. North Gate Bridge, ( the original name ) Macclesfield Bridge, ( in honour of Lord Macclesfield ) and The Blow Up Bridge, ( in memory of the event )  The aftermath, of what so tragically took away 18 year old John Holloway's life, can be seen in the illustrations in the Gallery. Back in Oldbury, I wonder how his mother coped with it all.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

January 9, 2012 at 3:45 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Canals, Narrow Boats, Goods and Cargo. Basins.


For those whose knowledge of the Canals is restricted to the odd excursion, or cycling on the tow path, here are a few facts. Never call a Narrowboat a " Barge ", this was a discription of the very much large boats which worked the Rivers, and consequently, wouldn't fit in the canal locks anyway. The standard Canal Narrowboats were 71 feet 6 inches long, and 7 feet wide, with a capacity to carry almost 30 tons. They had to pass through Toll sections, where they were charged on tonnage. There were two kinds of Narrowboats, the day boats, which had a rudimentary cabin on one end, pointed at both ends to assist entry to narrow basins, and could be towed or steered from either end. ( The Rudders were detachable) These type of boats carried Coal, Ironstone, Limestone, Fire Clay, Bricks, Iron, and any of the other bulk cargoes that came their way. The other boats were " Family, or Living Boats ", and these travelled all around the Country, delivering and collecting a wide range of goods. One of the largest Canal Carriers was based in Tipton, his name being Thomas Monk. So well known was he, that any narrowboats from the area arriving in London, were refered to as a " Monkey ". A term which came to be used for all the boats from the Midlands. Some of the carried goods are listed in the post above this one. They even had boats which carried bulk Liquids in tanks, which could be lifted from the boat when not needed. Some boats only ever carried one type of cargo, and Boatmen had a habit of giving them nicknames. Hot-Holers, were constantly employed carrying Cinders and Furnace Slag, especially from the massive ironworks at Bilston. Another name familar to older residents was Rowley Raggers, carrying roadstone from the numerous Quarries on the Rowley Hills. Bricks, Chains, Holloware, and Iron carriers were called Station Boats, which delivered to the many onward shipping basins owned by the Railway companies. Not such deadly rivals yet, as the Railways were still in the infancy stage, but things of course, changed rapidly.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

March 6, 2012 at 4:51 PM Flag Quote & Reply

Alaska.
Site Owner
Posts: 1404

Canals, Boatmen, Families, Thefts and Robberies.


Now everyone knows that life on the Canals wasn't easy. Hard work from dawn til dusk, out in all weathers, and badly housed and paid. Some of them though displayed a distinct lack of brain power that defies discription. Take some of the following little extracts for a start.


Samuel Timmins, an very experience boatman from Tipton, Staffordshire. Together with a helper, fellow Tiptonite Henry Clerk, and accompanied by his two younger brothers, set off with a cargo for London, in 1818. Two days later, they moored up at Brentford Lock, and Timmins, having some business to see to, left his pocket book in the cabins cupboard and set off. On the way back, he stopped off for a drink at the Magpie. He was surprised to see Clerk there, who promptly asked him for some money. As he already still owed for a previous loan, Timmins refused and Clerk left. Barely an hour later, when he returned to the boat, he discovered the pocket book gone, and with it. the £6 and 1 shilling in it. He found the drunken Clerk the next morning in the same Public house, and after being threatened when he ask for the pocket book, he called the Law. He got back £4, and Henry Clerk got another trip on a boat, he was Transported for 7 years.

Daniel Derby, another boatman from the area, in 1831, was moored for the night in Harefield Middlesex, when he was awoken around 1am by the noise of someone leaving the boat. He had of course been robbed, losing his Frock Coat, a Silk Handkerchief, a pair of Shoes, two Sovereigns, and some Silver coins. The culprit, a helper on another boat, Thomas Large, was soon caught and on his way to Australia for 7 years.

Samuel Farrington, who to put it mildly, must have been few bricks short of a barrow full in 1832. Moored up on the Regents Canal, he went for a quiet drink and got into the company of a few rogues. Falling for a very old pick pocketing trick he was divested of 20 Sovereigns, and 3 five pound notes. A conciderable sum of money at the time. He did get some of it back when it was found on one of the culprits, George Shaw, a man who had form for this type of offence. So much in fact that he was transported for life.

Richard Welch, another man from Staffordshire, worked for Pickfords, a company known to choose it's Captains with care. He didn't show much intelligence in 1836, when moored in the Canal Basin at Richmond. Going for a drink, he got into the company of one Eliza Lamb, and after a merry evening, they retired to bed. The next morning, his conquest of the night had disappeared, along with his gold Sovereign, Crown piece, and 3 shillings. Concidering the date, the local constable was very efficient and soon had her in custody. I wonder if she enjoyed the 14 years holiday they gave her in Australia.

Charles Whitecock, on the Paddington Canal, excepted an invitation from a fellow Staffordshire Captain to spend the night on his boat. During the course of his dreaming, Thomas Owens, yet another Staffordshire man, stole his £3 watch, 2 Sovereigns and a fourpenny piece. He was lucky, he only got 6 months hard labour.

Joseph Allen, a native of either Bilston or Walsall, excepted the help of William Dix to leg his boat through the Regents Tunnel, in 1843. To reward the man, Allen took him for a drink and got drunk himself. Next morning, he was awoken by a Canal Policeman who had a man in custody for theft. The stolen items, 3 half crowns, a shilling, 2 sixpenny pieces, and a fourpenny piece, all belonged to the still befuddled Allen. To cap it all, Dix had even stolen the hapless captains beef dinner. Another one destined for 6 months hard labour.

James Coles exploits though, top all the above, if simply for the cheek. Along with about 9 others, he was drinking in the Red Lion, in the Strand , London, when a boatman came in. It was non other than William Perry, better known as The Tipton Slasher. When in London it was the Slashers favourite place and he was well known there. Not apparently to Cole, who jostled the Slasher and stole his £22 watch. After a scuffle, in which Cole was lucky not to receive a good hiding, ( the bar was quite a small area ) Perry handed him over to the law. Cole managed to convince the beak that it was all a bit of fun, and he was found not guilty. One victory in 1850 then, that eluded the Blackcountry Champ.

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A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day.  ( See my Blog entry )

October 15, 2012 at 4:16 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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