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Annus Horribilis

Last Traffic: NarrowBoat, Spring 2021

Tom Chaplin

Tom Chaplin looks back to 1969, a year when narrowboat carrying suffered serious decline

Nineteen-sixty-nine was the year in which the gloomy predictions of the end of commercial traffic on narrow canals began to be realised. In January, there were still significant numbers of narrowboat fleets in the south. Willow Wren Canal Transport Services Ltd had 13 pairs; British Waterways four pairs, plus two pairs carrying concrete piles; Birmingham & Midland four pairs; Blue Line three pairs; while Leicester Canal Transport, Stroudwater Canal Carriers and Nicholas Hill had one pair each, making a total of 29 pairs. However, by the end of the year, only 11 pairs remained – a 62 per cent reduction. In the previous year, BW had assembled boats hired out to Willow Wren since 1963, some of which had fallen into disuse and been cannibalised while moored predominantly at Braunston. They were taken to the Wendover Arm in readiness for what became known as the ‘Wendover Sale’, at which buying preference was given to carriers. It was a depressing sight but it ultimat…

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