Twilight of Horse-boating on the BCN

Last Traffic: NarrowBoat, Spring 2021

Andy Tidy

Andy Tidy narrates photos showing the last horse-boat operation on the West Midlands waterways in the 1970s

While old photos of industrial canals can be very seductive, few are as atmospheric as those featuring horse-drawn commercial boats. Canal transport was built around the towing capabilities of horses and even today the worn bridge guards stand in silent tribute to the thousands of beasts that quite literally dragged our nation into the modern era. The BCN was unquestionably the centre of the UK’s canal network and, even after the majority of freight was transferred to rail, water transport endured with millions of tons being carried right up to the end of the 1950s. During the first half of the 20th century this traffic was mainly propelled by diesel motor-boats, but here and there horse-boating continued until the mid 1970s. The last working boat-horse is believed to be Alan ‘Caggy’ Steven’s Mac, an ex-Birmingham Corporation beast that patiently plodded his way around the BCN, moving waste from canalside factories to local tips. Sadly, Mac died in November 19…

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