Monthly Archives: March 2020

overwater marina celebrates 10th anniversary

overwater marina celebrates 10th anniversary

Overwater Marina

This year one of the networks best known new-build marinas celebrates its 10th birthday.

Overwater, on the Shropshire Union, near the vibrant canalside village of Audlem reaches its milestone in the spring and to celebrate its first decade the owners, Janet & Angus Maughan are planning a big giveaway of gifts to moorers.

The marina has come a long way since 2009 when it began life as a diversification project for the Maughan family farm. Richard, Angus’s father had farmed the land for over 50 years and was keen to see his son and daughter-in-law diversify into such a picturesque project. The Overwater name itself was chosen as the farm in the late 1800’s was originally called ‘Over the Water’. When Richard came to the farm in 1960, he set up a pedigree dairy herd under the name Overwater.

Overwater Marina with irises

Overwater Marina in tune with environs

Overwater was carefully designed to embrace its natural surroundings, with every mooring having a view over its lakeland design. The construction by Land and Water Services was carefully managed to allow the marina to concentrate on conservation and wildlife, and this,  coupled with its location in the middle of the rural Cheshire countryside result in it being a haven of peace and tranquillity.

The marina has become one of the most award winning in the country with a string of small business, corporate responsibility and Marina of the Year accolades to its name. Manager David Johnson believes “one of the reasons behind our success is the team that has been put in place to run the marina. Each and every member of staff complements the feeling of a family run business, one that puts the customer at the heart of everything”.

Over time the marina has matured and developed to embrace many aspects of the leisure industry. The addition of a workshop has meant that moorers can have their boats maintained without the need to travel. Also available are a small number of Caravan and Motorhome Club pitches and a small caravan touring park with fully serviced hard standing pitches. In addition, there are now only 2 pitches remaining on a small and bespoke development of holiday lodges which are available to buy with a 100-year site licence.

One popular attraction also remains Café at Bridge 80 which serves home cooked food, hot and cold drinks and delicious homemade scones and cakes 7 days a week.

Overwater Marine, the Café

Always keen to support the local community and its adopted charity, the RNLI, the marina provides a base for the Audlem Lass Boat Service, a volunteer run water taxi which ferries passengers from the marina to the bottom of the Audlem flight and back every weekend and bank holiday between Easter and the end of October. For the less able bodied the marina is home to Overwater Wheelyboat Services, which provides wheelchair friendly transport on road and via the Overwater Wheelyboat.

Audlem Lass @ OVerwater Marina

Wheelybus at Overwater Marina

On the 12/13th September this year will also see the 10th anniversary of the popular RNLI festival which encompasses all things fun about being near the water, including a raft race, dog show and marquee craft market.

RNLI raft race at Overwater Marina

RNLI raft race at Overwater Marina 2019

Janet Maughan, one of Overwater’s owners says “family is at the heart of our business and our local community is very special to us. These are the gifts which we have which we can share with our customers. We’ve had a fabulous first 10 years developing Overwater and now look forward to many years to come.”

Overwater Marina LogoOverwater Marina is an award winning marina set in the Cheshire countryside at Audlem and offers moorings on the Shropshire Union Canal.

Tel: 01270 812 677 Write: Visit:

aftermath of the storms

aftermath of the storms

recent storms prompt 50+ major rescue call-outs for RCR

Since the beginning of the year, storms Brendan, Ciara, Dennis and Jorge have battered the UK, causing problems for boat owners across the inland waterway network. During this time - from 1 January to 3 March - River Canal Rescue carried out 52 major rescues (categorised as submerged, partially sunken or grounded craft).

From their bases in Chester, London, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford and Stafford, RCR’s team of four rescue specialists and 12 supporting engineers worked flat-out, attending an average of around six rescues a week; all complex cases involving hands-on crews and head office support staff who monitored water levels, managed logistics and communication, and liaised with third-parties/stakeholders (often trying to pair up stricken boats with unaware owners).

Unprecedented rises in river/canal levels and sudden water surges across the country separated boats from their moorings, pushing them to new locations, often on towpaths and in fields, or wedging them against pontoons and other craft. Boats unable to cope with the downpours were soon reported as submerged.

A high number of calls were from boats on the rivers: Aire, Cam, Soar, Trent, Witham and Yare, and from vessels on the Aire & Calder, Calder & Hebble, Huddersfield Broad and Rochdale canals.

RCR reports that while some vessels were easily moved, others were trapped, unable to refloat until water levels receded or indeed rose again, and there are those posing more of a challenge.

Rescue co-ordinator, Tushka Horton, comments: “From the calls coming in, you could quickly identify the path of every storm and the destruction each left in its wake. Not every case was or is a simple boat raising; we sometimes had to use divers to help with the rescue or deploy a drone to find the vessel. Some could not be accessed with vehicles, others needed plant machinery to lift them which means liaison with third-parties such as the Canal & River Trust, landowners and the highways agency, and there were a few where we had to track down the owners and secure permission to attempt a rescue.”

Managing director, Stephanie Horton, continues: “These past few months have certainly been testing for boat owners and our staff alike, but we endeavour to act as quickly as we can to secure boats in trouble. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of these storms this year and we will continue to work with everyone to ensure they keep their vessels as safe as possible during these difficult times.”

Case Studies

Pillings Lock, River Soar

February - a houseboat at Pillings Lock on the river Soar. Moored next to a pontoon, the water levels rose so quickly the boat couldn’t adjust itself on its pilings in time. Water poured through the doors, causing it to list at a right angle and wedge itself on the pontoon. Despite attempts from a five-man team, the houseboat was too unstable to pump-out. A telehandler and tractor were used to brace the houseboat so further pumping out could be done.

Houseboat at Pillings lock courtesy BBC

houseboat rescue Pillings Lock

River Trent

February – a 57ft narrowboat pushed onto river Trent towpath. A three man-team used ropes and scaffolding poles to manoeuvre the boat back into water.

Grounded narrowboat on river Trent

River Soar

February – a narrowboat on the river Soar, left stranded on the barriers by bridge 30 at Barrow. Surging water caused it to break its moorings, sending it down river to bridge 30 where it became wedged. The liveaboard was woken when the boat hit the bridge and he had to be rescued from the boat.

The vessel was left in a precarious position, with the bow in the air and stern in the water, see-sawing on the barrier. Until flood waters receded, it was decided that a refloat could not be undertaken. Unfortunately, as the waters receded the barriers gave way, resulting in the vessel capsizing and becoming trapped between the bridge pillars and the barrier pole. Due to weight restrictions on Barrow bridge and the condition of the ground, the rescue is not going to be straightforward.

Leicester council and the tenant of the field opposite have agreed to access for heavy pulling equipment and divers are all in place. The rescue is now dependent on river levels, weather and authorisation from the Canal & River Trust.

RCR narrowboat at barrow on soar

rcr boat rescue at Barrow on Soar

Rochdale Canal

February – wide beam on Rochdale canal. water levels High water levels pushed boat onto tow path. The river rose so fast the boat floated onto the towpath and when levels receded, the boat was stranded. Rescue involved a three-man team, tirfors, rope, scaffold poles and a pump-out.

Widebeam grounded on Rochdale Canal

Hebdon Bridge, Rochdale Canal

February – narrowboat at Hebdon Bridge ended up wedged between CRT working boat and bank of Rochdale canal. The rescue team had to wait for levels to lower (in between the storms) and with pumps, manpower, tirfors, ropes and their experience, released the vessel.

rcr rescue boat at Hebden Bridge

the view from the boat broker’s desk

the view from the boat broker's desk

With a new decade starting the Aqueduct Marina team at Church Minshull in Cheshire began to discuss the changing way people view, buy and sell boats through the brokerage.

Aqueduct Brokerage and Sales Manager Ian and team look at the evolution of the boat brokerage.

Read More

heavy cable crimping

heavy cable crimping

Oh dear what have I taken on, promised to do an article on crimping cable and ended up with 49 photos some duplicates so let's see how it goes.

Let's start with what is needed

heavy crimps

1. left to right: Heat gun for heatshrink; Crimper; Heat shrink insulation; Cable in this case 95mmsq; Termination 95mmsq with a 10mm hole; Vaper; Tea; Sharp knife.

I suppose the next item should be the termination. All terminations that we use on boats should be tinned copper and the size of the cable it will fitted to and the size of the hole should be impressed on the spade of the termination.

To make our lives easier it is better to buy ones where the cable entrance is slightly belled – that makes it easier to insert the cable. The hole for the cable is a close but loose fit.

2. termination

At the spade end of the tube is a hole the hole is useful as it allows you to see if strands are fully filling the barrel and the ends of the stands should be very visible but we will get to that later.

3. hole in the termination

Now we need to prepare the cable end to go into the termination, The easiest way I find is to put the cable along side of the termination so that its end is level with the centre of the hole and I mark where I am going to cut the insulation back to with my thumb nail.

crimps 4

4. measuring the insulation to be removed

5. position knife for cut

6. cutting insulation

heavy cable crimping

7. showing the insulation breaking away on the final 1/2mm

Then using a very sharp knife, gently but firmly cut around the cable – being careful
not to damage the copper strands under the insulation. Then bend the cable at the cut and the insulation should break through the last 1/2mm or so to the copper.

heavy cable crimping

8. bare end ready for insertion

You end up with the bare strands. Gently and with minimum pressure, coax any strands that have come out of place back into position by using fore finger and thumb. Starting at the insulation, rotating your finger and thumb round the strands, going in the direction the strands lie, and smooth any out of position back into the body of the strands. The object is not to screw the strands tightly together just coax the strays back into position.

Now insert the strands into the termination, rotating the termination normally in the direction the strands lay in the cable can assist this.

heavy cable crimping

9. termination on

Now we come back to the hole I mention in the end of the barrel that the cable goes into. The strands should be right up to it and easily seen. Looking into the hole the strands are a couple of millimetres back, so we need to lengthen the bare strands by taking of about 2mm more off the insulation. Again sharp knife and gently remove about 2mm of the insulation.

heavy cable crimping

10. showing strands further back than
they should be

heavy cable crimping

11. taking off an extra 2mm or so

Put the termination back on and pushing the cable into the termination it should look something like this:

heavy cable crimping

12. strands about where they should be

heavy cable crimping

13. termination in the crimper for the first crimp

Now comes the actual crimping, make sure the crimper has the correct moulds in. Put the cable into the termination and partially close the crimper so termination can just slide in. Position the termination so that it is set in the crimper so that the first crimp will be just behind the hole in the termination. While pushing the cable firmly into the termination, crimp the termination to the cable. Remove from the crimper when completed and it should look like this picture on right.

heavy cable crimping

14. after first crimp

Now reinsert the termination so that it will put a second crimp immediately the cable side of the first crimp.

heavy cable crimping

15. in crimper for second crimp

Then with this size of termination repeat with a third crimp. How many crimps a termination will take depends on the width of the mould and the length of the termination. It is particularly important with cables that will carry heavy currents, that as much of the termination as possible is crimped to give the greatest good contact area for the current flow. Now get hold of the termination and pull as hard as you can. If it stays put, all is OK.

heavy cable crimping

16. completed third crimp

All crimps should be insulated, please do not use insulation tape, it does not look good and gradually comes off. The best I have found is heat shrink tubing. Cut a piece double the distance from the back edge of the spade to the insulation slide it over the terminal. On sea boats where salt air is a problem a blob of silicon sealant to fill the hole and keep the sea air out before heat shrinking is a good idea.

heavy cable crimping

17. putting heat shrink onto the cable

Slide it on so that the outside edge is just behind the back edge of the spade of the termination.

heavy cable crimping

18. heat shrink on the cable end just behind the back edge of the spade

Heat the heat shrink with a hot air gun starting at the termination end – remembering to rotate the cable – moving along as the tubing shrinks.

heavy cable crimping

19. hot air gun shrinks tubing

heavy cable crimping

20. completed crimp

© Graham Mills 2020

de-winterising tips

de-winterising tips

As we shake off the cold weather and begin to embrace warmer climes, the changes in temperature signal the start of the boating season and with it a need to de-winterise your boat.


This means checking and closing any taps left open though winter, replacing the plug in the water heater (if removed) and switching the water pump on. Test the system to ensure there are no leaks or issues, and open and run water through each tap.  Start with those closest to the pump and work through to the one furthest away – this will push any air locks through the system.  Drain any water in the tank out and refill with fresh drinking water.

engine, electrics, gas...

Remember servicing, including the engine, LPG and electrical systems, fire extinguishers and escape hatches. Servicing your engine prior to cruising will generally safeguard against the most common issues, and also pick up any potential problems that need addressing. Although no action is needed for gas pipes at the start of the winter, it’s a good idea to paint connections with 50% soap liquid and 50% water using a small artist’s brush – this will show up any minor gas leaks at the joints.


Water in the fuel is one of the biggest causes of breakdowns and poor engine performance, so before running the engine, check water trap filters and remove any excess water.  If water is present or there are signs of diesel bug (black dust or jelly - dip the tank to identify its severity and then treat with a fuel treatment or have the fuel polished accordingly).

If you do not have a water trap filter, you’ll need to check the main fuel tank. The easiest way to do this is to use a clear plastic hose.  Drop it into the tank (being careful not to disturb the fuel) and when you feel the bottom, place your thumb over the end to seal it and withdraw the hose. This should provide you with a sample of the tank (plus an indication of any diesel bug contamination) and show the amount of water present.

bolts & terminals

Prior to cruising, Check the bolts on couplings, engine mounts (only adjust the bottom bolt) and prop shaft are tight, and clean off any corrosion on battery terminals. Check fan belt for tightness and wear, and gearbox oil levels.

cooling system

Run your engines up to ‘running’ temperature (if a gauge is available on board) or for approximately half an hour.  Check every inch of the cooling system for leaks or escaping steam and if something is found, check jubilee clips are tight.  If a split pipe is evident call out a qualified (RCR) engineer. Finally put engine into gear and check control leaver operation, these should move freely with no tightness or ‘grabbing’, grease the ends and check for fraying and replace if required.

so good, it went in the book

so good, it went in the book

Michal Nye

The 9 year old me looking a little shifty...

Going back to the summer of 1965, when I was just nine years old, it was time for our second waterways holiday on a boat hired from T. W. Allen and sons of Molesey.   This time it had been decided, in discussions that I was not privy to, that my maternal grandmother would come with us.

A bigger boat was needed so we plumped for a wooden one that T. W. Allen had christened River Rose. The boat dated back to the mid to late fifties and was typical low to midrange fare.

We had a chemical toilet (not for the faint hearted) and sinks that were converted (due to a change in regulations) so that they no longer discharged into the river. This conversion was in the form of a bucket under the plughole with the pipe to the external discharge simply chopped short!

After a very short time Dad had decided that the thing was both underpowered and ungainly but we were happy to go, crab fashion, as Mum put it, along at just below the 7 knot speed limit, tying up at Runnymede for our first night.   When it rained, we discovered that it leaked rather copiously and, worse than that, when dad pumped the bilges, he discovered that the leaks were not wholly confined to the superstructure.   We weren’t sinking though, so we pushed on.   We were going to enjoy ourselves even if it killed us!

River rose with the canopy down

River Rose with the canopy down

It was the second day afloat that a vantage point on the back-cabin top became something of an issue with my elder brother claiming ownership because he found it first.   John’s extra two years in the world were something of a major factor to the nine-year-old me but I still protested the claim - getting the threat of a foot in the face if I tried climbing the short ladder from the cockpit to the vantage point.

Mum eventually intervened in the territorial battle before it turned into open warfare with the proclamation that we had an hour each or we were both banned.   With the issue settled, John and I more or less lost interest and disappeared into the front cabin to make paper cut-outs and play board games.   For the most part we got on fairly well and I remember us decorating the boat with the collection of chopped up scrap paper for Mum and Dad’s 12th wedding anniversary.   There were even two snakes made (by me) out of string as part of the decorations with a caption “Bromrikong and Sallikong wish you a happy anniversary.”

The midpoint and destination of Thames holidays was always Lechlade (though some people would do a turnaround at Oxford and it was at Osney lock that we discovered the reason for the leaky superstructure.

“They turned that around pretty quick,” the jovial lock keeper said.

It transpired that the cockpit cover was too low for the famous Osney bridge and had to be lowered, a simple process that the keeper was happy to demonstrate.   Shame that the previous hirers ignored his advice and help, saying that they would sort it.   They did this by heading at the centre of the bridge at whatever speed the craft could muster, smashing the windscreen and various other bits of the cockpit canopy to bits.   End of their holiday!   In less than a week, Allen’s had fixed it all up and dispatched us to enjoy our holiday, leaks and all.   Again, the Lock keeper was more than helpful, handing dad half a tin of old varnish and telling him to plaster it on from the outside around anywhere that leaked.

“I’ll tell old man Allen, so you won’t lose any deposit,” he smiled as we headed on (canopy down) to the bridge.

Michael Nye, his mother & brother net fishing in Lechlade

Mum John and me fishing for tiddlers at Lechlade

A couple more days and in brilliant weather, we tied up at the meadow below Halfpenny Bridge in Lechlade.

I still have a soft spot for the place, though I haven’t been there for over 30 years.

The meadow was massive, with plenty of space for John, me and some of the other holidaying kids to run around and play football or whatever other games we concocted.  This was that stuff that a childhood summer was made from with blue skies and seemingly endless blisteringly hot weather.   Then I was not so cynical as to be aware that it would eventually end in a thunderstorm and yet more leaks.

Something that was not subject to the weather was the treat that was dinner at the café that bore the name of A. Smith, run by two very kind old gentlemen.   The food was basic good cooking and the atmosphere was the genuine version of timeless.

A.Smith Cafe in Lechlade

A Smith Lechlade

I had been looking forward to going there again for the whole year and was not disappointed when we sat down for our meal.   Part of this eagerness to revisit the place was the conundrum of the framed print of a seemingly random group of letters.

“YCWCYTFTB” it said, and I was determined to find out what it meant… So I asked one of the kindly gentlemen.

“Your curiosity will cost you thruppence for the blind,” he chuckled.

I’d been had!   But his delivery of the words made me laugh so much that I willingly coughed up half the price of a “Matchbox” toy car for the local blind charity.

Two memories of the holiday stuck so much that, when I wrote my second book, “Here we Go!” I included a visit to the café by my two heroes (Jim and Amanda) at a pivotal point in their relationship.   I changed its location and menu a little, but if you remember A. Smith, you will spot the origin of the café instantly.   River Rose also appears, in somewhat altered form as the basis “Clearwater Sky.”

Interestingly, whilst A. Smith’s café is long gone, I am pretty sure that the “River Rose” has survived in private ownership.   ©2019 Michael Nye.

tunnel tips

iwa word on the waterways

tunnel tips

We have made it through the tough winter months, which seem to have consisted of rain, rain and more rain. Hopefully we have seen the back of all the flooding and can now look forward to the warmer months, with more opportunities to cruise the waterways.

Going Underground

Some of the most exciting, or is that just Adrenalin-inducing, parts of cruising our canals are the tunnels of which there are 48 still in use across the network. Some of the earliest tunnels no longer exist, many falling foul of subsidence but as they became more widespread, tunnels began to develop, becoming wider, straighter and longer. The longest tunnel on the network is Standedge on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal at 5000 metres, second is Dudley on the Dudley Canal at 2900 metres. The shortest tunnel is Dunsley on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal which is just 23 metres long.

Follow the Rules

Braunston Tunnel

Depths of Braunston Tunnel by Adam Smith (winner of On the Water and Over all winner IWA photo competition 2019)

Boating through tunnels can be dangerous and boaters need to be aware of the rules, which may differ on each individual tunnel.

Tunnels can run on a one- or two-way working system. There is always signage at the entrance to the tunnel to indicate whether two-way passage is allowed or if there are time restrictions on entering.

The signage will also inform boaters if unpowered craft are likely to be encountered in the tunnel.

With tunnels such as Foulridge on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, with its traffic light system, or Preston Brook and Saltersford tunnels on the Trent & Mersey Canal, which have timed periods for boats entering at either end, you are unlikely to encounter oncoming boats unless one of you has ignored the lights or signs!

Chirk Tunnel, Llangollen Canal

Chirk tunnel on The Llangollen Canal by Jane Rabagliati.

Many canal tunnels allow two-way unrestricted passage, allowing narrowboats to pass in the tunnel but on waterways where wide beam boats are common, for example in London, one-way working will need to be used even if the tunnels are wide enough for two narrowboats to pass each other.

Passage by wide beam boats needs to be arranged in advance with the navigation authority, who will have to close the tunnel to other traffic.

All boaters should take great care and keep a good lookout when navigating tunnels. Things to be aware of include catching up the boat in front of you, and looking out for any unpowered craft that may be using the tunnel.


Top Tips for boating through tunnels

Brandwood Tunnel

Brandwood Tunnel, Kings Norton, Stratford Canal - ©Mark Hewson Sep 2006

Before entering a tunnel:

• Switch on headlight and also some internal lights within the cabin to make yourself as visible as possible.
• Make sure that additional lighting in the form of a waterproof torch is available for the person steering. A boat’s tunnel light should not be aimed straight ahead but slightly up to illuminate the roof.
• Check that there is no boat already in the tunnel coming towards you if it is too narrow for two boats to pass.
• Ensure nobody is on the roof or sides of the boat.
• Put on waterproofs as tunnel roofs are often wet.
• Wearing a life jacket is recommended, especially if you are single handing.

On entering a tunnel:

• In tunnels where two-way working is allowed, enter the tunnel slowly in case there is anything about to exit the tunnel. Once in the tunnel aim to keep in the middle of the channel in order to avoid scraping your cabin top or chimney on the tunnel walls.
• Watch out for the changing profile of the tunnel - tunnels are seldom dead straight!
• Keep a distance of at least 160 metres from the boat in front of you (about 2 minutes apart at normal cruising speed).
• If traffic is two-way, keep a good look out for oncoming boats. If you meet an oncoming boat in the tunnel, slow right down and move over to the right.
• In tunnels where unpowered craft are allowed, look out for small boats at low level ahead of you.
• If you have to stop for any reason turn off your engine. This will avoid any danger from exhaust fumes.
• If you break down, sound long blasts on your horn to attract attention. Do not swim out. As a last resort, you could try to push the boat out using a boat pole.
• All on board should avoid shining their hand-held or head torches directly at on-coming boats.

If you follow these tips then you will have safe passage through any tunnels that you might come across on your journey.

Good luck and enjoy your adventures.

the miners of crick

tales from the old cut 4

the miners of crick

The little village of Crick is these days best known for the annual Crick Boat Show, thousands of pounds worth of canal related paraphernalia is showcased in an attempt to get visitors to mortgage a kidney and buy some of it. The show is, these days, all about the modern boat, and while the visitors may comment on how picturesque the location is, rarely does the history of it cross their minds.

Crick Tunnel engraving showing date of completionA casual walk down the towpath from the show-ground will lead you to the mighty tunnel portal, where if you stand on the water’s edge and face the tunnel, you will find a small, worn brick inscribed with a date.

On that date, with great pomp and circumstance, a boat loaded with the great and good was legged through, the tunnel declared officially open and everyone clapped themselves on the back for completing such a momentous task.

Of course, the people in the boat that day hadn't lifted more than a pen in actually getting the tunnel built, and most history books that a visitor to the boat show can pick up, only speak of those fancy suited gentlemen.

I, however, prefer the grubbier story of the tunnel, the one full of blood, sweat, tears and a lot of sex.

We'll bypass the boring paper-trail and begin our story in 1810. The village was a busy little place, sat comfortably on a trade route between Oxford and Leicester, and the travellers it tempted supported a selection of forges and inns. The village was still hanging onto its cottage crafts in the weavers, spinners, shoemakers and saddlers, and it was forward thinking enough to have a couple of day schools, an apothecary and  a doctor. It of course had the usual butchers and bakers, and obviously a good selection of farmers and a lot of labourers.

Crick tunnel entrance

There were masons at the stone pits and at least 2 brickyards quietly churning out building materials, and in 1810 it is our brickyards that open up our story by signing up to produce 2 million bricks for the princely sum of 1 & ½ farthings per brick, or 32 shillings per thousand.

Within a year, the busy little village was bustling more than usual. There doesn't appear to be a full list of who was employed, so it is impossible to say how many men were professional canal builders and how many were local labourers ready for a change of career, but we know that 350 men were employed and were making rapid progress.

There was a minor blip late in 1811 when the labourers had nearly finished a deep cutting at one end of the new tunnel, when someone with a theodolite and some sense, dug test bores for said tunnel and found it dangerously unsuitable.

A few frantic meetings later, and a new site was chosen on the other side of the village and work restarted with all haste.

Haste is perhaps the operative word here. The new site had less shifting sand, but it did have streams. By late 1813, the tunnel itself was well past the halfway mark, but at least one man had died at shaft 10 (stories differ as to whether he fell down it or whether something fell down it and landed on him), and a few others suffered “some maiming” from roof falls. This was on top of the usual range of accidents, with at least one man being run over by a full wheelbarrow that slipped back on him; humorous this might sound at first, remember that these were timber monstrosities shod with iron and loaded as heavily as possible.

You may have noticed that so far, I have carefully avoided using that dreadful term: “navvies.” We must remember that there had been no real concept of tunnel building prior to the canals arriving. If you were digging tunnels you were generally a miner, and it is this logic that accounts for our first glimpse of the real men behind the tunnel each being recorded in the parish register as “miner.”

Meet William Morse, his wife Mary, and their baby son, John.

registration of John Morse, son of William & Mary Morse

We don't know where our miners lived; if we take the sister site at Husbands Bosworth as a guide, we can assume that somewhere near to the site would have been a couple of long wooden dormitory huts capable of housing a couple of hundred men. They were being quite well paid (contrary to the mental image one might get when one thinks of the canal builders), so it is likely that some of the men, perhaps the married ones, would have rented rooms in the village.

They certainly would have descended on the village after the day was done in search of sustenance, and it is likely that it was during one of these sorties into the village that Hugh Nail first spotted Ann Blakemore.

Hugh seems to have been born on the outskirts of Liverpool and joined the canal gangs aged around 14, then made his way around the country, digging as he went. We can speculate that he arrives on the scene fairly early in the proceedings, as by the time he goes to the Rector in January of 1813 asking for the banns to be called, he's considered “of the parish.”

marriage certificate of Hugh Nail & Anne Blakemore1813

Hugh and Ann leave the church hand in hand watched by Ann's family and, chief among Hugh's fellow miners, his best friend Joseph Wilson.

Perhaps it was this romance that introduced Joseph to Ann's sister Sarah. Indeed, perhaps it's in an advanced state of alcoholic refreshment following the wedding that Joseph and Sarah became more intimately acquainted.

The following year, Hugh, Ann, Joseph and Sarah make their way back to the church where the resigned Rector baptised William and Mary respectively.

It may surprise you to learn that Sarah and Joseph stay together and produce a son the following year.

Sex before marriage didn't carry quite the same badge of shame for people of the regency era, especially the “country folk” who were frankly far more understanding of the mechanics and didn't bat an eyelid at a woman walking up the aisle with a big belly. Illegitimate children were frowned upon but once they'd arrived no one really bothered about them provided they were cared for without posing an expense on the parish.

In fact, Crick appears more tolerant than most as the Rector doesn't bat an eyelid when George Crowder and James Schofield leave the tunnel for a walk out with Esther and Sarah Vaus and produce babies John and James, or when William Harrison downs his shovel to dally with Hannah Gent and produces another baby John.

Indeed, the only time we see anything that could be taken as disapproval is when the Rector notes in 1811: Nov 12th. I privately baptised Mary, daughter of James and Ann Morris. The father (a brickmaker) having absconded and the mother with the infant being about to undertake a long journey.

Perhaps James had been overwhelmed by the amount of bricks the new tunnel had demanded.

We can't avoid the potential that some sex work was taking place at this time, but there is no evidence to suggest that the babies were the receipt from a miner’s night-out.

Considering how many men were working on the tunnel and the reputation that they gain later in the Victorian period, it is refreshing to see that out of 16 children baptised, only 4 are born fully out of wedlock, and a fifth whose parents had the banns called, but they don't appear to actually manage to get up the aisle. Percentage wise, the miners are veritable gentlemen against the rest of the village.

There are many more stories of these forgotten men waiting to be uncovered, and I hope to find the rest of their names for a start.

It seems likely that it's thanks to these men that Crick gained the story that it had a treacle mine, but I like the fact better - that these men mined for a canal and found it.

Tunnel Miner Rollcall:

William Morse, Mark Flint, George Crowder, Edward Corby, James Cope, William Cox, Richard Hodges, John Betty, Joseph Wilson, Hugh Nail, William Harrison, John Jones, James Schofield, George Hillyard

featured author – Kitty Irvine (spring 2020)

featured author - spring 2020

Kitty Irvine

I was born and grew up in the north of England. From an early age, my parents were heavily involved in Scouting, so I spent many weekends and school holidays camping and sailing. My family holidays were spent in the north west of Scotland. I suppose this is where I get my love of wildlife and countryside.

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