Thursday, 31 May 2012

Anchors Aweigh!

Last year theBBC ran an amazing and truly award-winning history programme on Radio 4. In  The History of The World in 100 Objects Neil MacGregor the Director of the British Museum illustrated the history of the world through 100 objects in fifteen-minute episodes,.
Monument in Tipton to the Anchor Makers

Further commemoration on a Tipton factory fence
One of these was a wooden pattern for an anchor casting which is in the Black Country Museum in Dudley.It is believed to be from either Joseph Wright of Tipton or Noah Hingley of Netherton. Anchor making was introduced to the Black country in the the mid 19th century when the said Noah Hingley branched out from small chain making. By the end of the century there were fourteen anchor casting foundries in the Black Country and their reputation was unequalled in the world.
One of the famous anchors made here in 1911 by N. Hingley & Sons was for the Titanic, which sank a year later.

I.K.Brunel & Gt Eastern chains
In 1867, G.H. Parkes of Tipton supplied an anchor for Brunel's steam ship, The Great Eastern. 

 There is some confusion  over the status of this anchor as it is recorded in some journals as a replacement. I have been unable to ascertain whether this is correct and, if so, why a replacement was required. Three possibilities come to mind. -1-On her maiden voyage there was an explosion  which killed five sailors and major repairs were required; -2- On her third voyage to USA she was caught in a gale and suffered considerable damage whilst temporary repairs wee required at sea to keep any control of the ship; -3- On a subsequent trip to New York  she hit a rock now known as Great Eastern Rock and was saved from sinking by her unique double skinned construction.  An anchor found in New York harbour since then has been claimed to belong to her but this has not been verified. 

The royal Yacht Britannia's anchor was also made at Brierley Hill by Samual Taylor.The last wrought iron anchor-maker in the Black Country, Isaiah Preston of Cradley Heath, closed in 1979 and some of the equipment is preserved at the Black Country Living Museum.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Kit is Widowed

For those who have seen Kit and the Widow perform the following email which I received today will be disappointing.  For those who missed them - it's too late.

We wanted to write and let you know that after thirty years performing together Kit & The Widow have decided to go their separate ways.  It was a long and joyous partnership and they would both like to send you an enormous thank you for supporting them over the years.  Kit and Richard are going to be focusing on a number of exciting projects independently and they would love you to keep in touch, they can both be reached through Emily Rees Jones (  Kit has a new website, please do check it out to see details of his forthcoming performances:

Do keep in touch and love to you all,

Chiggy/PBJ Management (on behalf of Kit Hesketh-Harvey and Richard Sisson)

 T  020 7287 1112
M 07771 386866

Old friends: New friends

Over the past week we have been cruising around the Birmingham Canal Navigations with sixteen other boats none of whom we knew before.  Now we have that many more acquaintances and, who knows, maybe a few new friends. We were quite expecting to meet no other boats during the  cruise but when we arrived at Anglesea Basin we found two boats already there.  And they turned out to be boats we met three times last year - in Little Venice, Brentford and Banbury.
After catching up on news and gossip we went our separate ways

At the end of the cruise we decided to stay in Hawne Basin for a while to get a few jobs done on Gecko whilst the weather was nice.

On Sunday morning our boat polishing was interrupted by two boats arriving  which turned out to be these  same boats - Firefly and Pennine Dream.

After assisting them to moor we noticed that firefly's portholes were boarded in.

On Friday and Saturday night these two moored in the town basin at Walsall and at 2am on Sunday our boater was woken by the bathroom porthole being smashed in by some hard object. He jumped out of bed to investigate and as he did so the porthole by his bed suffered the same treatment.  Had he been slower to respond he would have been covered in glass shards.  In twelve years of boating this is the first such incident he has suffered but it is still a shock.  It is also a shame for Walsall as people reading this will now think twice about visiting the town basin. If this happens the yobs will have won again.

Be careful but don't be scared off

We intend to visit Walsall next year.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Netherton Sunset

Just back from the Bell & Bear in Gorsty Hill where we sat in the garden supping ale and watching the sun go down behind St. Andrew's church in Netherton.

for those who know the area the pub has this useful diorama


One of the least enjoyable aspects of cruising the canals is how many people consider that the canal is the appropriate repository for their detritus. 
 On our way along the BCN main line on Saturday morning the red car in this picture stopped on the bridge, the driver got out and threw a bag of rubbish into the canal and then drove off.  It makes me want to return the stuff in the form of a suppository

I do not understand the mentality of someone who goes tot the trouble of stopping to discard rubbish but does not use the appropriate provisions.

Last year on the Kennet and Avon canal we had to manoeuvre around this brand new unregistered Audi which was stolen from a car dealership and driven it into the canal.

It is often obvious that rubbish in the canal has not come from canal users but sometimes boaters' rubbish is not good enough for landlubber rubbish bins.  Why should canals accept non-boater rubbish then?

This coot at Titford Pools is doing its bit for recycling.  

Along with the usual tree trunks,


a polystyrene cup and food tray have been incorporated in the nest construction.

I wonder if they have a preference  for Chinese or Indian food trays.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Explorer Cruise - last day

12miles - no locks - 2 tunnels
Today was definitely a tale of two tunnels.
We woke early and set off at 6:40.  Even Birmingham city centre is peaceful at this time of the morning.

Netherton is like a motorway: it was the last canal tunnel to be built in Britain, in 1858: it is 3027 yards long, dead straight and with tow paths both sides.

Just before entering the north portal we passed under the old main line which was our route to Birmingham yesterday.The original gas lighting and its replacement electric form are no more.

Before arriving at Netherton Tunnel, however we passed this attractive disused stables which is currently seeking a new use.  A short life involving a pub and club foundered due to complaints from the neighbours across the canal about late night noise.

We also passed Smethwick pumping station which was built to pump water from the lower, new, line to the old line which you  can see on the right of this picture.  Its life was short - about 60 years - as decline in canal traffic meant the water supply from the reservoirs could cope without any additional adjustment. A fine looking building with an inoperable steam engine with Lancashire boilers now used for educational purposes.

Gosty Hill tunnel on the Dudley No 2 canal is like a country lane: officially two-way but barely wide enough for one boat. It is only 577 yards but passage takes almost as long as Netherton Tunnel.  It is so low in parts that we ensured our water and fuel tanks are both full before entering.  Even the flowers had to come of the roof: and I sat in the bows to complete the essential measures.

Dudley No 2 canal is very pretty and is superbly maintained by The Coombeswood Canal Trust who own the terminal Hawne Basin where we will have a Chinese supper tonight supplied by the local take-away and hosted by the canal trust.

This is one piece of approved graffiti installed by the trust along the canal.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Explorer Cruise - Day 6

10 miles - 3 locks
There are several routes available for our run from Tipton to Birmingham City Centre all involving three locks.  If we stay on the original line build by James Brindley we can descend to the lower level via Smethwick locks or The Brades: If we descend to the new main line built by Thomas Telford we would drop down the Factory locks we climbed yesterday. We plump for The Brades: a single and a staircase.

Whilst waiting at the top of the staircase for she who must be obeyed to prepare it I noticed that there must have been a roller on the bridge to protect it from wear from the tow ropes in the days when horses toed the barges.  Towards the bottom there is evidence of wear on the structure which must have occurred after the roller disappeared.

The staircase wall was less fortunate and showed considerable rope wear on the shoulder wall

We moored near the top of Farmers' Bridge locks and just behind the hotel boats Oak and Ash.
I was discussing recently the old wives' rhyme:
If the oak sprouts before the ash we will have a splash
If the ash sprouts before the oak we will have a soak
This year the oak sprouted first so the drought may continue.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Explorer Cruise - Day 5

6 miles - 11 locks
To avoid congestion at the locks we set off at 10 minute intervals so we were more than a little surprised when we arrived at the first lock (number 8) to find four boats waiting in front of us.

Same problem as yesterday - bottom gates would not open fully.

By the time BW had cleared the blockage there were seven of us waiting at the locks and another five had been told not to set off from the overnight mooring.

BW were somewhat perplexed as they had dredged this stretch of the canal a week ago.

In the meantime, however, someone had mistaken the lock for a bike park.
I suppose if you buy a cheap bike the bottom of a canal lock might seem an appropriate place to put it.

Once up the locks and on the main line there were anglers everywhere and this carp was a more popular catch than the bike was.


We decided to go right along the new main line to Tipton and climb the Factory Locks.  I would like to tell you lots of interesting things about this section of the canal but my brain has not retained the salient facts so you will have to wait until we see John W again who has a brain immeasurably superior to mine.
At the bottom of the first lock is this footbridge which appears to be incomplete: the gap was left for the horses' tow ropes to slide through.

We do not rely on a horse for our motive power but still found it an interesting solution to the problem.  (for more  on this subject read my posts - English Rope Tricks from  16-20 August 2010)

A Tipton Tale

One of the things Tipton is famous for (and there are many I am reliably informed by the residents of Tipton) is the Tipton Slasher.

William Perry was a pugilist in the 19th century and became the English Champion. from 1850-57  He was know as the Tipton Slasher and there is a statue commemorating his achievements in Coronation Gardens which is alongside the canal. This is rather appropriate as he was a canal worker.

His base until 1851 was at The Fountain Inn, opposite Coronation Gardens.

Whether this pub still produces bare-knuckle fighters I would not hazard a guess.

Of course, Leamington Spa is also on the canal and they have their boxing hero - Randolph Turpin.  I remember my dad talking about him in reverential tones and relating how he beat Sugar RayRobinson in 15 rounds. (10 July 1951) for the World Middleweight title.

This was a short lived title, however, as he lost it to Robinson in September the same year.

I don't remember dad ever telling me about that.

This statue of him is in Warwick which is also on the canal but I am not sure of the connection.

Still, everyone loves a hero!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Explorer Cruise - Day 4

6.5 miles - 9 locks
The estimated journey time for today's itinerary was 2-3 hours.  It took us 4.6 hours. The problems started at lock 4  of the Rushall flight.
Brenda & Brian with She who Must Be Obeyed
We started well with Brenda & Brian from Longwood operating the first lock and Stuart and Marie on the second one but the bottom gates of lock 4 would not open fully due to debris behind one gate.  Thisle Dhu - an aluminium boat with a rubber strake- could not get out of the lock and it had to be refilled for the boat to be reversed out at the top.  BW did come to their rescue later  but a number of boats were delayed. 
Descending Rushall Locks

As we were waiting I switched on the radio in the middle of The World at One on Radio 4 and thought we had made the national news.  Martha Carney was talking about hundreds of boaters waiting for hours in long queues. She went on to discuss the election in Egypt and I realised that she had said voters.

Part of our haul from the Tame Valley Canal
 The Rushall and Tame Valley canals are not the most picturesque in Birmingham and were very slow going due to the quantity and sze of debris in the canal.  We picked up a very handsome leather jacket along with a dustbin and various less interesting items. Thistle Dhu won the prize today for collecting a trampoline on its skeg which disabled it and Kershez towed it to the moorings.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Explorer Cruise - Day 3

10 miles - no locks
Leaving Pelsall Common, we cruised for an hour to Brownhills where there are some well appointed facilities.  The local canoe club share them with the few boaters who pass this way and so we made use of the generously proportioned showers. It is a change for us to have a shower with room to stretch out. A  hundred yards from herewe turned left into the Anglesea Arm.

This was built to move coal from the pits in the area.  The mines have all gone, some still evident in ground subsidence and the remains of chutes used for loading the barges.

 At one time the canal was linked to the Coventry Canal at Huddlesford Jct.


This attractive cast iron bridge spans the point at Ogley Jct where the  link to the Coventry Canal joined this arm of the Curley Wyrely.Litchfield & Hatherton Canal Society with their patron David Suchet are hoping to restore this canal link and also the link form the Staffs & Worcs to Cannock Extension . Amongst the obstacles they have to overcome is  the M6.

At the end of the Anglesea Arm is Chasewater Reservoir.  Built to provide water for the BCN it is also very popular for water sports and other leisure pursuits.  Three years ago it was discovered to be leaking and had to be drained to carry out repairs.

The repairs are complete but refilling will take another two years.

Fish and chips for supper at Longwood Boat Club was very welcome after the weed-infested and shallow Daw End canal from Catshill.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Home Sweet Home

One of the pleasures of cruising the canals at this time of the year is seeing all the baby water birds - ducklings, goslings and cygnets. Like any young animal they are entertaining to watch as they mimic their parents. This year the nest-building and baby-rearing seems later to us than in previous years.

As daft as a coot seems an apt expression when you see some of their nests.

It's alright for some.......

Explorer Cruise - Day 2

13.5 miles - 0 locks
Yes, another lock-free day.
The Wyrlie &  Essington Canal is called the Curly Wyrely for good reason. The cruise today from Wolverhampton to Pelsal took us six hours. This cruise is designed to introduce boaters to the less popular canals of Birmingham.

This is one of the most popular canals in Birmingham - the main line from Birmingham to Wolverhampton.

The Curley Wyrley is so rarely used that we are unlikely to see another boat during the two days we spend on the canal.

Even the locals asked us why.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Explorer Cruise - Day 1

10 miles - 6 locks
Well, Sunday lived up to its name.  By the time we arrived at Wolverhampton the sun was shining. En route we made a brief diversion into the Black Country Museum where there are facilities for filling the water tank and emptying the toilet. No time this year to visit the wonderful preserved buildings. Not a  lot of room at the top of the locks so we are breasting up.  (Double parking)
Boats arriving at Wolverhampton

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Langley Village


Rather busy today with two spells on the tea & cake stall but thought you might like to see these pictures of the 4-sided pub sign in Langley Village which is adjacent to Titford Pools.

I think it very telling that the canal features in all the pictures but that the Present one shows it full of rubbish.

Titford Pools

We arrived at Titford Pools on Thursday afternoon seeing only two boats during our three hours cruise from the city centre. This weekend the Birmingham Canal Navigations Society (BCNS) is holding a rally here and on Sunday we are joining about 20 other boats to cruise around the less popular canals of Birmingham.  There are now only about 100 miles of canal in Birmingham: the other 100 miles have been filled in, built upon or otherwise obliterated.  Malcolm & Annie on Xilion Rose have just arrived having participated in a similar Explorer cruise.  And John Pattle is here with his Stewarts & Lloyds tug - Pacific. Last time we saw Pacific it was having a tug-of-war with Atlantic at the Rivky festival. Atlantic won!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

New Guillotine Lock

When the English canals were built about 200 years ago the projects were all private enterprises. They generally required an Act of Parliament in order to facilitate the purchase of land and protection of water resources.  We have seen this year how important water resources are to the operation of the canals and often canal companies would prevent the water from their canal flowing into an adjoining canal belonging to another company. This was usually accomplished by what is termed a stop lock: This may have a small change in level but was primarily designed to ensure that when a boat passed from one canal to the next it took no more water with it than absolutely necessary.

Kings Norton Stop Lock

Yesterday when we came up from Lyon's Boatyard  on the North Stratford Canal into the centre of Birmingham we passed through two stop locks.  The first, at Kings Norton, formed the border between the Stratford and the Worcester & Birmingham canals: the second, at Gas Street Basin and generally called the Worcester Bar,  formed the border of the W&B and the Birmingham Main Line.

Neither of these actually function today, the water levels being identical. Whilst the Worcester Bar was traditional hinged lock gates, at Kings Norton Jct the gates are in the form of a guillotine.

British Waterways have now introduced a new variation on the guillotine lock - this is designed to decapitate any boater taller than 5ft 2ins.

For pictures and more details follow this link to the Narrowboat World report.

Regular readers will also remember my recent post regarding this plan by BW to fit hand rails to the lock tail bridges on the Staffs & Worcs canal because a lad died whilst trying to cycle across a lock in Stourport.
It seems the safety of fools is more important than that of legitimate users.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

More Bath for Julie

Parade Gardens in Bath which lie between the river and the abbey are always a pleasure to view and, when the tourists go home, to relax in. For some years now they have featured some imaginative floral displays.

I think this was my favourite

But Plant a tree for the future was quite jolly

And the lion was impressive.

Of course 2011 could not pass without the marriage of Kate and Wills being commemorated.

This year, sadly, there is no such display yet but my horti advisor tells me that the winter bedding has been cleared in preparation. Watch this space.....