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Alexander John Harmsworth & Sons

Famous Fleets: NarrowBoat, Spring 2020

Christopher M Jones

Chris M. Jones studies the canal-carrying history of a private carrier and canal-owner in the South East

It is not unusual for a canal company to take on the responsibility of maintaining and encouraging traffic by operating its own carrying fleet. The Leeds & Liverpool, Shropshire Union and Grand Junction canals were prime examples. However, it was quite rare for an independent carrier to eventually buy the canal it traded on to stay in business. Alexander John Harmsworth was one such man. Born in 1869 at Brookwood, the oldest son of George and Rose Harmsworth, George worked as a canal carpenter at Ash, near Farnham, on the Basingstoke Canal, and later as a boat-builder. In time, Alexander started as a canal bargeman, eventually becoming a registered lighterman at the Port of London, then later a Freeman of the River Thames. He lived on a boat until he married Susan Sandom on 1st December 1890, when they moved to a wooden and corrugated-iron-roofed boathouse at Ash Vale; his former residence was sold to the canal company for use as a maintenance craft. In the evenings he built some…

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