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!
How do you move all furniture and belongings to somewhere with no road?
Answer, borrow a 72′ British Waterways working boat, get the removal firm to unload into the boat at Stafford, tow it (it had no engine) the 1.5 miles into the lock, fill the lock and unload into the house. Reverse the procedure to get the removal men back to Stafford. The local newspaper covered this fiasco during which one of them fell in.
But this was real boys stuff, a boat to get to school, no other kids did that!
All this gave me the 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.
In the blood.
I fell in the cut more than once while at Deepmoor and this must account for canal life being in the blood.
Fortunately Jill appreciates it too, and once married it wasn’t long before we had our first Canal holiday (c1975) with a boat from Radford Marine, the site now has a BMW dealership where the marina was.
This was pre-children but we took a friends two boys along with us. It wasn’t until the early 1980s that we were able to do it again, this time with our girls, and a Black Prince boat. Another Black Prince boat in 1999 was our 3rd holiday afloat.
Like most hirers we’d dashed about the canal system, cruising for 8 or more hours a day in order to do a ring of canals rather than an out and back trip. But we always said it would be great to own a boat, take our time, appreciate the history and see more of the places we’d cruised through in the past.
2005 and we bought our first Narrowboat called Naiad, apparently it means a Water Nymph. She was a Braidbar Boat No.75 and only a year old. Long story but we knew we could only keep it for that year. We cruised extensively for 7 months in her, including doing the Thames from Limehouse to Letchlade and a long trip over to Norfolk and the Great Ouse. A fabulous year, and we sold her that Novemeber, but knew we’d be back one day.
More about NB Naiad here.
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Narrowboat Eliza Jane
2014 now and NB Eliza Jane. Jill and I were selling our barn conversion on Dartmoor and desperate to buy another good boat, but couldn’t do it without funds from the house sale. The sale fell through twice and it was putting a huge strain on us. With what funds we had we bought EJ, a 42′ 1997 Stoke Boat and went cruising to regain our sanity. EJ was a great boat, but at 42 feet was compact to say the least. Ideal for normal holidays, but not perfect for long term cruising. But we did do two seasons with her, which taught us exactly what we needed in our next boat. Eventually in 2015….
More about NB Eliza Jane here.
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Getting our new boat built how WE wanted it was quite an experience. So glad we’d done our homework and were able to spec her as we wanted. We had gained enough experience afloat to be able to persuade the builders that this was how we wanted it, whilst still respecting their vast experience of boat building.
More about the build of NB Chrissie here,
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Or browse our cruising year logs below.