Narrowboat Banstead

Last May, when I wrote about the conversion of NB Lion, I published the photograph below taken by Maggie's Uncle, Ken Tremain, in about 1966. It shows the motor Banstead passing the Black Boy Inn near Knowle on the Grand Union. Banstead is a Harland & Wolff Large Woolwich (Town Class).

NB Banstead passing the Black Boy

It is interesting to note that NB Banstead is now up for sale on two web sites, Apollo Duck and boatsandoutboards. Banstead appears to be much refurbished and, from reading the advertisment, it appears it has a screen history as the motor boat in Harry H Corbett's film "The Bargee". I must get a copy of the film.

The photographs on her own web-site show her in good condition. I hope any new owner keeps her the same.

Steve Parkin

Tunnel Lights

We moor Albert just south of Blisworth Tunnel and often go through both Blisworth and Braunston Tunnels. As result we consider ourselves to be relatively experienced tunnel travellers. It was therefore interesting to see Andrew Denny's (Granny Buttons) recent photos of Preston Brook Tunnel because I've yet to take a decent photo anywhere in a tunnel, let alone one of an air-shaft.

I then got thinking about a subject that occasionally vexes me, that's tunnel lights. However, before I discuss them, I must repeat the old boating joke about tunnels. Sorry if you've heard it before.

What's the boater's definition of a pessimist? - someone who thinks the light at the end of the tunnel is a boat coming the other way.

So what about tunnel lights? There are numerous different lights used on canal boats from humble automotive fog lights to gleaming brass fire-engine searchlights. So just what is the ideal light?

When we started boating I remember discovering some BW advice that a tunnel light should mainly illuminate the arch of the tunnel to aid steering and definitely NOT shine down the tunnel and blind boaters travelling in the other direction. At that time our boat carried a Hella fog light fitted with a diffuse glass front lens, so I was happy.

After 12 years that advice still appears to me to be sound. After all boats only travel slowly through tunnels - steerers do not need to see hundreds of yards down the tunnel to avoid a boat coming in the other direction - it just doesn't help. However, appearances can be deceptive since some large searchlights are modified and use diffusers so they don't create problems and some small lights can produce narrow bright beams. It is the bright pencil thin beams that shine well down the tunnel that cause problems. They don't help the steerer of the boat on which they are mounted because they can't see the tunnel profile properly, and they definitely don't help those coming the other way!

So what sort of light does Albert have? Well it's not a searchlight but it is fairly large and is, of course, brass. According to Albert's the previous owner, the tunnel light was acquired as a pair by the owner of NB Oak who was friend and moored in the next berth at Bradford-on-Avon. He purchased a pair of Lucas headlights at a classic car auction, kept one himself and gave the other to Mike Hurd for use on Albert.

Albert's Tunnel Light

So what model are the lights and what vehicle were they mounted on?

From an old catalogue I found that the lamp(s) are Lucas R160S circa 1932. It is a “King of the Road” Bi-flex lamp. It was probably originally chromed and is missing its reflector retaining clips. Crucially, it has a new front glass – possibly similar to Lucas “Difusa” glass. As a result it produces a diffuse beam of light. The R160S model was superseded by the LBD165S which has the same dimensions. It was fitted to the following 1932 cars: Armstrong Siddeley 20 h.p., Humber 16/50, and Morris Oxford 6 cyl. “LA”.

Morris Oxford with Lucas Bi-flex Headlamps
(crossing a canal bridge?)

So does it matter where lights are mounted? Not in my view although it helps to avoid places where the crew can walk in front of the beam at crucial moments. The main thing is where they are pointed. Preferably not directly pointing at the roof of the tunnel or to the water (we've seen both of these). And certainly not moved around by the crew as we discovered last summer in Blisworth tunnel.

Happy tunnelling!

Steve Parkin

Brass Clocks

Almost all narrowboats appear to sport at least one brass clock (chronometer) and also a barometer. Albert is no exception. When we first became boat owners in 1996 we purchased a battery operated chronometer and an aneroid barometer and they are still doing us pround. We swapped them onto Albert when we sold our first boat. We weren't partcularly intending to get any more brass clocks for Albert, since we already had a decent replica brass clock in the galley, but just over a year ago an opportunity arose to get an unusual and authentic marine chronometer.

When I was working at the research institute at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, an unusual maritime chronometer was mounted on the wall of the laboratory. It appears that one of the former researchers was a keen sailor and he presented it to a collegue as a leaving present. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, it failed to work and when that collegue also left it looked like it was destined to remain on the wall until scrapped. I could't bear to see it go to waste so I contacted the last owner, who confirmed he didn't want clock and was happy to see it go to a "good home". I then set about getting it restored and researching its history.

It got it repaired by a member of the British Horological Institute (i.e. people who deal with real clocks) and mounted in the engine room of Albert. The dial indicated that it was a Smiths Astral. A web search indicated it was manufactured in the 1960s and is a Smiths model 6156 WRD. It is a workman-like choronometer with a fairly ordinary metal case. Evidently the Astral was once widely found on merchant vessels throughout the world with various different dial designs available depending on where on the vessel the clock was to be used. For example, in the captain's cabin or the saloon they generally used roman numerals and didn't have a second hand.

Smiths Astral WRD clock

So why the red segments on the dial just after quarter past and quarter to the hour? The clock has a WRD dial, which is the abbrevaition for "wireless room dial". The red segments indicate the period in each hour where radio silence should be observed so radio operators could listen out for emergency signals. Evidently, radio silence periods were introduced for radio telegraphs after the sinking of the Titanic and it appears that they continued until 1999.

There's not much call for radio silence on the Grand Union, or radio telephones come to that, but it makes useful addition to the engine room since it's an eight-day clock and does keep good time. The only negative is that it has a quite a loud tick and has occasionally kept us awake when we sleep in the nearby boatman's cabin.

Steve Parkin