Harry King & Chesham

Famous Fleets: NarrowBoat, Winter 2009

Christopher R. Jones

Christopher R. Jones investigates why his great-grandfather swapped narrow boats for wide – and then back again

To understand how these craft were used, there can be no better example than the wide boat Chesham, owned by Harry King, a boatman contractor who worked her over the lower GJC during the latter part of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Harry King previously owned a pair of narrowboats, mainly bringing up coal from the Warwickshire coalfields to works at Harefield and Copper Mill (Autumn 2008 NB). One question that needs to be answered is: why did Harry sell his pair of narrowboats to buy a wide boat? After all, the latter could never load coal in the Midlands, thereby restricting his commercial activities. The answer lies in the pattern of trade that prevailed at the time. The southbound coal traffic to the lower GJC was in serious decline in the late 1890s, and from Harry’s point of view it must have seemed quite logical to turn his back on this and concentrate on more localised work in the west London district. Therefore, working a single wide boat carrying these cargoes sho…

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