40 Years on the Canal

Working the Waterways: NarrowBoat, Autumn 2009

John Pyper

John Pyper recalls conversations with Reg Fuller about working on the Grand Union Canal: repairing breaches, lock keeping, ice breaking, and making concrete piles

After a childhood on the East Coast, I served in the Royal Artillery as a groom, and went all over the country racing and show jumping. Then, while I was at Weedon Barracks, I met my wife, Dorothy, the daughter of William George Carter, who worked on the canal and lived in the cottage by the Watling Street Bridge at Stowe Hill. I left the army to get married, but I couldn’t find any work. My wife and I lived with her parents, and I even bicycled to Corby looking for a job. Then, in 1932, there was a burst in the canal at Dodford near the Watling Street Bridge, and I got a temporary job as a night watchman. A new concrete wall was built from a depth of 8–10ft behind shuttering and there was a stank round the burst, so a watchman had to be on duty to control the traffic. In those days Fellows & Morton ‘city boats’ worked through ‘fly’ at all hours. I had a flat with a stove in the cabin and had to turn out and show a red light to warn any approach…

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