Monthly Archives: September 2013

Fitout 41

We’re starting to sort out all those little edges and trims that finish things off (see below). There are still quite a few big jobs to do – particularly the bathroom floor tiling, but we had an annoying leak in the shower waste where the 40mm pipe connected down to a smaller pipe to go into the grey water tank, and we didn’t want to tile over the gap we were using to suck out the excess water until it was fixed. Now we’re on Version 3 and it all seems dry down there, fingers crossed it is fixed! We have access to most of the plumbing as it is at the bottom of the spare cassette cupboard which has a removeable floor, but we are also building a last resort panel into the floor so that if needed only a few tiles need to come up should drastic measures need to be taken.

A few photos of what we’ve been up to:-

Scraping out, filling and painting the rotten end of the wooden deckbeam.

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A temporary fix really – it needs the entirety of that end replacing eventually – a summer job.

Cutting, staining and varnishing things:

The trim around the bottom of the entrance step, made from that 50p ash stripwood we got at Shackerstone. (We’ve got a similar one around the hearth.)

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And a shelf above the coat rail for gloves, hats and scarves. Need to find some boxes to fit up there.

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Categories: Fitout | 3 Comments

Willow’s History: Idle Women in the North

I wrote before that we didn’t think that Willow had been one of the boats which had been trialled with FMC in the north. But I was wrong. There were gaps in the Health Inspection records, which I put down to it being in wartime and such things being lower priority. However, it turns out that during the war, Willow had some very interesting adventures up north, as part of a trial arrangement with Fellows Morton & Clayton (not, as we said before, a loan).

Yesterday we were sent this photo by Mike Constable, which he had taken (with permission) of a photo in the scrapbooks of a woman called Molly Traill.  It was marked as having been taken in 1943, so it’s the oldest photo of our boat we’ve found yet!


Molly pushed for the wartime scheme to train women to work narrow boats, carrying essential cargo whilst the men were away fighting. She and Eily “Kit” Gayford trained the new recruits, who were nicknamed the “Idle Women” after the I.W. (Inland Waterways) armbands they wore.

The trainees mainly worked on the Grand Union canal but later on the scheme was extended to northern canals, and this photo was taken on the Shropshire Union Canal near Chester. The two boats are Ash and Willow, on a trial arrangement with FMC to borrow pairs of “Tree Class” Severners to be worked by the women as double motor pairs, a curiosity in itself (although these Severner motors were known to work in pairs, as S&CCCo had in 1942 disposed of many of their wooden butties).

We don’t know who the women in the photograph are yet, although Mike is working on finding out more. We are sure that the notes he took are correct and that the boat behind Ash is definitely Willow, because you can see the end of the W on the cabin, and also because Willow has a very large dent in the cant  which is evident in this photo!

So which other boats went north during the war? Our source who has been looking at the Health Inspection records for us has identified a few gaps: In 1942 Ash and Pine are missing, in 1943 Elm, Fir and Willow are missing, in 1944 Ash and Elm are missing and in 1945 Ash, Beech and Pine were missing. It may be that these were the boats which went to work for FMC, or it may be that the Gloucester Inspector simply did not inspect them. But the dates of Willow’s gaps in the register tie up with the date on the photo.

We’re tremendously excited by this, not only because it is always amazing to find photos of your boat’s past, but also because Willow was part of the “Idle Women” story, and it’s a fascinating one. We have such admiration for these women who mostly came from middle class backgrounds and had a hard time being accepted by the working boatmen and women, but worked hard and were eventually respected for what they did. Several books have been written by the trainees who worked on the Grand Union, bad sadly none of the northern girls have written memoirs. None the less, we are sure there is more to be found out about these girls and the Severners’ involvement. It also means that if we ever get Willow to Stoke Bruerne for the Village at War weekend, I know exactly what my costume will be!

Some of the “Idle Women” Photo: Canals and Rivers Trust archive

Categories: History | 3 Comments

Willow Carrying Again

OK, so, it was only a ton of coal, and we only got paid in tea and biscuits, but still!

At the weekend we received our winter’s coal as well as a lot of bags for other boaters who were away. It was easier to deliver most of them by truck, as the coal merchant was able to drive along the Common, but for a couple who aren’t on the Common, we loaded 40 bags into WiIlow’s well-deck and delivered them by boat! It was hard work but we enjoyed it. A friend was passing on the bridge and took a photo as we unloaded. (Thanks, Will!)

Willow didn’t even notice the extra load, having been built to carry 33 tons when it was built!


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Photo: Will C

Categories: Daily Life | 1 Comment

Willow’s History: “Six New Motor Canal Boats”

Yesterday I received a very exciting email, from a chap who works at the Gloucester Waterways Museum. It contained copies of an article from Motor Boat magazine in January 1935, hailing Willow and the other Severners as modern, innovative boats, and containing some general arrangement drawings. They’re not brilliant quality but we’ll be able to see the originals at the museum. It seems that these drawings were used by Warwickshire Fly when they restored Oak in the 1990s.

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An extract:

“All eight boats are of the same type, being 72ft in length and with a maximum beam of 7ft. The limiting dimensions do not allow much scope in design. The Introduction of electric welding, however, has permitted the construction of a hull of exceptional cubic capacity, with the result that these boats carry 30 tons of cargo on a loaded draught of 3ft 6ins and 33 tons on a draught of 3ft 9ins. This is a distinct improvement on the old type of wooden boat, which was only able to carry about 25 tons on a smaller draught. The sides and superstructure, also the frames and knees are made of Hingley’s “Netherton” iron, known for its non-corrosive qualities and long life.

Attention has been given to the living accommodation for the crew, having in mind that frequently the captain has his wife and at least one child aboard with him. the cabin is 6ft high thus enabling an average adult to stand upright with ease. It is well ventilated with opening portholes, and cowl and mushroom ventilators. A departure from the orthodox design has been made by placing the engine room aft  instead of at the fore-end of the cabin, as in earlier types of boat. Upright fuel tanks are also abolished. The service tanks are under the engine room floor, with the main tank in the counter forming the skin of the boat. Water ballast tanks, to facilitate working under light draught, are under the cabin floor. […] They were designed by the company’s transport department and are being built by Charles Hill at the Albion Shipyard in Bristol”


We hope that we’ll be able to find even more detailed drawings in the County Archives, but these are still very interesting, as is the magazine’s description of the boats’ innovations. The bit about ventilation disagrees entirely with contemporary accounts of living in these cabins. as they were found to be very stuff and difficult to keep ventilated. We didn’t know that they had opening portholes, so we’ll try to get some installed to replace the deadlights the boat currently has in the cabin.

Categories: History | 2 Comments

Willow’s History: Not a Josher

A bit of digging and asking around has brought to light a few more details about Willow‘s working life both with Severn and Canal, and afterwards. We now know that it didn’t work for Fellows Morton & Clayton so it was never a josher!

As part of the Canal Boat Act, all boats which were used as dwellings had to be registered as such  with the local authority under the name of their owner. Willow was first registered on 18th February 1935, soon after it was built, with Walter Tonks registered at the steerer. Under the same Act, boats could also be subject to random checks, to make sure that they were still complying. We’ve been supplied with information showing that Willow was inspected  33 times by the Gloucester Sanitary Inspector, with various names being listed as steerer, and the last inspection being in June 1949.

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Prior to seeing this, we knew that some of the Severners were leased to work for Fellows Morton and Clayton up in the north and wondered if Willow was one of them, but this new evidence shows that Willow remained in the south west working on the Severn until 1950, so it wan’t one of the Severners which was temporarily a Josher!

We now also know that Willow passed into the nationalised fleet of boats owned by the British Transport Commission (Docks & Inland Waterways Executive) – British Waterways’ predecessor – on the 1st October 1948. At this point, its health registration should have been transferred to the D&IWE but for reasons unknown, it took until February 1950 for this to happen, and it was still in Gloucester when it was re-registered.

So it was after 1950 that Willow was transferred to the D&IWE North Western (Southern) Division, which was based in Northwich. We don’t yet know whether it carried for a while first, but at some point, it became a British Waterways maintenance boat, and had the crane fitted in its hold which was still evident when it was photographed at Hayhurst Yard in the mid 70s. Other boats which were part of the North West Maintenance fleet include the famous steamer President, as well as our friends’ boat Ariel (now a coal boat) and Shad, one of the boats on display at the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port.


Close up of Willow at Northwich.

Shad (picture from the Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port)

So the next steps for us are to go to Gloucester where we’ll hopefully be able to find out more about Willow‘s design from the drawings in the archive, and perhaps its cargos. We’ll also be allowed into the hold of Oak, as long as we sign a form saying that it is at our own risk!

Then at some point, we hope to visit Ellesmere Port, where the National Waterways Archives are held, in the hope that we can find out more about Willow‘s life as a BW maintenance boat.

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Welcome To Willow

Today, James and some nutty rowers are off competing in the Boston Marathon 50km rowing race (Edit: the won!). Sensibly, having already rowed it twice I’m not involved this year! So I’m at home, getting on with things, and enjoying pottering about the boat.

This morning, I cleaned and sealed the tiles at the entrance to the boat, ready for grouting this afternoon. Once I’d grouted and washed the excess off, I attached a threshold strip to the gap between the wood and the tiles. I think it looks pretty good, and is a nice welcome to the boat. Next step in this part of the boat is to make some shoe racks to go opposite the coat rail.


Lunch today (eaten whilst waiting for tile sealant to dry) was a yummy concoction of things I had in the cupboard: roasted veg (peppers, butternut squash, carrots and potatoes left over from last night) topped with slices of halloumi. Yum.


Now, I’ve got the fire on, and am feeling very glad not to be rowing down the Witham!


Categories: Daily Life, Fitout | 2 Comments

Navigating the Cambridge Backs

Between October and March, powered boats are permitted to navigate the Cambridge “Backs”, by arrangement with the Cam Conservancy. On our old boat, Lucky Duck, we made the trip many times.

With this knowledge, Camboaters (well, me and James), in collaboration with the Conservancy, have produced a comprehensive guide to navigating the Backs in a powered boat, which can be downloaded or read online. It contains a useful map, bridge heights, and detailed descriptions of how to navigate each of the 10 bridges.

This winter we plan to try it in Willow… if we can do it, anyone can!

Read Online


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Categories: Travels | 3 Comments

Boat Detective Work

We’ve always said that one of the things we’d enjoy most about historic boat ownership would be the research aspect. And although it has been sidelined recently due to actual work on Willow, we’ve now got to a point with the fitout where although there is still loads to do, we can take a bit of a breather and get stuck in to the research.

We’ve decided to try and find out everything we can about all eight of the Charles Hill Severners. This is partly because if we focused solely on research into Willow‘s history, we’d probably not find all that much, but also because they are unique and interesting boats and we’d like to know more about them. We’ve been given a great head start by Willow‘s previous owner, and we have a basic idea of the history and location of seven of the eight. But we think that there is more to be found. What we know about Willow is here.

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Pictures: L Hogg (with permission). Willow at Hayhurst Yard, Northwich.

These are the only photos we have so far of Willow, prior to purchase by the previous owner (Willow is the boat with the crane in the hold). I have been in touch with the Railway and Canal Historical Society who hold a fair few photos of Severn and Canal Carrying craft, so there’s a chance that there may be more.

Additionally we are planning a trip to Gloucester in October, to the Waterways Museum where Willow‘s older sister Oak is currently deteriorating. We may be allowed in to see the boat, but I expect it will be depressing. More promisingly, the County Archives in Gloucester hold Charles Hill’s drawings of the Severners, as well as records of all ships passing through the Gloucester docks, which will include details of Willow, its crew and cargos. The majority of the waterways archive once held at the Gloucester Waterways Museum is now at Ellesmere Port, but from what I gather, most of the Severn and Canal Carrying archive has always been held by the County, not BW/C&RT.

My third line of enquiry is via Cadbury’s, who used Willow and the other Severners to transport goods to and from their factories. I am hoping that they may have some photos/records of the boats in their company archive.

So far, it’s been really enjoyable, this boat detective work, and if anyone has any idea about who/where to go next, do let us know!

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Shackerstone 2013

We spent the weekend at the Shackerstone Festival and Boat Gathering. Despite gloomy predictions, the weather was mostly glorious, and we had a lovely couple of days.

We were very kindly given a lift up there by a friend who was heading there from Essex, and spend the night camping on Sarah E’s Lamprey. There were lots of others boats and boaters there, and it was great to catch up with them, some of whom we’ve not really seen since we joined the ranks of historic boat owners ourselves. In the evening we ate a delicious meal with some boater friends at the Rising Sun.

As well as looking around the festival site, we also picked up a couple of bits for Willow from the stalls. A rather fetching brass toilet roll holder (£3) to match the towel rail we got at the National, and lots of 1m long ash trim strips for finishing touches (50p each). In the absence of affordable brass strips for the stove we’re thinking of trimming the edge of the hearth at least temporarily with the ash.

Just before we left, there was a fantastic Red Arrows display, seen from a fantastic vantage point on the top of a boat, and a Spitfire fly past.








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A Common Sight

As I’ve mentioned before, during the Summer we share Midsummer Common with a herd of CamCattle. They’re a friendly lot, and today a little group of them passed by Willow‘s mooring. Lyra regards them with curiosity rather than fear, but stays well clear of their big hooves!

They are Red Poll, one of East Anglia’s oldest breeds, and are a lovely chestnut colour. They taste delicious in burgers too, and it’s nice to know exactly where the meat has come from, even if their diet is supplemented by whatever they find lying about on the Common so that they can’t be certified organic!

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