Sunday 26 August 2012

Too Many Boats - book reiew

Too Many Boats
by Robert Wilson
August 2012

Here is an odd little booklet, which comes with a particularly unusual provenance.

Its a book which was previously owned by my father, bought in 1980 and traces the history of the British Waterways Narrowboat carrying fleets. I have read a lot of accounts about the independent carriers like the GUCC, Fellows Morton & Clayton and Barlows to name but a few, but have read very little of the decline and decline of the BW owned fleet.

BW inherited 1300 carrying and 500 maintenance craft on nationalisation in 1947, many of which were in a poor state of repair and lacked both crews and contracts. Then FMC failed in 1948 giving BW a further 172 boats.

The booklet charts the sad decline of the canal carrying fleet, bedevilled by poorly maintained canals, boats past their operating lives and of course a fledgling motorway network which offered a much faster and more flexible bulk transport option.

The then new Admiral Class at Brewood

Decline was sad and remorseless, but BW didn't go down without a fight. They tried new craft with greater load carrying capacity and repaired the old craft to allow them to be more economic but in spite of their best endeavors they continued to lose money and eventually shut up shop in 1964. After this the carrying baton was passed on to Willow Wren and similar private concerns who leased a small number of boats and struggled against the tide to the end of the 1960's.

Sure, BW scuttled a load of surplus boats, but no one wanted them. They innovated and introduced lightweight boats like the Admiral Class plus they maintained some of the older boats to the extent that they survived the barren years of the 1970's and were available for the restoration enthusiasts of today.

The book contains a gazeteer of the BW fleet which includes great swathes of the Historic Fleet of today, boats like Aquarius, Atlas, Chertsey, Yeoford, Saltaire, Malus and many more. 

I posted recently about the introduction to a BW Cruising Guide to the Staffs and Worcester and this book takes the story on. Its a sad tale but whilst carrying has gone, many of the craft live on and enliven the network of today.

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