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The Birmingham Canal Boat Registers

Working the Waterways: NarrowBoat, Autumn 2013

Christopher M Jones

Illustrated by photographs of Birmingham-registered boats, Chris M. Jones discovers how George Smith’s Canal Boats Act of 1877 was implemented

The story of George Smith of Coalville, the man behind the Canal Boats Act of 1877, has been told several times, but less has been written about how the Act was implemented. A study of the Birmingham Canal Boat Register throws much light on this neglected aspect of waterway history. Birmingham is at the southern end of the Birmingham Canal Navigations which mainly straddle the Black Country. Yet despite many thousands of boats working over them, there were only four boat registration authorities serving the whole network between 1878 and 1966: Birmingham, Brierley Hill, Wolverhampton and Oldbury. Birmingham is sometimes considered to be at the heart of the canal carrying trade, but in 1878 the Black Country was its centre. The boundary of the Black Country is undefined and still provokes debate today. Assuming that it encompasses the districts of Wolverhampton, Darlaston, Wednesbury, West Bromwich, Smethwick, Brierley Hill and Dudley, most of the main longdistance carrying firms of t…

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