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We Are Not All Rogues, Sir!

Working the Waterways: NarrowBoat, Spring 2020

Chris M. Jones explores the origins of boaters in the Canal Age and why they were often unfairly maligned by wider society

By the end of the Canal Age, boaters had a very bad reputation on the waters and beyond, resulting in decades of prejudice and misunderstanding. But what are the origins of this?

 Evidence shows that the first canal boaters originated from bargemen working on the main river navigations. Then, as new cuts connected to the rivers, they migrated from barges onto narrowboats and took advantage of the fresh opportunities they presented. But, in later decades, a new influx of canalworkers appeared to swell their ranks. These were mainly from the agricultural labouring class that formed the bulk of those living and working in the countryside. It seems this second wave came onto the cut for specific reasons and it’s important to understand why.From the country to the cut Agricultural labourers often started working between the ages of 12 and 15 when sons and daughters left the family home by prior arrangement to live with a farmer as their future employer. They received food, lodg…

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