Canal and Narrowboat heritage.
Deepmoor Lock Cottage.
In 1960 at 10 years old, following Mum and Dads divorce, and when funds were very tight, Dad (always looking for a challenge) bought a derelict Canal Lock Keepers Cottage called Deepmoor Lock Cottage from the then British Waterways, now the Canal and River Trust, 1.5 miles down the Staffs and Worcester Canal toward Penkridge from Radford Bank in Stafford.
No road to it, no water, no gas, no electricity, nothing, totally isolated, bonkers! But it was cheap, only £150.00!
But this was real boys stuff, a boat to get to school, no other kids did that!
All this gave me to opportunity to mess with engines, boats, the lock, you name it.
Dad, plus as much help as we youngsters could give, gradually made it a home.
Installation of a rainwater catchment system for normal water, plus a water purifier for drinking water.
There was a well on site but following a test it was decided never to use it.
We only once ran out of water and carried a few gallons back from town to get us over the shortage.
We soon learnt not to leave taps running and be frugal with usage.
A Lucas Freelite wind turbine generator giving 12 volt electricity which was stored in old bus batteries gave us power, the house was re-wired with mains cable, should “proper” electricity ever become available. It still has no mains power in 2020!
Little 12 volt bus interior bulbs were used. We had power most times, with a 12 volt TV etc. I remember watching TV and the screen gradually shrinking as the power ran low. It was hugely fascinating when the wind blew strongly watching the charge indicator knowing that this was power we could use when it didn’t blow.
Like the water, we soon learnt to be frugal, never left a room with lights on etc.
A taste of winter.
Our first winter was bitterly cold, with no heating and only open fires, everything that could freeze froze up. I recall snow in the fireplace one morning.
Even sinking our first boat, which was clinker built, a term used where overlapping boards make up the hull.
One morning there was ice on the canal, only thin, and the boat cut it’s way through easily. But the ice had other ideas and like a saw cut through the hull at the bows. A small hole, which we didn’t notice, and during the day it took on water and sank at the side of the cut.
I was first back at the boat from school and, as I approached, thought she looked a bit low in the water. It was resting on the bottom with about 1 inch of water lapping over the gunwales. Not to be beaten Dad hired a huge diesel powered pump and gradually managed to re-float it enough to reveal the hole, only about the size of an old penny, so with a penny and some rag he bunged up the hole enough for us to get home and do a more permanent repair. No pictures of this boat, but the next day boat “Penny” is below.
The infamous hard winter 1962-3 was even worse, the canal froze solid and didn’t thaw enough to use the boat for months. We cut a hole in the ice with a pick-axe to see how thick it was, staggering to find at least 12″of ice.
With no boat, it meant walking down the towpath to school and carrying all supplies back again.
Nail in the coffin.
One school morning, knowing it had snowed heavily overnight, we all got togged up ready for the walk. On opening the front door we were confronted with a wall of snow nearly to the top of the door frame. Undaunted we cleared a way through and battled our way to school. Dads car was snowed in and we had to force our way through deep drifts to get to town. It took ages, and on arriving realised we were among only a handful of kids there, and were duly sent home again.
Winter on the cut is hard enough but this was the nail in the coffin for commercial traffic on the canals, the gradual decline accelerated afterwards and it was rare to see working boats anymore.
We did get oil fired central heating installed, but getting oil to the cottage by road was impossible, so Dad built a floating tanker out of several 45 gallon oil drums fixed together, the two end ones left sealed and empty as flotation tanks. This we would tow up to Roseford Bridge and rendezvous with the oil lorry to fill up. Tow it back into the lock and pump out into the storage tank, bonkers!
We lasted about 4 years there, or should it be survived?
Moving from Deepmoor.
Dad was never able to walk far after contracting Polio in WW2 which affected his Left leg, and I think it was just a bit too much to carry on with. He’d also found a new woman, but she didn’t share the same values of Canal Life.
But having done the work and increased it’s value meant he could sell and get a property back in town.
And it wasn’t long before we moved to a bungalow, which in true Dad fashion, needed refurbishing.
He had a Granny Annex built on and my Gran, Penny (hence the name of our boat), moved in with us.