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Alan Welsford
18-12-2009, 7:43 PM
Hello,

I have previously responded to posts on here about canal boatmen, but am becoming doubtful that "standard" answers always fit the facts I come across.

I'm researching a lot in Tring, Hertfordshire, which only has one reasonable "boat" connection, namely the coming of the Grand Junction Canal circa 1793, and which by the early 1800s was part of a major through route from London to the North.

However the canal "missed" Tring by around a couple of miles, dictated by the possible ways of building a route through the Chilterns.

What I find is people at land based addresses in Tring, declared as "boatmen" in censuses and marriage records, indicating that it is unlikely that they actually lived aboard boats at this time.

For example, a possible relative, Thomas MITCHELL, is decalared on his marriage to Sarah WALLIS in 1843 at "Boatman", and can be found living in Frogmore Street in 1851, with Sarah (no children) enumerated as "Canal Boatman").

However by 1861 and 1871 he is still at the same address, but just a Labourer, (some children by then - I've not investigated yet if they had and lost any in the 1843 to 1851 period).

I can see that the coming of the London to Birmingham Railway would have made canals less profitable, and meant being a boatman was no longer as well rewarded.

The "standard" answer is that by this time working narrow boat men moved their families on board the boats as a result of lower incomes, and not being able to afford to live ashore.

However I have seen significant numbers of canal boatmen in my researches that seem to stay in land addresses well after this date, as well as little evidence of ones who were land based moving on to the boats.

What I can't understand is how someone who lived several miles from the long distance canal would have operated- were boats staffed by "relay" teams that returned to their home town most nights ? And if so, I'd expect them to be living by the canal, and not instead a very substantial distance from any likely centre of canal operations.

Are there any reliable histories about how long distance carrying on canals actually operated before railway competition, and what happened once serious cargo carrying by train on parallel routes became a possibility ?

Any theories on how it all worked, please ?

AnnB
19-12-2009, 7:37 AM
You may have already seen this, but there is an interesting piece on the towpathtreks website (you'll find it by entering in a search engine)

It is about the Leeds and Liverpool Canal - just scroll down to near the bottom of the home page and you'll see a link to 'people'. It does mention about some boatmen being land based (under 'outsiders').

Best wishes
Ann

Kentincomer
19-12-2009, 10:47 AM
For example, a possible relative, Thomas MITCHELL, is decalared on his marriage to Sarah WALLIS in 1843 at "Boatman", and can be found living in Frogmore Street in 1851, with Sarah (no children) enumerated as "Canal Boatman").

However by 1861 and 1871 he is still at the same address, but just a Labourer, (some children by then - I've not investigated yet if they had and lost any in the 1843 to 1851 period).

I also have a boatman who was land-based in 1851, but then a labourer in 1861 onwards, also t the same address in 1851 and 1861. Not sure how far they were away from the canal-it's the Wst Midlands, so most were near a canal, I think.
Mine is from Oxfordshire, and I am assuming that he worked his way on a boat to the midlands- have you got a lot of information on this? If so can you point me in the right direction for it?

Thanks.

Geoffers
19-12-2009, 12:03 PM
numbers of canal boatmen in my researches that seem to stay in land addresses well after this date, as well as little evidence of ones who were land based moving on to the boats. What I can't understand is how someone who lived several miles from the long distance canal would have operated

I suppose that would depend on what sort of work the boatman carried out - delivering a long way and lviing on the boat - or transporting goods a short distance and returning home at more regular intervals.

It may have been more convenient for a long distance boatman's family to live some distance from the canal for their own work?

In Norfolk, some families lived several miles inland and the fathers took seasonal work as fishermen at sea.


Are there any reliable histories about how long distance carrying on canals actually operated before railway competition

Not too far from you (a couple of junctions up the M1) in Northamptonshire is the National Waterways Museum at Stoke Bruerne (it turns up easily using a search engine); it is well worth a visit in learning about the development and use of inland waterways if you have boatmen as family.

Alan Welsford
20-12-2009, 5:51 PM
I'm not really aware of much going on in terms of the early days of the Grand Junction Canal around Tring that would have made short haul of cargos very likely.

From everything I have read from canal histories, most of the traffics would have been relatively long distance, I think, with trips taking many days to complete. (I think coal was probably always the biggest voliume cargo).

That's why I am curious about the role of "canal boatmen" at a land address not particularly close to the route of the canal.

Geoffers,

Thanks for reply. I am actually a canal boater who regularly travels the (now) Grand Union, so am well aware of the Waterways Museum at Stoke Bruerne.

In fact there is not a lot of detailed information to be had there, but the national musuem is made up of three parts, the Stoke Bruerne one, another at Gloucester docks, and finally one at Ellesmere Port.

Most of what is interesting to a family historian appears to have been at Gloucester, although that is struggling with resources, and parts of it closing, I think. From what little I know, it is likely that more of the archive function may eventually be transferred to Ellesmere Port, although funding seems to be a big issue, and the long term future of all parts of the museum sadly look a bit dodgy.

I've noot been able to visit other than the Stoke Bruerne museum, but have to say even with the best efforts of its volunteers, that is fairly jaded by modern standards. If the others are similarly presented to the public, I think their future does look a bit rocky, sadly.

Nicolina
20-12-2009, 6:34 PM
don't forget that some cargoes were transhipped from merchantmen for the last short journey to their intended destination. We still have canal boatmen who travel short distances. From here they are known to travel what is only approximately 30 to 50 miles by road.

Alan Welsford
20-12-2009, 6:53 PM
don't forget that some cargoes were transhipped from merchantmen for the last short journey to their intended destination. We still have canal boatmen who travel short distances. From here they are known to travel what is only approximately 30 to 50 miles by road.
Accepted, but at the location I'm talking about, there is a minimum of 2 days of travel by canal to any point where cargoes could have been transshipped from any larger vessel, (and a further minimum 2 days to get back again).

To reach Tring from the Thames, (the nearest possibility for larger vessels), involves passing through nearly 60 locks, at maybe 10 minutes per lock, as well as navigating approaching 40 miles, which with a horse drawn boat will not be achieved any faster than about 3mph.

If they were genuine boatmen working on carrying boats, I believe most of the journeys would have taken several days, and these chaps could only have returned home each night if it was typical to take a boat half a day in one direction, before switching to another, and bringing it back the other way. This implies boats worked like teams in a relay race.