It being half term for James this week, we took a couple of days to go away. Not for us the romance of Paris! No, instead we enjoyed the rather more prosaic delights of Gloucester.The reason for choosing this as the destination for our little holiday were twofold. Firstly, it is where Willow was based in its Severn and Canal days, and where some archival documents are held, and secondly, Willow’s older sister by a few months, Oak lives there, at the Waterways Museum.
We’ll go into more detail about what we learned about Oak at the museum and the Gloucestershire Archives in another post. For now I’ll just describe our trip.
We arrived in Gloucester at midday and headed straight to the Waterways Museum in the docks. Martin, who looks after the boats, was there to meet us. He showed us what information the museum has on Oak and then we went over to the boat itself. Sadly there is no funding to restore the boat, which is in a very sorry state. All the museum can do is pump it out, and no one goes inside. It took a while to find the right key to the back cabin, and we had to sign disclaimers to say that if we hurt ourselves whilst on the boat we were acting at our own risk and wouldn’t sue C&RT! Thankfully it was a good day so it was dry underfoot and we’ve actually been on worse boats before!
We took loads of photos, then were showed round the museum’s other boats: the FMC butty Northwich, river class butty Wye and the tug Severn Progress. We were treated like VIPs and everyone was really friendly. After a cup of tea we went off and looked round the museum on our own, then bought things in the gift shop on the way out.
We then headed into the town to check in at our hotel, the New Inn, which is in fact really old! Part of dates from the fourteenth century and it has the “finest surviving example” of a medieval gallery in the country. We loved the building, and it was very good value. Our room was decorated fairly mundanely but it was clean, and had loads of medieval character in the form of exposed beams. Including breakfast, it only cost £58 for the night.
In the evening we went out for drinks and a curry with some old friends who live in the area and whom we’d not seen for about 6 years! It was lovely to catch up and the Indian we went to, Aroma, was really very good. Definitely recommended.
The next morning, fuelled by a full english breakfast we hit the Gloucestershire Archives. I’d pre-ordered the documents we wanted to look at and we had an appointment to meet Hugh Conway-Jones, author of several books on Severn and Canal including the excellent Working Life on Severn and Canal. We had hoped to see general arrangement drawings (showing the details of the boat) for both Oak and Ash, as well as the six later Severners (including Willow). Between the first two prototypes and the last six there were changes made to the design and we’d hoped to be able to pick these out. Alas, the drawings for the final 6 were in too bad a state to be viewed, and they are low priority for digitisation. We’re still going to ask though.
It was great to meet Hugh, and he showed us that we could look up the names and details of all of the steerers of the Severn and Canal boats which were documented by the Health Inspectors.
In the afternoon we went to explore the area a bit more. The docks area is being rejuvenated and there are walks to be had along both the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal and the Severn. We didn’t go very far in either direction but enjoyed it all the same. Highlights included the Gloucester Buddhist Centre which is housed in a lightship (!) and a three masted schooner which was being worked on in Neilsen’s dry dock.