Willow’s History

Willow was built by Charles Hill of Bristol in 1935, one of eight new motors ordered by Severn and Canal Carrying Company at a cost of £700 each. It was registered at Gloucester (no.533) on 18th February 1935. These eight boats were composite of wrought iron (from Hingley’s at Netherton) with elm bottom boards. The hull was welded rather than riveted together, and was one of the first to use this revolutionary construction method. The boats were built to carry the maximum load possible, specified at the full 72′ long, and the welded construction, very bluff fore-end and short double curved swim allowed a capacity of 33 tons on a 3’9″ draft. The design was not pleasing to all, as LTC Rolt called them “ugly and clumsy”.


A number of additional features distinguished Willow and the other “tree class” motors; the 9hp S-type Petter Semi diesel was located in an engine room at the back of the cabin, with the accommodation between engine and hold. This was very unpopular, for the steerer was subject to all the noise and exhaust smoke, and could not tend the range when travelling. Other features included water ballast tanks under the cabin floor (Willow still retains traces of the in-built tank) along with very pointed sterns, bell-mouthed ventilators, engine exhaust funnel and portholes being very much like those fitted to the seagoing ships that were Charles Hill’s normal output. In addition, the T-stud on the fore-end was sideways and the counter was fitted with two small tee-studs rather than dollies; this was to prevent ropes from high tidal dockside walls such as at Gloucester Docks slipping off. The engines were problematic; although apparently never intended to tow a butty, the 9hp engine was inadequate for a single motor on the fast-flowing Severn (earlier wooden S&CCCo motors had 15hp and 20hp Bolinders) with, for example, Willow once being swept downriver and becoming stuck on Maisemore weir.

Willow had a relatively short working life with S&CCCo, being steered by Walter James Tonks and others. Major contracts included carrying chocolate crumb for Cadbury’s to Bournville and Frampton- this contract and Cadbury’s presence as a director on the board of S&CCCo secured the construction of the “tree class” boats – along with (reputedly) Typhoo Tea, England’s Glory matches, and other cargoes such as timber, wheat, canned goods and metals from Gloucester to Birmingham.

During the Second World War, Willow spent some time on the Northern canals as part of an arrangement with Fellows Morton and Clayton. The boat was worked in a double motor pair with Ash, by the female waterways trainees. The arrangement did not last long, however, and before the war was over, Willow was being checked again by the Gloucester Health Inspector.


On February 10th 1950, Willow was registered for a second time at Gloucester, this time with D&IWE (Docks and Inland Waterways Executive) noted as the owner. Willow (along with Ash) had a crane fitted in the hold and worked as part of the BW maintenence fleet for the North West region through the 50s and 60s. These boats were based in Northwich, and Willow ended up languishing in Hayhurst Yard  with several over craft including Holland and President, before being bought by Malcolm Braine in the late 1970s.


It was advertised for sale, and sold into private ownership in 1979, despite it being sunk at the time! It was rebottomed in steel in 1980, replacing the elm, and a wooden framed full length cabin added for the owner, who lived aboard since then, with the cabin being recently skinned in steel. It was rebottomed and refooted in steel in 2010 at Langley Mill.



5 thoughts on “Willow’s History

  1. Graham

    Wonderful stuff this history! I had assumed that they had stopped using wrought iron for boats long before the 1930’s but to have the combination of wrought iron and welding is astonishing – to me at least.

    I’m looking forward to reading about your progress, on the boat and in the library- just glad I don’t have to do it!

    I’m sure that you will know Hugh Conway-Jones’ fascinating book, “Working Life on Severn & Canal”. I think that it is one of the best canal books and would certainly highly recommend it if you don’t have it.

    Please do excuse me if I’m teaching my granny to suck eggs!

  2. atillson

    Thanks, and yes we do have a copy of Working Life on the Severn and Canal. It is a great boat. I particularly liked the description of how the burly Severn boat men used to beat the weedy FMC boat men in fights!

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  5. Kristel

    You probably already know about this but have seen another severner – Dart at http://www.batesboatyard.co.uk. Good to see another boat so well restored.

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