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Day boats.................. Ice breakers. .....................Tugs. ....................Wharfe boats.

The Birmingham Canal Navigations developed in the period from 1770 to 1840, and both developed and served the growing industrial area of Birmingham and the Black Country. As well as offering a through route from North to South via Birmingham, the system of canals eventually totalling over 160 miles, and consisted mostly of short haul traffic, connecting industry with essential supplies, and easy transport for the products. The boats built to transport the goods on the BCN, numbered in the thousands, with boat builders constructing and repairing, in the hundreds.

Day Boats, or Joey Boats

The most common type of boat to be found on the BCN, and made initially of wood, and later iron, with an exception being Bantock boats; composite with a wooden lower side plank as well. They were 70ft in length by 7ft beam, pointed ends much the same, with generally vertical stem and stern posts. Many of the boats were double ended; in that the rudder could be hung at either end to save turning; indeed many of the arms and basins could only be entered from one direction, as the canal width prevented turning in many instances. The boats were either completely open, or had small cabins at the stern end, with a sharp angle of tumblehome to the cabin sides.

....................................................................................................Stewarts & Lloyds day boats at Coombes Wood, 1976

Construction; wooden boats.

Wooden day boats were built of pine, deal or larch, side planks of 2" thickness, and bottoms of 3". Planks were either 9" wide or 12" , giving 4 or 5 planks to the boat side, and a depth of around 4ft. Side planks were spiked to large knees, at 3ft spacings and these in turn were spiked to the bottom planks. A keelson joined up all the bottom planks to prevent vertical movement, and the width of the boat at gunwale level was held by beams dovetailed into the gunwale. Side planks were scarf jointed, and always spaced apart to prevent weakness. At each end of the boat, 3 extra guard boards were added; one at waterline in oak, one mid way in elm, and another oak board on the second plank down. Iron guards at both ends protected the woodwork from the inevitable rough handling these boats received. Cabins were constructed in deal boarding, were 5ft 6" long, with a headroom of 5ft 3". The sharp tumblehome was necessary to pass through the many small entrances to basins off the main canal. Inside the cabin, a bottle stove was on the left, and a bench on the right and across the cabin bulkhead. As the traffics on the BCN was short haul, the day boats were never intended to be slept in, hence the small size.

Iron boats from 1860.


Lowesmoor iron, in small plate sizes made up the hull sides and boat bottom, being rivetted together. The sides were joined to the bottom with a chine angle, on the inside of the plates. Knees added strength between the sides and bottom consisting of OMEGA pattern rolled iron. An angle similar to the chine angle formed the gunwale, with an additional guard iron rivetted on top. Beams made from plate and angle (3 of) kept the boat to width, and guards of OMEGA pattern were rivetted to the outside bends of the boat. If the boat was single ended, plates would overlap to trail in the forward direction.

.......Iron day boats in use at Stewarts & Lloyds, Halesowen.

A small deck was positioned at each end of the boat, and BCN gauging plates fixed under the gunwale on the Starboard side. The many different shapes of iron day boats, came from the numerous builders of these craft on the BCN canal system.


Currently perhaps the best known example of a BCN Joey boat is the BIRCHILLS built by Ernest Thomas at Walsall in 1952. The boat is a single ended cabined boat. Note the wooden headstock to the right of the rudder, for tying to a following boat when in a train behind a tug. The rudders usually had the owning company's initialls carved into the stock to deter theft. The bar that folds across across the back doors had an angle that projected into the cabin where a padlock could be fitted; locked from the outside through a hole in the woodwork, but the padlock being on the cabin inside.

Ernest Thomas day boat BIRCHILLS at the B.C.Museum.

Ice breakers.

Ice Boats.

ANTARTIC; Iron Ice boat dating from the 1830's.

BALTIC; Iron ice boat; at Pitstone Wharfe.

PELICAN; Wooden Ice boat, currently (2001) under restoration.

PEARIE; Wooden Ice boat.

BCN Tugs.

Tugs started to appear in the 1910's when diesel engines suited to marine use became available. Most of these early engines were two stroke, lamp start semi diesels; one or two cylinders. Economically, tugs made sense, in that 4 or 5 loaded boats could be pulled at a time, and even more empty boats back to the coalfields. The essential features of the BCN tug were; approximately 50ft in length; a tug deck in front of the cabin; large cabin for the engine and crew daytime accommodation; a large counter with two substantial towing studs; deep draughted to swing a large propellor; and very little decoration or polished brass. Tugs were of both wooden and iron construction.

Stevens & Keay tug JUDITH ANN at Ryders Green, in 1976.

As well as new tugs being built by local boatyards such as W.Harris of Netherton, and Worsey's of Walsall; many tugs were made from long distance narrowboats cut down in length to suit. A good number of Ex FMC boats became tugs; both motor and butty conversions. Also, some Ex GUCC boats were also converted by W.Harris for Stewarts & Lloyds of Coombeswood, Halesowen. The real BCN tugs were built for work, and work they did; the modern tugs built for pleasure today bear little resemblance to these work horses of the past.

ATLANTIC; BCN tug built by W. Harris of Netherton. 40ft long with ice breaking bows, and constructed for Yates Bros. Sold by BW in 1978 at auction, to Alfred Matty of Coseley. Sold by Matty's in 1983. Re cabined in steel, and now fitted with a Lister JP3. Based at Aylesbury. Attended Braunston in July 2000.


ATLANTIC No 3 and Leonard Leigh tug, JAMES LOADER.

Boat names in RED are extant.

APOLLO; Ex Midlands & Coast motorboat. 1929 John Crichton, Saltney Ferry, Chester, composite butty. BCN gauging 1490, 15/5/1929. Length 70ft 10". Converted to motor-boat 1936 and fitted with an 18hp Petter. Became FMC No 349, regd at Wolverhampton No 1147. Sold to E.Thomas; fitted with a petrol/paraffin TVO engine. Now based in the North East as a shortened trip boat.

BIRCHILLS; Ex FMC butty boat named KINGSTOWN; No 278. Re-named KERRY in the early 1920's. Shortened for tugging by Ernest Thomas, and re-named BIRCHILLS. At the Boat Museum, Ellesmere Port.

CAGGY; Built in 1945 by W Harris of Netherton for J Foulkes of Wednesfield. Rivetted iron construction. Powered by a Lister JP3, and currently March 2001 semi derelict at Bumblehole, Netherton. Owned throughout it's life by the late Mr Alan, "caggy" Stevens.

CHRISTOPHER JAMES; Built for Leonard Leigh Ltd; Wooden tug by L. Alan & Sons at Spencer Abbots Dock, Saltley. Elm bottoms with Oak sides. Worked commercially until 1965; and powered by an Armstrong Siddeley AS3 Diesel.

CROWN; Ex Midlands & Coast THE NORTH; 1926 Yarwoods built composite butty. BCN gauging No 1136, 16/2/1926. Converted to 44ft tug, Harris's, in 1937, renamed CROWN. Fitted with a 30hp Petter semi diesel.Sold to Hingley's in 1937. Rebuilt at Norton Canes, and now named LION. Converted, and now 70ft in length, based at Braunston. This boat was re-built of very thick iron, and was not a success as a tug.

DOT No 4; Ernest Thomas Tug.

EARLYBIRD; BCN tug. Built for Yates Bros by Harris's of Netherton.

ENTERPRISE; originally the FMC steamer, COUNT; 1899, Saltley composite. Regd Brm 1036. Converted to motorboat 1925. Shortened for tugging on the BCN; sold to Ernest Thomas, re-named ENTERPRISE. Now privately owned, and powered by a Gardner 5L2. Twin tandem steam engine, coke fired. 1925 converted to a motor boat, fitted with a 15hp Bolinder. BCN gauging No 1162, 23/4/1926. Length 71ft 2". 1944, sunk by bombing in Birmingham, and sold in 1945 to Ernest Thomas of Walsall. Shortened to 52ft for tugging on the BCN. Engine, Gardner 5L2 Diesel, from 1931 Pagefield Paladin lorry, Reg JJ950. Parsons gearbox, driving prop 35"x25" via a 2:1 reduction.. Main use tugging; pulling day boats from Cannock to Birchills Power Station, Walsall. Became semi-derelict after 1960, and purchased by the present owners in 1973. Maintained in working tug condition.At Crick in May 2000 with BCN day boat BHP No2.

HELEN; Built for Leonard Leigh Ltd; Iron rivetted tug by W. Harris of Netherton. Still powered by the original 3 cylinder Bolinder full Diesel engine, (1053). Lengthened by 8 ft by Five Towns Boatbuilding late 1980's at Stone.


Leonard Leigh tug HELEN and JAMES LOADER.

HURRICANE; BCN tug. Built for Leonard Leigh Ltd, by Harris's of Netherton.

JOAN II; Wooden Tug built at Worsey's dock Walsall in 1936 for Leonard Leigh Ltd. Launched April 16th 1936. Engine thought to have been a lamp start 2 cylinder Ogle. Named after Leonard Leigh's daughter.

JAMES LOADER; Built for Leonard Leigh Ltd; Fleet No 8. Wooden tug by Worsey's of Walsall in 1945. Elm bottoms with Oak sides. Powered by a marinised Ford Major Diesel in commercial days. Now privately owned, and powered by a Gardner 2LW Diesel.

JOAN II; Leonard Leigh Ltd tug.

JUDITH ANN; Peter Keay tug, built by Keay's in 1944. Powered by a Lister JP4; formerly a Ruston 4VRH. Later in the livery of Stevens & Keay. For sale Summer 2000, and now on the Oxford Canal.

LION; Harris's of Netherton tug built for Hardy Spicer's in the 1940's. Recently on dry land at Booth lane, and has now moved to Barthomley in Cheshire for re-building. Originally powered by a Lister JP3, with 4 bladed propellor.

MERCURY; Ex FMC steamer COLONEL; 1899, Saltley composite. Regd Brm 1040. Converted to motorboat 1924. G.J.Gauge No 11607. When shortened by Ernest Thomas, the boat was called MERCURY. Recently lengthened using side plates from the FMC butty BRENTFORD. Now based on the GU at Uxbridge.

PACIFIC; Ex FMC steamer VICTORY; 1911, Saltley composite. Regd Brm 1247. Converted to motorboat 1927. Became James Yates's tug PACIFIC. Re-named MALLARD when converted to a hire boat. Oct 2000 at Stockton. March 2001 for sale at Stockton. Sold by October 2001.


SALLY; Ex FMC steamer MARQUIS; No 237;1898, Saltley composite. Regd Brm 1002. Converted to motorboat 1925. Captained by Sam Slater on the GJC 1910. Sold to Joseph Holloway of Oldbury. Later sold to J. Haywood of Tipton, and re-named SALLY. Became a pleasure boat called CALYPSO. At some time shortened for tugging (54ft).New cabin built Spring 2000 at Brinklow. Engine Lister FR3. Attended Braunston in July 2000.

SPITFIRE; BCN tug, 46ft in length. Built by Harris's of Netherton in 1940 for Leonard Leigh Ltd. Converted to pleasure use in 1961, by Allen Bros, Oldbury. In 1972 made into a 42 seater trip boat on the Chesterfield Canal. In 1985 converted to a pleasure boat again, with a steel cabin. Now a converted boat powered by a Perkins diesel. Sold in October 2001, now based on the Caldon Canal.

STEWARTS & LLOYDS N0 2; Ex GUCC motor, ALGOL; No 5, Small Woolwich motor, built 1935, Regd Brentford 554, GU No 12433. Sold by GUCCC in June 1940 to Stanton & Staveley tube works for £950.00. Registered at Ilkeston in Nov 1941 No99. The boat became No 51 in the Stanton fleet. Sold in July 1947 to Stewarts & Lloyds at Halesowen, to become Tug No 2. Shortened, by W Harris of Netherton, and a new cabin added and tug deck. Currently Oct 2000, at Saul Junction having a steel bottom fitted.

THE DART; Ex FMC steamer DUTEOUS; 1923, Uxbridge wooden. Regd Brm 1448. Converted to motorboat 1924. At some time the boat was called VICTORY. Ended it's life as Peter Keay's 70ft tug called THE DART. 1993 sunk on the BCN at Walsall.

TEMPEST; BCN tug. Built for Leonard Leigh Ltd, by Harris's of Netherton.

TYPHOON; BCN tug, based at Hanwell. Built for Leonard Leigh Ltd by Harris's of Netherton.

Wharfe boats.

Wharfe, 'ampton boats, or big boats, were built of wood, and solely used on the Wolverhampton level of the BCN. This level, 40 miles in length had no locks, and was the main coal route from Cannock into Wolverhampton. It thus made sense to build boats of a larger gauge; the length and width it is said,being determined by the limitations of the junction at Pelsall Common. The typical load for a wharfe boat was 45tons, possibly 50 maximum. All the boats had a typical day boat cabin, with timber towing head in the stern well deck. A further addition was an extension to the rudder that slotted over the rudder blade to give more leverage against the flow of water. The majority of the wharfe boats were single ended. Currently, March 2001, no wharfe boats are thought to be extant.

All the entries here are the large wharfe or 'ampton boats . The entries are currently from December 1916 to September 1937. Entries are made under company ownership, with the company name first, and address in the gauging book. The boat name follows, if no name or number is indicated, then these entries are blank in the book. BCN gauge No, and date of gauge follow; size of the boat, (length and width), and the freeboard with maximum load on, at test at Tipton or Smethwick gauging stations.

ALBION COAL CO; Wolverhampton.

BCN 343, 28/7/1922. 76ft10" x 7ft8.25" 49ton @ 0.75"FB

ASTBURY & BARROW; Can Lane Wharfe.

DENNIS; BCN 1230, 17/12/1926. 82ft7" x 7ft8.5" 52ton @ 0.00"FB, (presumed sunk!)

D.BAKER, Bradley.

LITTLE JIM; BCN 23193, 23/6/1920. 79ft6" x 7ft6.5". 46ton @ 0.18"FB.

ANNIE; BCN 22605, 11/12/1916. 76ft10" x 7ft6.5". 46ton @ 0.48"FB.

BCN 1876, 13/9/1935. 88ft10" x 7ft9.5". 61ton @ 0.48"FB

BCN 747, 22/10/1923. 72ft 8" x 7ft2.5"

BCN 445, 2/10/1922. 84ft4" x 7ft8.5"

S.BRIDGEN, Wolverhampton.

No 2, BCN 1125, 1/12/1925. 82ft 9" x 7ft7.5" 50 ton @ 0.32" FB

No3, BCN 1216, 1/11/1926. 83ft9" x 7ft8.5" 50ton @ 0.48"FB

No4; BCN 1376, 25/2/1928. 85ft0" x 7ft9" 54ton @ 0.21"FB

E DYKE, Lanesfield.

AUBREY; No2, BCN 1037, 30/3/1925. 80ft2" x 7ft7" 51ton 0.12"FB

DOWN & OUT; BCN 1214, 21/10/1926. 83ft7" x 7ft8.5" 49ton @ 0.72"FB

FLORENCE; BCN 933, 8/10/1924, 82ft4" x 7ft8"

W. ELWELL & SONS Ltd, Tipton.

IVY; BCN 1746, 25/1/1933. 88ft9" x 7ft10" 58ton @ 0.48"FB.

MR PERKINS; BCN 1793, 7/2/1934. 86ft4" x 7ft8.5" 57ton @ 0.64"FB

UNCLE JIM; BCN 1770, 19/7/1933. 84ft x 7ft8.25". 54ton @ 0.7"FB

S.EVANS & Sons, Wolverhampton.

HANNAH; BCN 1623, 22/7/1930. 86ft0" x 7ft8". 55ton @ 0.44"FB

FANSHAW & PINSON, Wolverhampton.

ANNIE; BCN 159, 30/1/1922. 75ft7" x 7ft6.5" 49ton @ 0.47"FB

PONGO; BCN 1446, 29/11/1928. 76ft5" x 7ft6.5"

SHEILA; BCN 1758, 28/4/1933. 85ft10 x 7ft8" 55ton @ 0.30"FB

J FOULKES, Wednesfield.

TONY; BCN 1772, 21/8/1933. 87ft6" x 7ft8.5" 57ton @ 0.48"FB

RON; BCN 1801, 25/4/1934. 88ft x 7ft8.25". 58ton @ 0.33"FB

GEORGE & MATTHEWS; Wolverhampton.

FLORENCE; BCN 348, 31/7/1922. 79ft4" x 7ft7.25"

A. GRIFFITHS & CO, Walsall.

JACK; BCN 882, 16/7/1924.

J HENLEY; Heath Town Dock.

PEARL; BCN 1099, 30/9/1925. 87ft x 7ft8" 56ton @ 0.51"FB


No, W.A.BCN 1777, 29/9/1933. 84ft7" x 7ft8.5". 53ton @ 0.67"FB

BETTY; BCN 1778, 9/10/1933. 84ft5" x 7ft10.25". 55ton @ 0.34"FB

THOMAS SIDNEY; BCN 1952, late No 15765. 16/4/1937. 80ft9" x 7ft8". 49ton @ 0.7"FB

CHAS INGLES; Horsleyfields.

VIOLET; BCN 395, 25/8/1922. 77ft3" x 7ft8"

J. INGLES; Spring Vale.

ISIS; BCN No 23033 76ft6" x 7ft5". 30/6/1919. 46ton @ 0.80"FB

JONES & POWELL, Ettingshall.

BEATRICE LILY; No1. BCN 1420, 27/8/1928. 81ft3" x 7ft8". 52 Ton @ 0.55" FB

EDNA IRENE; BCN 1840, 1/2/1935. 86ft8" x 7ft8.5". 58ton @ 0.04"FB

IRIS MOREEN; BCN 1720, 20/5/ 1932. 86ft 2" x 7ft 8.25". 57ton @ 0.25"FB

SAMUEL; BCN 1605, 28/5/1930, 85ft7" x 7ft*.5". 53 Ton @ 0.09" FB


CONTENTED; BCN 1052, 21/5/1925. 81ft10" x 7ft8.25". 50ton @ 0.77"FB

MICH; BCN 1039, 1/4/1925. 82ft0" x 7ft8" 51ton @ 0.47"FB

MIND WHAT YOUR A DOIN; BCN 1383, 21/3/1928. 84ft x 7ft9" 51ton @ 0.42"FB

E.PROBERT & Sons, Millfields.

PROSPER; BCN 1416, 20/8/1928. 85ft4" x 7ft8.5". 52 ton @ 0.74" FB.

PROCEED; BCN 1217, 3/11/1926. 78ft5" x 7ft6".

PROMPT; BCN 1736, 19/8/1932. 87ft8" x 7ft10.5". 59 ton @ 0.08" FB

PROSPERITY; BCN 1239, 10/1/1927. 84ft8" x 7ft8". 51 ton @ 0.12" FB

E.W.REID, Dudley Port.

BILL; BCN 2380, 5/6/1957. The last wharfe boat to be registered on the BCN.

2369; BCN 2369, 16/2/1955.

No3; BCN 208, 23/3/1922. 75ft7" x 7ft5.5"

EWAT; BCN 1591, 26/4/1930. 83ft 0" x 7ft9". 50ton @ 0.29"FB

F. ROBINSON, Wolverhampton,

GEORGE HARDY; BCN 1537, 2/12/1929. 79ft7" x 7ft8.5" 50ton @ 0.11"FB

SEAGRAVE; BCN 1535, 26/11/1929. 83ft1" x 7ft9" 50ton @ 0.59"FB

SOUTHAM COALING Co, Wolverhampton.

BCN 1046, 1/5/1925. 82ft3" x 7ft7.25"

D.STEVENS, Deepfields.

BCN 678,22/6/1923. 80ft7" x 7ft8.25"

JUNE; BCN 975, 5/12/1924. 83ft4" x 7ft8.5"

ONE X; BCN 1081, 31/8/1925. 82ft x 7ft8". 50ton @ 0.76"FB

BCN 856, 12/5/1924. 82ft2" x 7ft8.25"

MAYFLOWER; BCN 757, 5/11/1923. 82ft6" x 7ft8.5"

J & E TAYLOR, Horsleyfields.

BCN 1725, 27/6/1932. 85ft5" x 7ft8.25" 52ton @ 0.02"FB

A G & D THOMAS, Horsleyfields.

JOE LOGGER; BCN 1254, 9/2/1927. 84ft10" x 7ft9" 55ton @ 0.52"FB

OLIVE; BCN 1082, 2/9/1925. 79ft7" x 7ft7.5"

YOUNG TOM; BCN 1338, 4/10/1927. 85ft6" x 7ft9". 53ton @ 0.13"FB

E.THOMAS, Walsall.

MARGE; BCN 1696, 18/9/1931. 88ft0" x 7ft10". 59ton @ 0.39"FB

RAY; BCN 1663, 24/3/1931. 87ft11" x 7ft9". 56ton @ 0.26"FB

J.TOOLE Ltd, Bilston.

DOVE; BCN 23123, 5/3/1920. 79ft5" x 7ft5.75". 45ton @ 0.21"FB.

FRANCES; BCN 1086, 8/9/1925. 83ft8" x 7ft7.5" 54ton @ 0.69"FB

GWENDOLINE; BCN 1087, 9/9/1925. 84ft9" x 7ft9". 53ton @ 0.28"FB

BCN 22651, 13/4/1917. 81ft6" x 7ft7.5". 51ton @ 0.34"FB.

H.TURTON; Monmore Green,

ADELINE; BCN 1741, 16/9/1932. 87ft4" x 7ft9.25" 56ton @ 0.42"FB

BRENDA; BCN 1745, 31/10/1932. 86ft8" x 7ft10.75". 58ton @ 0.20"FB

J. TURTON, Tipton

BCN 699, 30/7/1923. 83ft6" x 7ft8.25" 52ton @ 0.62FB

MARJORIE; BCN 777, 19/12/1923. 78ft8" x 7ft8.25"

PROSPERITY; BCN 23270, 15/10/1920. 78ft8" x 7ft"8".

W & S WARREN; Rough Hills.

EVELYN; BCN 1042, 6/4/1925. 82ft x 7ft8". 50ton @ 0.52"FB

W.J.WEBBERLEY, Wolverhampton.

No 1; BCN 1804, 16/5/1934. 88ft x 7ft8.5". 57ton @ 0.23"FB

No 12, BCN 567, 31/1/1923. 80ft6" x 7ft9.5"

BCN 23094, 2/1/1920. 77ft9" x 7ft6.75". 46ton @ 0.29"FB

BCN 749, 22/10/1923. 84ft6" x 7ft8.75".

BCN 1672, 13/5/1931. 86ft2" x 7ft9". 56ton @ 0.17"FB

J.WELLINGS, Millfields.

JACK; BCN 134, 14/11/1921. 79ft 10" x 7ft7.25". 49ton @ 0.47"FB

VERA; BCN 23334, 19/1/1921. 80ft1" x 7ft7". 48ton @ 0.47"FB

WULFRUNA COAL CO, Wolverhampton.

BCN 781, 28/12/1923. 76ft1" x 7ft6.25"

AMY; BCN 986, 29/12/1924. 82ft11" x 7ft8". 50ton @ 0.68"FB

ARGO; BCN 782, 28/12/1923. 76ft4" x 7ft6.25"

IRIS; BCN 1751, 24/2/1933. 88ft x 7ft9.5" 58ton @ 0.49"FB

MARGARET; BCN 1041, 3/4/1925. 77ft x 7ft8.5"

UNA IRENE; BCN 1154, 22/3/1926. 82ft x 7ft8.5" 50ton @ 0.45"FB

J.YATES; Pelsall.

ELIZABETH; BCN 942, 17/10/1924, 82ft8" x 7ft7.75"

FLORENCE; BCN 886, 21/7/1924. 81ft9" x 7ft8.5"

JESSIE; BCN 795, 16/1/1924. 82ft8" x 7ft8.75"

LITTLE BILL; BCN 1413, 25/7/1928. 84ft10" x 7ft8.5" 52ton @ 0.16"FB

RUBY; BCN 1503, 11/7/1929. 84ft7" x 7ft9" 50ton @ 0.74"FB

SIDNEY JOHN; BCN 1320, 29/8/1927. 83ft3" x 7ft8.5" 51ton @ 0.04"FB

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