Snowy by Berlie Doherty & Keith Bowen

Snowy is one of the most delightful children's books there is.  It is about Rachel who isn't allowed to take her canal boat horse into school when the teacher invites the children to take in their pets. As a result she gets teased by her classmates. That is, until they meet Snowy on a surprise school trip to the canal. That brings her the admiration of all her classmates. Maggie used to read it to her class when she was a primary school teacher and the kids loved it.

If you look at the illustrations carefully you can see that the story is set in Chester. I recognised  immediately, but I never for one moment considered the provenance of the story. However, last night I read again PJG Ransom's The Archeology of Canals. There on page 110 was a colour plate of a grey mare called Snowy at Chester. The horse was being prepared to tow a trip boat called The Chester Packet with a butty in the background on the far bank. The butty carries the name Betelgeuse as in the book. Berlie Doherty and Keith Bowen's book is therefore authentic in terms of canal operations. It appears during the summer Jim Marshall used Betelgeuse, pulled by Snowy, to carry passengers as The Chester Packet. The butty was converted for this role, with a small cabin extension, in the mid '70s.

A picture on the current owners web site shows Betelgeuse as The Chester Packet but the horse is not Snowy. Therefore, in homage to that great children's book here is a photograph from Ransom's book showing Snowy being prepared for work with Betelgeuse in the background. Doesn't Snowy look fine. Presumably this photo comes from the late 1970s (the book was published in 1979). The picture was by PJG Ransom. I wonder where Rachel is?

Snowy and butty Betelgeuse at Chester

Blog Pages

Following on from my redesign of the blog, I have recently been developing pages to give readers easy access to some features of Albert's blog. There are now dedicated pages covering the basics about Albert, the Ruston & Hornsby engine, Albert's boat builder, and a page cataloguing my waterways books that also links to some related posts.

Thames Diamond Jubilee Pagent

I see that today they announced the list of vessels (powered and unpowered) for the Queens Diamond Jubilee Pagent on the River Thames. The list includes forty narrowboats but not, as Andrew Denny recently revealed, Granny Buttons.

The Narrowboat list is strong on community boating groups as might be expected and it was good to see a local representative in the Mountbatten Crusader. It is operated by the St John Ambulance, Northamptonshire and normally moors up at Gayton Junction. She is regularly seen about our area but appears to be a bit wider than 7ft. But still, who's counting.

Mountbatten Crusader at Stoke Bruerne

Amongst the boats in the Narrowboat section is also Beatty representing Merseyside. I presume that it is the Grundy family boat that we have met on several occasions; at Bath (2003), Brinklow(2004) and Preston Brook (2009). She is a wonderful example of an early converted working boat (built by Yarwoods at Northwich in 1936). The Beatty website  gives lots of great details and photographs of the boat during her working days and subsequently as a family leisure boat; it's a delight to read.

Converted working boat Beatty and Albert at Brinklow in July 2004

It is also good to see a strong rowing contingent with crews from Putney Town Rowing Club, Twickenham Rowing Club, Leicester Rowing Club, and Weyfarers Rowing Club.

Finally,  the press release labels the leisure cruiser section "The Tupperware Navy" but narrowboats avoided the equivalent label of "ditch crawlers"! 

Boat Identified

In my earlier post about Stoke Bruerne in 1976, I wondered about the identity of the butty with David Blagrove's name on the cabin. Following a clue from Bob Westlake it appears that it is Elton which is now in the hands of the Wooden Canal Boat Society.

As it says on their site:

By 1968 even Willow Wren were unable to compete with lorries using the expanding motorway network. “Elton” was sold to David Blagrove, a teacher and diehard canal carrying enthusiast, who used her to carry coal for retailing from the boat.
It appears that Elton has been at Portland Basin on the Aston Canal for some time and has been used as floating storage for much of the societies equipment. She did however sink in November 2003 but was raised again.

Elton was built in 1936 by Walkers of Rickmansworth. Her history is on the WCBS web site.

Rowing in the 1960s

In the 1960s and 1970s I was involved in competitive rowing, firstly coxing as a young lad, mostly at Llandaff Rowing Club near Cardiff, and then rowing and sculling at Tiffin School in Kingston-upon-Thames, Stratford-upon-Avon Boat Club and then Loughbrough University.

I have very few pictures of these times except the odd newspaper cutting when we happened to win (rarely). However, a few days ago I came across two colour pictures taken in 1965. They both relate to events held on river navigations used by canal boats. The first is a shot of the Stratford coxed four which won at a few Midland regattas and eventually reached Junior-Senior status. I am seen rowing at my usual place in the bows. At two is Barry Burke, three is Boris Holdsworth and the stroke is Richard Lawrence. The cox is out of shot. The photograph was taken at Leicester Quarts, an autumn event held over the straight mile on the River Soar in the middle of Leicester. I remember that we didn't do too well that day. We are wearing tracksuit tops and are obviously making our way to the start.

Leicester Quarts Event, River Soar 1965 - Stratford Boat Club Crew

For reference, here is a picture of the same area when we passed that way forty years later on Albert. Our friend Edward Winter is steering and taking a phone call!

River Soar 2005 - NB Albert

The second image is of a joint Stratford and Evesham crew that in the same year (1965) entered the Boston Marathon. It's basically the same crew as above but Richard Lawrence has been replaced at stroke by a rower from Evesham whose name I can't recall. The Boston Marathon covers the 31 miles from Lincoln to Boston. This was not the only time I took part in this gruelling event. I took part again in the early 1970s when I rowed in a coxless four from Loughborough University. The picture below was labelled "only five miles to go". We had plenty of blisters on our hands and other places when we finished! You may just make out that there are fisherman lining the opposite bank. As we approached Boston I remember that our cox kept asking them how far it was to the end of the race. They gave very misleading answers!

Boston Marathon, 1965 - Stratford/Evesham coxed four

Albert and the Iron Trunk

I have just reached a significant birthday -  the one where I get my State Pension. Wishing to mark it with a memorable present Maggie arranged for a local artist Peter Bowtell, whom we have known for many years, to produce a watercolour of Albert crossing the Iron Trunk Aqueduct at Cosgrove.

We had seen similar watercolours by Peter of the Iron Trunk but wanted one of Albert. In order to feature the boat more, Peter selected a slightly tighter view than his other images.

I am really delighted with it and will treasure it!

Albert crossing the Iron Trunk from an original watercolour by Peter Bowtell

PS The aqueduct will reach its 201st birthday later in the month and is shortly to be repainted.

Stoke Bruerne 1976

We have lived in Northants for over 35 years so it's not surprising that some our photos of the canal are quite old. We occasionally used to visit local Grand Union locations, particularly with weekend visitors who came from elsewhere in the country.

Sorting through a load of old photos, regrettably not mounted in an album, I recently found these four images taken in early spring 1976. They are from Stoke Bruerne when it was much quieter than today - even in winter.

Stoke Bruerne Top Lock, 1976

This first photo shows Maggie in a trendy cape, with my mother Rose alongside her, watching a pair of narrowboats going up through the Top Lock. Unlike today, there are no extra railings on the lock beam, no wall to the left of the picture which tries to keep the public  away from the lock side and of course no new pedestrian bridge.

Regrettably someone has left a windlass on the paddle gear. It's in a very dangerous position should the latch slip! In those days, not being familiar with operating canal locks, we were oblivious of this. Once we became boat owners we quickly learnt how dangerous this is. On our very first trip we met a women sitting by a lock at Long Buckby waiting for the ambulance after she had been hit on the head by a windlass that had spun off the mechanism.

Stoke Bruerne Wharf, 1976

The second photo is looking across from the museum towards the boats moored opposite at the wharf where David Blagrove lives.  The working boat Seaford is Yarwoods Town Class built at Rickmansworth in 1936. She recently appeared in the BBC Four film "Golden Age of Canals". The home movie footage  in the BBC film relates to around the time this photo was taken when she was owned by Bob Derricott. He appears in the film with his colleagues Keith Christie and Tony Gregory who all operated as Midland Canal Transport. The boat on the inside of Seaford is obviously a butty, or horse boat, and it appears to carry the Blagrove name. This requires further investigation since I can't work out any identifying features.

Moorings at Stoke Bruerne, 1976

The third photo is a view of the moorings along from the museum showing a Springer moored up with the stove lit. As with one of the boats going through the Top Lock in the first photo, the solid front doors of this boat mimic the decoration of stern doors of working boat cabins and have the "mouses' ears" decoration. On the cabin roof is a nicely decorated water can. Weeds are growing by the edge of the towpath - not so nowadays.

Signwriting and Decoration on Linda

The last photo is of the sign writing on Linda. She used to operate as a trip boat in the Cosgrove and Stoke Bruerne area for many years, often taking parties of young people out for the day. She was latterly operated by Steve Miles (aka author Geoffrey Lewis). The decoration appears to be by Ron Hough. Linda didn't look so good in 2010!