Wide Boats of the Grand Junction Canal

Famous Fleets: NarrowBoat, Winter 2009

Christopher M Jones

Chris M. Jones and Chris R. Jones investigate the unusual ‘wide-beam narrowboats’ that operated on the southern section of the Grand Union Canal

Wide boats were essentially an intermediate craft between narrowboats and barges. With a typical width of 9–13ft, and rounded lines, they appear quite curious to those used to narrowboats; indeed they look as if a narrowboat has been stretched sideways with a consequent distortion of its shape and dimensions.Origins Early images of wide boats appear to be non-existent, but there is a number of engravings of an extinct type of wide-beam vessel dating from the 1820s to 1840s, which may be a possible link to the origin of wide boats. These craft may be an early type of Kennet barge, but are quite distinct from Thames barges, and some have lines similar to narrowboats. Engravings show they were commonplace on the Medway and along the Thames, Kennet & Avon Canal and the Bristol Avon. They appear to be a hybrid craft with elements of both barges and narrowboats and, interestingly, Dutch barges too. This shows there was a degree of cross-over in design and boat-building techniques…

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