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Descending Stoke Locks

Picturing the Past: NarrowBoat, Summer 2019

Another selection of images from the Jack Parkinson Collection reveals the carriage of pottery materials at Stoke-on-Trent

This view of the Trent & Mersey Canal at Stoke-onTrent is looking north-west under two railway bridges. The newly built bridge, closer to the camera, took a branch from the mainline across the canal to a large goods shed out of frame to the left. The boats have just left Cockshott, or Fenton’s, Lock 37, on the other side of the two bridges. In the distance on the left is a substantial gas-holder, which was part of a very large gas works complex.

The motor-boat Apple was originally built for Fellows, Morton & Clayton Ltd in 1931. The hull was constructed of copper-bearing steel by W.J. Yarwood & Sons Ltd at Northwich, with the cabin and engine room built at FMC’s own Saltley Dock. It was fitted with a 15hp Bolinder semi-diesel engine. All of FMC’s craft passed to the British Transport Commission in July 1949 and Apple became part of the British Waterways North Western Division Southern Carrying Fleet.

Apple’s butty was also built by Yarwoods but for the London, Midland & Scottish Railway Company as an open steel railway boat in 1938. It was used as a horse-drawn day-boat on the Birmingham Canal Navigations, transporting cargoes to the railway interchange basins, and was one of 12 railway boats sold off by British Railways London Midland Region to British Waterways after April 1954. It was docked at BW’s small boatyard at Stone where it had a new living cabin added in about July 1955 and was renamed Crewe.

The boatman’s wife has ducked down inside the cabin just as the picture was taken (other photos reveal this), with the coal and timber sidings of Stoke-on-Trent Station and the kilns of Winton Pottery visible in the distance. Both Apple and Crewe were registered at Northwich on 3rd October 1958 and worked together in the early 1960s under the command of Kenneth Nixon and his family.

One of the cargoes they carried was felspar, loaded at Weston Point Docks, and after they descended Stoke Bottom Lock 36 just a few yards further on, it was less than half a mile to their destination at the works of potters-millers and merchants W.J. Dolby Ltd, situated between the canal and Lytton Street. British Waterways gave up its North Western carrying fleet in October 1964 but the traffic was continued by Willow Wren Canal Transport Services leasing the boats from BW, including Apple and Crewe. The boats have the distinction of being involved in the last pottery traffic and some eight years after these images were taken Dolbys was wound up in 1969.