Monday, 10 November 2014

Aylesford, River Medway and Thames barge Onward

Aylesford village and barges c1900
Aylesford village and sailing barges

Close-up of barge name Onward
The stern of barge Onward
Along with my love of canals, I also love collecting old postcards and photos. I've never been anywhere near the River Medway, but I came across a magnificent largish vintage glass plate negative by an unknown photographer. It was a bit of a struggle as I had to scan it in two parts, and then several hours of retouching small spots and scratches, but I think it was well worth the effort. The image is of Aylesford village and bridge near Maidstone, Kent, with two Thames sailing barges resting on the mud. It's very detailed as you can see the rigging and pulleys, the name of the nearest barge which is "Onward", the time on the church clock - five past twelve, and even a Fry's chocolate advert in a shop window. There are a couple of empty horse carts on the right hand side, two men sitting under a tree and one working on the boat.

Researching, I've found details of three similar barges called Onward, built between 1867 - 1874, unfortunately I don't know which one it might be, or indeed if it is one entirely different. The earlier two were built in Rochester and Frindsbury, so I think it's quite likely to be one of those.
I only just found out recently that the paddle-shaped bits on the side of the barge are called leeboards, used as stabilisers. They're more common on Dutch barges such as Tjalks - the sort of boat I want to live on one day!
These barges are also called spritsails - the main sail is attached to both the main mast and the angled "sprit" or spar. Wiki link that explains.

This is quite a common view of Aylesford, but possibly the best example that I've seen. I believe it was taken sometime around 1900 judging by the height of the trees and the fact that the bridge doesn't yet have the strengthening ties seen in later photos.

This reproduction is available on a wide range of gifts which would be ideal for sailing barge or social history enthusiasts, from keyrings and postcards to a 36" stretched canvas. See the complete range here.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

1971-73 Shroppie, Oxford, Leicester and Macclesfield

Ropework, Iona
Iona, the Shropshire Union Canal Co. trip boat
Following on from the canoeing trips, my parents graciously arranged several other canal holidays, and we also convinced the in-laws to try it as well, this time on the Oxford Canal, the Leicester Main Line and the Shropshire Union canal - 1971-73. We used various hire boat companies, the Oxford canal trip was not without it's problems as the boat had a slipping clutch - the weather was very windy, and we were going backwards! We thought at first it was something round the propeller, but there was nothing, so out the engineers came, fixed it, and off we went.
The Oxford canal was very rural and seemed like being out in the wilds to someone born on the edge of London. Little did I know I would end up living about a mile away from it before emigrating to France - it really wasn't that far away at all. Napton is one of my favourite places, with it's hill and windmill that seems to be visible from the canal for miles. Unfortunately I still had a terrible camera!
Napton's windmill on the hill
Napton with the windmill on the hill
One of the things I love most about canals is the misty mornings, and being water, there's always mist!
Misty morning at Napton
Misty morning at Napton lock
The Leicester Main line of the Grand Union is another very rural canal, so much so that my father-in-law from Watford thought it was too isolated. This is a photo at the top of the impossible Foxton flight, in the days before lock keepers and gongoozlers (no offence, I've been a gongoozler too!). Even years later I still got it wrong and left a bottom gate paddle open while filling the next in the staircase. The defunct inclined plane would have been a boon. The flight is actually two sets of five locks, each of which empties into a side pound which is used to fill the next lock down.
Foxton Top Lock
Coming up to Foxton Top Lock
Looking down Foxton
Looking down the flight in disbelief
I love the Shroppie, it has a sort of ethereal quality - maybe because my first trip down it was accompanied by a thunderstorm. We moored opposite this calf and a couple of donkeys, above a valley, and the sounds were echoing around the valley as they only can before a storm - magical!
The calf before the storm
The calf before the storm :)
On the Shebdon embankment, we stopped near the Wharf pub, I believe this is closed now, but not until after some major alterations. Here it is back in the 70s.
Wharf Inn Shebdon
The Wharf Inn, Shebdon
Dredging workboat
A British Waterways workboat carrying dredged mud
During these few years we also had a trip on the Macclesfield canal, but the weather was apalling, and my camera even worse, so there's not much to show for it! A lovely stone bridge with a roving towpath though. You can tell by all the ferns that it's often wet!
Roving bridge on the Macclesfield
Roving bridge on the Macclesfield canal

Meanwhile, back on the UK canals

Grand Union Canal at Harefield
Coppermill Lock
So, after the Llangollen initiation, we decided to build a canoe, an Ottersports double kit with a rudder. It was quite easy to build - tack together the precut plywood sides and seal the joins with fibreglass tape. It did involve using the hallway of my in-laws while they were away, and having to extract the tacked sides from the lino where they'd been pinned. However, it successfully floated and we had many happy tours of the Thames, the Kennet and Avon, the Grand Union and the Lee and Stort, and other unnavigable rivers such as the river Loddon. Sadly I don't seem to have any photos of the Kennet and Avon, but I do remember what lovely clear weedy water it was, with huge fish swimming around us.

The intro photo shows Coppermill Lock at Harefield on the Grand Union Canal c1970. It's changed a bit now, as most of these old buildings have. This area was fun in a canoe as there were all the little river arms to navigate - you probably couldn't do that now. Near the Halfway House (now the Horse and Barge) at Widewater Lock, there was a one-legged lock-keeper who fortunately wasn't able to chase after us to see if we had a license or not (which I'm ashamed to say we didn't).

One thing I really regret from this era, is not having taken any photos of the working boats at Croxley Mill near Watford. They must have been some of the last commercial boats regularly operating.

We had a couple of forays onto the Lee and Stort, here's Parndon Mill lock with our canoe.
Parndon Mill, Lee & Stort navigation
Parndon Mill lock, Lee & Stort
The lock gates in those days were operated by chains, lock beams came later.