I’ve been having another dip into my Bradshaw’s Canals and Navigable Rivers of England and Wales, and great fun it is too. Does that make me the Michael Portillo of the waterways?
I rather like the way it refers to narrowboats as Monkey Boats. I heard it used as a derogatory term during the Queen’s river pageant in retaliation to the commodore of the narrowboaters referring to GRP cruisers as tupperware over the VHF. I don’t find it derogatory at all and I may well refer to Herbie as a monkey boat in future. Perhaps we should travel along eating bananas.
Under the section entitled Haulage by Steam or other Mechanical Power the author hints that our continental friends were ahead of us in using electrical haulage, then goes on to say that “Oil engines have been tried but have never passed much beyond the experimental stage.” That’s been quite a long experiment Mr Author. He then goes on to report that steam haulage is established on the major navigable rivers, but that it is unsuitable for the canals owing to the fact that a heavily laden boat traveling at speed pushes too much water up around the bows for a narrow channel, thus limiting it’s top speed. Not to mention the damage done to canal banks by the wash from faster boats. Dead right there. It seems he was still of the opinion that nothing beats a good horse. Strange for a man who was a engineer and a director of Fellows Morton & Clayton.
Apparently at the time of the book (1904) quite a few tunnels employed steam haulage including the well known Braunston and Blisworth tunnels. That is unless your boat was carrying gunpowder in which case you had to leg through. Elf and safety gone mad. The steam tugs left one end of the tunnel every two hours on the hour, and of course returned on the alternate hour. Tickets were bought at the nearby toll offices.
I was surprised to read that they used steam in Islington tunnel. That’s much narrower and has quite sloping sides (as chunks out of Herbie’s roof handrails can testify). I bet it was choking in there. The book says that tunnel tugs in the Preston Brook, Barnton and Saltersford tunnels had projecting pairs of wheels on each side so as to keep the boat off the side of the tunnel. Now there’s a good idea. I must speak to my design engineer (he knows who he is).