NarrowBoat Logo

Post-War Boating on the Grand Union

Picturing the Past: NarrowBoat, Winter 2019

Julian Thompson

In the mid-1950s, Julian Thompson took a number of photographs of working boats on the Grand Union. This selection captures the penultimate decade of carrying in the south Midlands

Below: On a damp, dreary day in November 1955, Samuel Barlow butty Mosquito and its unidentified wooden motor are exiting Raven’s Lane Lock 54 at Berkhamsted. Through the arch of Bridge 142 is Lock 55 which, together with Raven’s Lane Lock, formed what boaters referred to as ‘Sweep’s Two’. The butty was built for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Co as Spica in 1935 and when it passed to Barlows in 1943 it was named after a WWII aircraft. This image captures the moment where the motor’s steerer is leaning over to grab the snatcher, or short towing line, from Mosquito’s fore-deck to place it on the motor’s towing stud. Barlows was carrying coal to several works on the southern half of the Grand Union at the time; notably from Coventry Colliery to Kearley & Tonge’s jam factory at Southall, and, to a lesser extent, from Newdigate Colliery to Colne Valley Sewage Works.

Julian Thompson

One of the most well-known boating families working up to 1970 was the Whitlocks, who are shown here with their Samuel Barlow motor Ian and butty Iona below Common Moor Lock 79 at Croxley Green. Ian was built in 1947 and Iona in 1944 at Barlows’ own yard at Braunston Wharf, and both are looking newly docked with hardly a scratch on their immaculate paintwork, which is particularly noticeable on the top bends at the bows. This is set off with gleaming white strings over the false cratch at the fore-end of their holds. Both boats passed to Michael Streat in October 1961 when Barlows creased carrying, and they initially continued with Barlows’ contracts, plus some subcontracting work for British Waterways to John Dickinson & Co’s Apsley and Croxley mills.

Julian Thompson

After leaving Batchworth Lock 81 and passing beneath Bridge 173, a pair of Wyvern Shipping Company boats head south with slack coal. The motor is Heather Bell, built by Nursers at Braunston Wharf in 1937 (NB Summer 2012) and bought by Wyvern in 1954. Its butty is likely to be either Duchess of Athol or Duchess of York, which came from carrier John Green of Macclesfield in 1953. Heather Bell was steered by Fred and Sarah Rice, and carried cargoes subcontracted from Samuel Barlow Coal Co, including coal to Wanders’ Ovaltine works at Kings Langley, Kearley & Tonge Ltd at Southall and the British Paper Co mill on the River Gade at Frogmore.

Julian Thompson

At Batchworth Lock a British Waterways pair makes its way uphill with a full load towards the Midlands. Although the image does not allow positive identification of the motor, other evidence shows it was the former Fellows, Morton & Clayton motor, Kestrel. It was built in 1928 by W.J. Yarwood & Sons, and is breasted-up with Crux, which was one of the former Star Class butties built by Harland & Wolff for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Co in 1935. This pair was captained by Joseph Fitchford in August 1953. Typical cargoes were grain for mills at Northampton and Wellingborough, and metals for Birmingham.

Julian Thompson

With Lock 81 negotiated, Bristol and Southam pass the bend around Hampton Hall Farm at Batchworth, seen on the right. What is particularly noticeable is the loaded weight carried aboard the motor, which, judging by the way it is stowed and clothed up, could be timber. The 1950s was the decade when leisure boating began to emerge, with a large variety of second-hand craft being converted for this purpose. On the right is a typical ship’s lifeboat conversion; such craft were fitted out either at established boatyards or as DIY projects by their new owners.

Julian Thompson

Heading northbound at Batchworth Lock in October 1956 is butty Southam and what is thought to be motor Bristol. Both were built for GUCCC in 1936; the motor by Harland & Wolff is a Town Class Large Woolwich craft, and Southam, by W.H. Walker & Brothers, is one of its wooden Large Ricky butties. Two interesting points are the different cargoes carried between motor and butty, and the group of gongoozling nuns who have stopped to watch the activity.

 

Julian Thompson

On a cold mid-winter day at Springwell Lock 83 near Rickmansworth, Arthur and Rose Bray are aboard Harvey-Taylor’s motor and butty pair, Roger & Daphne, running light uphill. They could be returning to their home base at Aylesbury or perhaps be heading north to the Warwickshire colliery district to reload. Harvey-Taylor was heavily involved in the grain traffic from Brentford to mills on the lower Grand Union, and also subcontracted for British Waterways’ coal deliveries. The Brays regularly carried coal from Newdigate and Baddesley collieries to John Dickinson & Co’s Apsley and Croxley paper mills about the date this image was taken in the mid-1950s. They also did backloading into the Birmingham area as they are recorded as visiting the city.

Julian Thompson

On a pleasant summer’s day in August 1955, motor Southern Cross tows one loaded and one empty butty below Cassiobury Park Lock 76. Locks 75 and 76 were known to the boaters as ‘Albert’s Two’. The working pair were steered by James Jackson and his family about this time with butty Andromeda, and he has certainly loaded Southern Cross almost to its limit with small coal. Both boats are Star Class Small Woolwich boats built for GUCCC in 1935. Typical cargoes carried included coal from Baddesley Colliery to the Aerated Bread Co Ltd at Camden Town on the Regent’s Canal, and various collieries to Dickinson’s paper mills at Apsley, Nash and Croxley. Granite roadstone was also carried from Griff Quarry on the Coventry Canal to West Drayton. Southern Cross can regularly be seen fully loaded on the Grand Union today making coal and diesel deliveries.

Julian Thompson

Summer boating in August 1955 with Town Class motor Whitby and butty Bayswater at ‘Albert’s Two’ locks, Watford. Whitby was built at W.J. Yarwood & Sons Ltd, Northwich, for the GUCCC as one of its Large Northwich craft, with Yarwoods’ distinctive riveted steel cabins. Bayswater was built by Harland & Wolff as one of its Large Woolwich butties. At this time, Harold Collins and his family steered these boats, mainly carrying coal to Dickinson’s paper mills, and sometimes roadstone from Griff quarry to West Drayton. Backloads included grain and timber from Brentford and steel and other metals from Regent’s Canal dock. Judging by the boy in swimming trunks on the extreme left, the boats have interrupted a swimming session.

Julian Thompson