Ice-Breaking on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal

Traditional Techniques: NarrowBoat, Winter 2009

Mike Clarke

Mike Clarke looks at how one canal company dealt with a serious hindrance to trade in the bleak Pennine winters

Every canal company had its own individual identity and methods of operation. This included icebreaking, with many different designs of ice boat to be found around the country. The horse-drawn ones on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal were particularly unusual in that they were roughly triangular in cross section. Their keel was made from a long baulk of hard wood, with vertical side planks that were slightly barrel-shaped, finishing in a flat triangular transom at either end. The triangular shape may have made them easier to handle should they be pulled out of the water onto the ice. This was not that uncommon as the bow of the boat was ballasted to be out of the water, the weight of the keel, together with rocking, then breaking the ice. The wood was covered in thin iron plate to protect it from the sharp edges of the ice which could easily remove the oakum from a horizontal seam or even cut through the wood. The L&L had a large number of horse-drawn ice boats, and these were oft…

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