Chimney Chains

Canal Curios: NarrowBoat, Winter 2021

Ray Thorp provides an insight into traditional working boat decoration

Go to any historic boat show and you will see many ex-working boats decked out in their colourful liveries and beautiful painted decorations, often known as roses and castles, but also including playing card symbols, scrolls and other designs. The origins of this art form have long been catalogued and debated. Pre-steam and pre-combustion engine, the motive power of the narrowboat was horses, mules and donkeys. These had their own equipment and accessories collectively known as horse tack – ‘tack’ being short for tackle. Many horses were owned by a company for whom boat people worked. The Number Ones, however, owned their own horses, some possibly purchased from horse fairs and markets held at various places up and down the country. Here the boaters would meet Romani and other travellers. Often horses would be paraded with ornate decorations, including brasses, plume terrets and martingales. Some of these decorations inevitably found their way on to the canals. Bri…

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