T&S Element

Famous Fleets: NarrowBoat, Spring 2014

Alan Faulkner

Alan Faulkner looks at a fleet of narrowboats that operated mainly around Birmingham and the Black Country but also travelled further afield

<p>Elements&rsquo; letter heading from 1950 showing (upper sketch) Salford Bridge Wharf, the company&rsquo;s headquarters at this time.</p>Credit: Alan Faulkner Collection

Elements’ letter heading from 1950 showing (upper sketch) Salford Bridge Wharf, the company’s headquarters at this time.

Alan Faulkner Collection

At the end of the 1890s two brothers, Thomas and Samuel Element, entered into a canal carrying partnership. Thomas, born in 1881, was the second son of George and Jane Element; Samuel, born in 1889, was their fourth son. George was based at Oldbury where he was actively involved in carrying and operated a small number of craft on the canal. It seems certain that he helped his young sons in setting up the new partnership. George remained in business well into the 1920s; the Birmingham Canal registers record what was probably a new boat with fleet number 26,appropriately named George, being weighed for him in August 1914.

At first, most of the new partnership’s boats were acquired second-hand, but in March 1899 Speedwell, with fleet number 2, was gauged for them, suggesting it could have been a new boat. The brothers traded as general carriers and were initially based at Springfields, Rowley Regis, handling roadstone quarried close by, destined for local authorities, and coal for nearby factories and coal merchants. After a few years, the business moved to Halesowen Street, Oldbury, taking over Matthews’ boat dockIt then undertook some of the building and repair of boats for both George and the partnership. In 1920 a branch of the business was established at St Clement Road, Nechells, not far from the Birmingham & Warwick Junction Canal. Thomas and his wife Anne Elizabeth went to live there leaving Samuel, who had married Adelaide Baker in November 1909, back at Halesowen Street.

<p><em>Princess Anne</em> near the Bumblehole Branch at the southern end of the Netherton Tunnel in July 1955.</p>Credit: Jack Parkinson.

Princess Anne near the Bumblehole Branch at the southern end of the Netherton Tunnel in July 1955.

Jack Parkinson.

With this move the business started to grow rapidly. In the absence of the company’s records it is difficult to give precise details; most of the company’s boats operated as day boats, with at best minimal cabin accommodation, and thus were not required to be inspected and registered with the public health authorities. Hence tracing the growth largely depends on the records contained in the gauging books maintained for the Birmingham Canal Navigations.

These reveal that a series of new boats was built in the first half of 1920, possibly at the Oldbury dock. They included the attractively named trio – Mayflower, Sunflower and Wallflower – and a series of others, most being named after members of the families. As early as 1912 there had been a Stanley & Tommy and an Elsie & Daisy.

The BCN registers sometimes record not just the boat’s name but also the fleet number and this can be a considerable help in plotting the growth of the fleet. For instance in December 1921 Daisy and Walter were recorded with the fleet numbers 42 and 43; Jack and James came in 1922 with fleet numbers 57 and 58, and Diamond and Sapphire with fleet numbers 81 and 82 in the same year, indicating a major and rapid increase. It would seem that several other boatyards were involved in this building programme – for instance Worsey Ltd is known to have built both Hilda and Walter, and probably several of the others, at its Toll End yard, whilst James Yates of Pelsall built several including Jack in the autumn of 1922.

Boats were also purchased from other carriers. In July 1920 Surrey came from Fellows, Morton & Clayton for £120, and was later renamed Frederick. Years later in 1941 Ada (renamed Ivy) and Orion followed from the same source. In 1927 a series of boats came from a small fleet operated by Walter Element & Sons of Tipton. Walter was Thomas and Samuel’s elder brother who traded not only as a carrier but also as a public works and paving contractor based at Newhall Street, Birmingham, until his death in July 1927. Walter had named his first boat after himself in 1922 and it went on to become Charles in the partnership’s fleet. Walter’s fleet comprised a dozen boats, all of which were built in 1922 by Worseysat Toll End. It would appear that the boatyard not only built but financed most of these boats and some may just have been hired to Walter. Another acquisition in 1927 came when eight open boats were purchased from George Adams & Sons Ltd of Mars Ironworks, Wolverhampton.

With the growth in the business it was decided to incorporate it to become T&S Element Ltd; this coincided with the establishment of a major depot and head office at Salford Bridge, opposite the junction of the Birmingham & Warwick Junction Canal and the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal.

Further acquisitions followed over the years. A series of open boats, mostly only identified by a fleet number, came from the chemical manufacturers Chance & Hunt of Oldbury, and a similar number came from Chance Brothers & Co, based at its Spon Lane glassworks. Another batch came from Guest Keen & Nettlefolds based at Cape Arm, Smethwick. In most of these cases the transfer of the boats was tied in with Elements taking on carrying contracts for the businesses. At least four boats came from the Rowley Regis Granite Quarries, with Elements taking on the traffic. In 1942, two cabin boats were acquired from Charles Nelson & Co of Stockton which was disbanding its fleet; they became Dolly and Thelma.

<p>T&amp;S Element&rsquo;s <em>Mayflower</em> descends Bratch locks on the Staffordshire &amp; Worcestershire Canal in 1948 en route to Stourport power station.</p>Credit: Waterways Archive

T&S Element’s Mayflower descends Bratch locks on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal in 1948 en route to Stourport power station.

Waterways Archive

<p>An Elements boat loaded with coal waits to be moved from Wyrley Colliery Basin before taking its load to one of the many factories that were sited beside the Birmingham Canal Navigations.</p>Credit: Waterways Archive/Arthur Watts Collection

An Elements boat loaded with coal waits to be moved from Wyrley Colliery Basin before taking its load to one of the many factories that were sited beside the Birmingham Canal Navigations.

Waterways Archive/Arthur Watts Collection

<p>T&amp;S Element&rsquo;s horse boat <em>Queen Mary</em> with boatmen Tom Platt (Senior &amp; Junior) in August 1954 approaching Bridge 77 on the Coventry Canal near Fazeley Junction. The boat is loaded with coal from Pooley Hall Colliery and is about to turn left into the Birmingham &amp; Fazeley Canal en route to the General Electric Company&rsquo;s factory at Witton. This and the following four photographs of <em>Queen Mary</em> were taken by Arthur Watts, who went to some length to capture the working techniques of horse boating.</p>Credit: Waterways Archive/Arthur Watts Collection

T&S Element’s horse boat Queen Mary with boatmen Tom Platt (Senior & Junior) in August 1954 approaching Bridge 77 on the Coventry Canal near Fazeley Junction. The boat is loaded with coal from Pooley Hall Colliery and is about to turn left into the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal en route to the General Electric Company’s factory at Witton. This and the following four photographs of Queen Mary were taken by Arthur Watts, who went to some length to capture the working techniques of horse boating.

Waterways Archive/Arthur Watts Collection

Coal made up the most important single commodity handled by the company. Most of the local collieries were canal connected and the coal was delivered to a large number of canalside factories, works and wharves throughout the BCN. Distribution was further extended by horses and carts making local deliveries, and from the early 1930s by a growing fleet of lorries.

Elements also operated a regular service from collieries on the northern Coventry Canal into Birmingham and especially from Pooley Hall near Polesworth. These boats were mainly horse drawn and took the coal along the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal. One of the most important destinations was the large factory owned by the General Electric Co at Witton that was situated a short distance up the Tame Valley Canal from Salford Junction. Some figures have survived, recording the tonnages carried – for instance 811 tons were delivered in May 1928, the trip from Polesworth involving 18 miles of canal and 16 locks.

Another important traffic was the collection and disposal of rubbish. Again some figures have survived – in May 1928, 219 tons were handled; this had risen to 866 tons in September 1934 and to 1,074 tons in September 1937. Most of this traffic ended up at a tip in Perry Barr.

Blast furnace slag was another significant traffic – 105 tons were handled in May 1928. In September 1913 Elements had been one of the last users of the 3,795-yard Lapal Tunnel on the Dudley No 2 Canal when 16 of its boats carried slag from Hawne Basin to Selly Oak on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal for road making. The tunnel was closed in 1917 due to its deteriorating condition. In December 1922 slag was being taken down the Warwick canals and onto the Oxford Canal to Hall’s Wharf at Fenny Compton, again for road making. There was intense railway competition for this traffic but it was still running 12 months later and perhaps for longer.

What proved to be a one-off traffic involved 19 trips between February and September 1931 taking steel tubes from Stanton Ironworks on the Erewash Canal to Perry Barr. Always on the search for new traffics, in 1923 Elements applied to the Coventry Canal Company for toll rates from various collieries to Banbury and, in 1929, on sand from Fazeley to Nuneaton. Elements then started taking loads of coal via Hawkesbury down to Banbury Power Station.

<p><em>Queen Mary </em>being manoeuvred from the Coventry Canal round into the Birmingham &amp; Fazeley Canal. Thomas Platt Jnr is in charge of the horse whilst his father was steering the boat.</p>Credit: Waterways Archive/Arthur Watts Collection

Queen Mary being manoeuvred from the Coventry Canal round into the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal. Thomas Platt Jnr is in charge of the horse whilst his father was steering the boat.

Waterways Archive/Arthur Watts Collection

<p><em>Queen Mary </em>sets off along the first stretch of the Birmingham &amp; Fazeley Canal en route to the GEC factory at Witton with her load of coal in August 1954.</p>Credit: Waterways Archive/Arthur Watts Collection

Queen Mary sets off along the first stretch of the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal en route to the GEC factory at Witton with her load of coal in August 1954.

Waterways Archive/Arthur Watts Collection

<p>The horse walks unattended whilst towing Elements&rsquo; <em>Queen Mary</em> a mile above the Curdworth Locks en route for Witton. Arthur Watts has positioned himself on the offside bank to try to capture both horse and boat in the same shot. Note the horse is &lsquo;backering&rsquo;, ie walking along on its own whilst the Plants are both on the boat.</p>Credit: Waterways Archive/Arthur Watts Collection

The horse walks unattended whilst towing Elements’ Queen Mary a mile above the Curdworth Locks en route for Witton. Arthur Watts has positioned himself on the offside bank to try to capture both horse and boat in the same shot. Note the horse is ‘backering’, ie walking along on its own whilst the Plants are both on the boat.

Waterways Archive/Arthur Watts Collection

In April 1926 the grandly named Shropshire Worcestershire & Staffordshire Electric Power Company, which had operated an important generating station beside the canal at Downing Street, Smethwick, since 1908, opened a new power station on the River Severn at Stourport, close to the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal. At Smethwick the company had initially relied on contractors to deliver the coal it needed, but in 1916 it started to acquire its own boats including six from the Severn & Canal Carrying Co, a similar number from Albright & Wilson of Oldbury and at least four from Thomas Element of Springfield, Rowley Regis. In 1924 and in anticipation of the Stourport power station opening, a series of new boats was acquired bearing appropriate names such as Electric, Wattic, Turbic and Ampic.

From the very beginning, Elements were involved in carrying some of the coal needed by the new power station, and its role increased as the years went by, ending up as the main contractor and taking over some of the power company’s boats. A series of six collieries, all linked to the Staffs & Worcs Canal, were involved in providing the fuel:

• Cannock & Rugeley Colliery at Hednesford Basin on the Cannock Extension Canal;

• Cannock & Leacroft Colliery at Rumer Hill Junction via Churchbridge Locks;

• Great Wyrley Colliery at Walk Mill Basin, on the Hatherton Branch;

• Cannock Old Coppice Colliery at Hawkins Basin, also on the Hatherton Branch;

• Littleton Colliery at Otherton Basin on the S&W main line north of the Hatherton Branch;

• Baggeridge Colliery at Ashwood Basin on the S&W main line north of Stourton Junction.

Latterly collections were confined to the Hawkins, Otherton and Ashwood basins. These were horse-drawn runs: Hawkins Basin, 3 miles up the Hatherton Branch, involved a journey of 34 miles and 37 locks to Stourport; Otherton involved 35 miles and 33 locks; and Ashwood was 15 miles and only 13 locks, making it easily the shortest. The boats could handle up to 38 tons with just one man in charge.

The length of the runs, and hence the time taken, meant that it was not possible to complete the journey in one day. A favourite overnight stopping place was at Stewponey which had good public transport links to and from Oldbury where many of the men lived. Whilst these boats were essentially day boats with minimal cabin accommodation, the boatmen often used to sleep aboard, rather than journeying home and returning the following morning. Technically this infringed the Canal Boats Act which dictated that all boats providing living accommodation had to be registered and inspected by the local health authority.

<p>Probably taken from the same vantage point after horse and boat have passed, <em>Queen Mary</em> continues her peaceful journey to Witton whilst Tom Plant Jnr has nipped into the cabin, probably to brew up.</p>Credit: Waterways Archive/Arthur Watts Collection

Probably taken from the same vantage point after horse and boat have passed, Queen Mary continues her peaceful journey to Witton whilst Tom Plant Jnr has nipped into the cabin, probably to brew up.

Waterways Archive/Arthur Watts Collection

<p>Edward Paget-Tomlinson&rsquo;s re-creation of the livery of some of T&amp;S Element&rsquo;s boats, originally drawn for his &lsquo;Colours of the Cut&rsquo; series in <em>Waterways World</em>, shows predominantly red panels with green lining and yellow or white lettering. The wooden motor boat <em>Mayflower</em> worked mainly on the Stourport coal traffic until this finished in 1949. She was built in 1935 by Walker Brothers, Rickmansworth, as <em>Fornax</em> for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Co and was sold to Elements in 1945 after being damaged by fire.</p>Credit: Edward Paget-Tomlinson

Edward Paget-Tomlinson’s re-creation of the livery of some of T&S Element’s boats, originally drawn for his ‘Colours of the Cut’ series in Waterways World, shows predominantly red panels with green lining and yellow or white lettering. The wooden motor boat Mayflower worked mainly on the Stourport coal traffic until this finished in 1949. She was built in 1935 by Walker Brothers, Rickmansworth, as Fornax for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Co and was sold to Elements in 1945 after being damaged by fire.

Edward Paget-Tomlinson

<p>The day boat <em>Sapphire</em> was typical of the large number of such craft in the fleet and was built at Yates Brothers at Norton Canes in 1954. She was one of the last craft to enter service and operated until 1977.</p>Credit: Edward Paget-Tomlinson

The day boat Sapphire was typical of the large number of such craft in the fleet and was built at Yates Brothers at Norton Canes in 1954. She was one of the last craft to enter service and operated until 1977.

Edward Paget-Tomlinson

<p>The shortened tug <em>Princess Anne </em>began life as the iron composite motor boat <em>Plato</em> in the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company&rsquo;s fleet. Built in 1935 by Harland &amp; Wolff at Woolwich, she was sold to E. Probert &amp; Sons of Millfield before passing to Elements in 1948.</p>Credit: Edward Paget-Tomlinson

The shortened tug Princess Anne began life as the iron composite motor boat Plato in the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company’s fleet. Built in 1935 by Harland & Wolff at Woolwich, she was sold to E. Probert & Sons of Millfield before passing to Elements in 1948.

Edward Paget-Tomlinson

Early in the 1940s Elements started introducing motor boats into its fleet and especially onto the Stourport run. Several boats came from the Grand Union Canal Carrying Co which had a considerable number of relatively new craft that were surplus to its requirements. The first was Praesepe acquired in April 1941 for £650 and renamed May Queen. Umbriel followed in September 1941 at £660 and was renamed Duke of York, whilst Fornax came in November 1945without an engine for £300 and was renamed Mayflower. Meanwhile two new motors were built by Fellows, Morton & Clayton at its Saltley dock – the first arrived in September 1941 and was named King George; Princess Elizabeth followed in March 1942.

Towards the end of the 1940s Elements acquired the business of the Talbot Garage Co of Kidderminster which had also been involved in the Stourport coal traffic. This brought in the former GUCCC motors Antares and Delphinus, the latter being renamed Prince Charles, together with Ben and Cork. Ben had been built in 1941 by Harris Brothers of Bumblehole, Dudley, whilst Cork had come from the Severn Carrying Co in 1941. In 1945 Elements also hadthe motor Margaret but the boat was scrapped in 1949. More successful was Tudor Rose, a tug that arrived in 1947, whilst in 1948 Princess Anne (ex GUCCC Plato) was acquired from E. Probert & Sons of Millfields. It was Antares, mistakenly renamed Antries for the event, and Elements’ horse boat Ivy that represented the inland waterways carrying industry at the Festival of Britain exhibition on the South Bank of the River Thames in London in 1951.

The tonnages involved on the Stourport traffic were substantial but gradually declined over the years due to competition from other forms of transport. In 1948 55,000 tons of coal were delivered by water and it was by far the largest traffic on the canal. It came to a sudden end in June 1949 when a railway siding was opened into the power station and the canal contract was cancelled. This led to strong protests led by the Inland Waterways Association as over 50 boats were operating on the contract, mostly from Otherton Basin, and over half were owned by Elements. Matters were not helped by the National Coal Board imposing a 10p per ton surcharge on all canal-borne coal as it was said that more handling was required at the collieries as compared to railway wagons. This made the canal traffic uneconomic. The protests led to the surcharge being reduced but not sufficiently for the traffic to be regained.

<p>Elements&rsquo; motor boat <em>Ben</em> and open boat <em>William</em> unloading coal below Granville Street Bridge (88) near Worcester Bar, on the Worcester &amp; Birmingham Canal at Whitsun 1961.</p>Credit: Waterways Archive/Arthur Watts Collection

Elements’ motor boat Ben and open boat William unloading coal below Granville Street Bridge (88) near Worcester Bar, on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal at Whitsun 1961.

Waterways Archive/Arthur Watts Collection

Despite some traffics operating well away from Birmingham, the BCN always remained Elements’ main sphere of operations. A letter heading dated 3rd October 1950 describes the company as ‘Transport Contractors by Road & Canal, Granite, Gravel, Sand & Slag Quarry Owners and Builders Merchants’, the last being in larger type. Its main office remained at Salford Bridge Wharf, Erdington, Birmingham 23, and it had branches at: Halesowen Street, Oldbury; Newton Road, Birmingham; Hamstead Gravel Quarry and Leamington, near Gravelly Hill, Birmingham.

At the time, the road transport side was growing strongly, but an important part of the trade was still handled by canal although it was declining. This was even more so after April 1957 when the coal traffic from Polesworth finished due to the National Coal Board reallocating supplies. That to GEC at Witton was first switched to the Walsall Wood Colliery on the Daw End Branch but later it was transferred to Holly Bank Colliery on the Wyrley & Essington Canal (Spring 2013 NB).

Elements continued to serve GEC until 1967. Another customer formerly served from Polesworth was the Birmingham Science Museum situated half way up the Farmers Bridge flight of locks. Its coal was now delivered by rail to Saltley Sidings on the Birmingham & Warwick Junction Canal where it was transhipped into Elements’ boats for final delivery. The Wilmot Breeden works at Tyseley was now supplied in the same way, although Elements had delivered the coal direct from Hednesford Basin on the Cannock Extension Canal until July 1961 when the basin closed.

The downward trend continued. For instance in the early 1960s the contract to supply coal to Davenports Brewery on the Worcester & Birmingham Canal near Gas Street Basin was lost, as was that to the Chance Brothers’ glass works at Smethwick. Other customers once served included Baxters (Bolts, Screws & Rivets) Ltd and Bellis & Morcom Ltd, both at Ladywood on the New Main Line, the latter ending in 1967, and British Industrial Plastics at Spon Lane just off the Titford Canal. In 1958 the carriage of phosphorus waste liquor from Albright & Wilson Ltd on the Chemical Arm at Oldbury to a waste dump at Tipton was lost to another contractor.

<p>In 1961, <em>Comet</em> is tied up outside a factory and is gradually being filled up with rubbish. When full, the boat will be towed away to the tip with another boat taking her place at the factory. Latterly this was a typical role for Elements&rsquo; boats.</p>Credit: Waterways Archive/Arthur Watts Collection

In 1961, Comet is tied up outside a factory and is gradually being filled up with rubbish. When full, the boat will be towed away to the tip with another boat taking her place at the factory. Latterly this was a typical role for Elements’ boats.

Waterways Archive/Arthur Watts Collection

<p>The motor boat <em>Princess Anne</em> with three empty boats approaching the toll office at Netherton Tunnel in July 1955. The picture was taken from the aqueduct taking the Old Main Line over the Netherton Branch.</p>Credit: Jack Parkinson

The motor boat Princess Anne with three empty boats approaching the toll office at Netherton Tunnel in July 1955. The picture was taken from the aqueduct taking the Old Main Line over the Netherton Branch.

Jack Parkinson

This all reflected in the number of boats in service, which was now declining steadily. At its peak it is believed Elements operated 200 craft, albeit some of these may have been hired. The last boat to be gauged for the company was Comet in December 1956. By the early 1970s the fleet numbered just half a dozen boats, all engaged on factory rubbish contracts, often with the boat being tied up at the factory’s wharf for some time and as acting as a floating dustbin. Eventually even this came to an end, the Salford Bridge base was closed and Elements became solely a road haulage contractor based back at Oldbury.

Acknowledgements

I am grateful to Ray Shill for his research work into the Element family and to Tom Foxon who, with his boat New Hope, worked for Elements in the mid 1950s and who recorded his experiences in his book Number One.

<p>The horse boat <em>Thomas Raymond,</em> a mile above Curdworth Locks on the Birmingham &amp; Fazeley Canal, is heading back to Pooley Hall Colliery on the Coventry Canal for another load of coal. For many years this was one of Elements&rsquo; regular runs. Again, the horse is &lsquo;backering&rsquo;.</p>Credit: Jack Parkinson

The horse boat Thomas Raymond, a mile above Curdworth Locks on the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, is heading back to Pooley Hall Colliery on the Coventry Canal for another load of coal. For many years this was one of Elements’ regular runs. Again, the horse is ‘backering’.

Jack Parkinson

<p>Elements&rsquo; <em>Jerry</em> and <em>Joyce</em> in a different role, being used to form a large working platform under a canal bridge that was undergoing repair.</p>Credit: Alan Faulkner Collection

Elements’ Jerry and Joyce in a different role, being used to form a large working platform under a canal bridge that was undergoing repair.

Alan Faulkner Collection

Fleet list for T&S Element

NB: In this table 'Registration Number' refers to the BCN gauging number and 'Registration Date' to the date of gauging

Also, this list covers only those boats that had names, omitting a series that carried only a fleet number

 

NOTES

 
FMC – Fellows, Morton & Clayton Ltd, Birmingham
GKN – Guest Keen & Nettlefolds Ltd, Cape Arm, Birmingham
SWS – Staffordshire Shropshire & Worcestershire Electric Power Co, Smethwick
 
‘New’ indicates new to the Birmingham Canal Navigations’ gauging register. Most of these were genuinely newly built boats, but a few will have come from other carriers
 
‘Cut Up’ – generally these dates which are shown in the registers are indicative and not 100% accurate.