Monthly Archives: February 2022

the wooden canal boat society

the wooden canal boat society

One of the attractions of the waterways are the former working boats, often gaily painted, covered in shiny brass and lovingly maintained by their owners. Every year there are several gatherings of ex working boats. Some are converted, some still clothed up and ready to carry another load, but, there’s one thing that nearly all have in common- they’re made of metal.

100 years ago metal boats were the exception. Most were made of wood, oak for the sides, 3 inch elm for the bottom. Sadly, though many gained a new lease of life as pleasure boats after they finished carrying, the enormous cost of maintenance meant that most ended up being destroyed or simply abandoned.

Based in Greater Manchester, the Wooden Canal Boat Society is busy not only saving a small fleet of wooden narrow boats, but also putting them to good use. Museums are all well and good, but boats were made to be used.

Portland Basin - full of wooden boats

Portland Basin - full of boats

Portland Basin by Adrian Glasgow

Portland Basin - photo by Adrian Glasgow

It all started back in the 1980s as a project to restore the wooden motor boat “Forget me Not” and make use of the former joey boat “Lilith”. Whilst “Forget me Not” was being stripped down and put back together again at Guide Bridge, on the Ashton Canal, “Lilith” was bow hauled and hitch hiked around the network carrying buskers to raise funds for tree planting in Africa.

Before “Forget me Not” was finished a third boat was offered, “Hazel”. Built (probably) in 1913, she turned out to be the last Runcorn wooden header narrow boat afloat. She made an epic journey from London to Ashton in 1988. She was slipped for inspection at the Ashton Packet Boat Co. Almost every part of the boat was on its way out. The only possibility was to save up the pennies for an eventual complete rejuvenation.

Wooden Canal Boat Society - Forget-me-not and Lilith pass Guide Bridge Mill, Ashton

"Forget Me Not" and "Lilith" pass Guide Bridge Mill, Ashton on a recycling trip

Wooden Canal Boat Society "Hazel" en route to Middlewich FAB Festival

"Hazel" en route to Middlewich FAB Festival

In 1992 the ‘big ricky’ “Southam” was purchased from BWB for £525, sunk at Hillmorton. This was followed by “Elton”, donated by BW sunk in Southall in 1993 and “Queen”, the oldest surviving wooden motor narrow boat, sunk at Denham, in 1994. These boats were hitch hiked to the Boat & Butty yard in Runcorn.

After “Forget me Not” was launched a recycling project was begun in 1996 using “Forget me Not” and “Lilith” to collect unwanted goods from canalside homes for resale and recycling. Initially these goods were sold on a flea market stall. Now the society runs the biggest charity shop in Ashton, though recycling trips have been suspended during the covid crisis.

Wooden Canal Boat Society - Wooden boat Southam leaving Marple

Wooden boat "Southam" leaving Marple

Wooden Canal Boat Society - Wooden boat "Elton"

"Elton" being shafted across the Tame Aqueduct. She was going on to dry dock at Portland Basin Marina to repair damage caused by being rammed by an out of control steel boat

Tameside council has given the charity huge amounts of help. The boats were moved to the local history museum, Portland Basin, in the late 1990s and work on a Heritage Boatyard in Stalybridge started in 2000. The ground here had to be lowered by 2 metres to canal level.

A “Hazel” sponsorship scheme encouraged supporters to make annual contributions to a fund for her renovation and maintenance. In 2011 this reached £23000. A further donation of £75000 from Tameside council enabled work to begin on her. Boatbuilder Stuart Hughes flew in from America to take charge of the work. She was launched in 2013 and entered service in 2016.

Wooden Canal Boat Society - wooden boat Hazel being rejuvenated

Wooden boat "Hazel" being rejuvenated

wooden boat forget me not being relaunched in 1994

Wooden boat "Forget Me Not" being launched in 1994

Every boat has to have a purpose. “Hazel” is a well being boat, enabling people suffering mental stress to spend time on the canals (an idea later pinched by CRT!) She has been restored to her original unpowered condition, so guests can enjoy the peace of a canal journey being towed by a distant motor boat or, possibly in the future, a horse. Currently she is funded by the National Lottery to provide time afloat for NHS and care workers who have worked hard through the covid pandemic.

Wooden Canal Boat Society - Hazel at Kerridge, Macclesfield Canal

"Hazel" at Kerridge, Macclesfield Canal

Wooden Canal Boat Society - Hazel emerging from Hyde Bank tunnel, Peak Forest Canal

"Hazel" emerging from Hyde Bank Tunnel, Peak Forest Canal

Lilith” has been the recycling boat since 1996, though she’s currently idle until this project resumes. As it is nearly 40 years since her restoration was completed she is in need of some serious work as soon as the resources are available. She’s recently celebrated her 120th birthday.

Forget me Not” , built at Polesworth in 1927, does the towing on wellbeing trips and, when they resume, on recycling trips.

Southam”, 1936, was originally a butty. Motorised and converted in 1965 she has also been used for towing. She had new planks fitted in 2019 but the reconstruction of her cabins has been delayed by the pandemic. Her 1965 fitted BMC 3.8 engine is to be replaced with a similar unit donated by Tameside College. Her future will be as a spare tug, volunteer accommodation, representing the WCBS at events and possibly as a mobile craft shop.

Wooden Canal Boat Society - Southam towing Forget-me-not and Lilith on recycling trip

"Southam" towing "Forget Me Not" and "Lilith" on a recycling trip at a time when "Forget me Not"s engine was inoperable,

wooden boat lilith

Horse drawn through Dukinfield - "Lilith" on her way to her 100th birthday party, Dec 2nd 2001

At present a priority is clearing “Elton”, 1937, of recyclable metals that have built up on board so that she can be tidied up and used as workshop space. In the longer term plans will be made for her restoration and a project for her to work on. Ideas are being bandied about at present.

Similarly “Queen”, 1917, is awaiting restoration. After some recent submarine adventures work is underway to make her float more reliably. Short term she will be used as a craft workshop. Like “Elton”, ideas for her post restoration use are under discussion. A water drip Bolinder, similar to the one that powered her between 1924 and 1947, is being restored for her at the Anson Engine Museum.

Wooden Canal Boat Society - Queen, the oldest surviving wooden motor

"Queen" the oldest surviving wooden motor, being sheathed in metal to protect her planks.

Wooden  Canal Boat Society - the author on "Southam"

The Author aboard "Southam - photo by Adrian Glasgow

This collection of boats is of national importance but they've been maintained on a shoestring budget. In order to ensure their survival and future usefulness the WCBS needs to grow into a well funded national organisation.

The society would like to hear from people interested in helping with this, whether it's project planning, fundraising, business development, publicity, administration or just helping out at ground level. You don't necessarily have to live near Tameside to help.

For more information, or to volunteer, please visit our website

Chris Leah, 2022

argy bargey

Argy Bargey

the creation of a new canal game, by Henry Biglowe

We have 5 games to give away in our FREE prize draw. ENTER HERE

Argy Bargey is a new board game where you compete to create your own canal empire.

Each player must complete routes between towns and cities, competing against each other. Using tiles, you'll want your waterway to take the fastest possible route across the board.

Just like real canals, you'll need to use locks and tunnels to tackle hills. Junctions will be needed to connect other canals and create an efficient network.

With an approximate playing time of 45 minutes, 2 to 6 people can gather to do battle - canal style! Can you become the greatest canal tycoon of the 21st century?

I've been asked several times what made me decide to create a canal themed board game and the process of manufacturing it, so thanks to CanalsOnline I'm going to document it here. My name is Henry and I'm not a professional game designer, I'm a railway worker who decided to give it a go.

Henry Biglowe

I’d already been asked once to do the dishes and as the Southampton match was coming to an end on the telly, another excuse was urgently required. Scrambling around the living room, I came across a pen and paper. It was obvious, the only logical decision was to create a board game.

In reality I had been playing around with an idea for a railway themed tile game for a while. Square tiles with railway track on them would be placed direct on to the table top with the idea being that various special industry tiles would be connected for the players to score points. (Wheat to a flour mill, flour to a bakery, that sort of thing). There was only one problem…It didn’t work. Dejected, I succumbed to the inevitable, and the dishwasher was loaded.

Argy Bargey canal game

Time passed and Covid struck. My brother Tim, and his girlfriend Sam were forced to return to the UK from China earlier than expected. Their original plan to buy a property outright in the UK quickly faltered having accumulated less funds than anticipated. They finally settled on the idea of living on a narrowboat, perfectly combining their love of travel and their willingness to own their own home. On a roll, Tim and Sam quickly established their own YouTube channel ‘Chugging Along’, documenting life aboard their narrowboat Mary L. My wife Abbie and I enjoyed days out cruising the network, and as Chugging Along’s following grew, my mind reverted back to board games. However, railways were out and canals were in.

Tim Biglowe and girlfriend Sam with narrowboat Mary L

A re-think was needed, my previous attempt suffered from over complication and I was also aware of my lack of any experience in designing a game. With this in mind the new design needed to be simple, and would require testing from multiple trusted friends and family. Like Newton with his apple, I had a break-through moment too (yeah alright, I’m overplaying the importance a bit), this came in the form of a geographical baseboard. And yes, I know, a baseboard for a board game isn’t particularly revolutionary, however it was this simple change that provided the necessary structure for the game to work. The mechanics of the game came together really quickly thereafter, the basic principle being that two cities must be connected, and the shorter the route, the more points that will be scored. This simple premise gives players the impetus to both make their routes shorter and to make their opponents routes longer, adding an extra element of tactical fun in the form of sabotage. With that, all the ingredients were now in place for a nice and friendly family argument and with thanks to Sam's artwork a cardboard prototype was knocked up.

Test, test, test. Titivate and then yet more testing. This was my wife and I’s life for the next few months, taking the opportunity to play as often as we could, particularly with Tim and Sam, but also with our parents, friends, work colleagues and neighbours. We felt it was important to play with as broad a spectrum of people as possible, to check our rules were clear and most importantly that the game was enjoyable. We're so grateful to everyone who helped at this stage and finally, when we were all happy, it was time to take it to the next stage. This involved finding an artist/designer and a supplier. It quickly became apparent that although we’d have loved to of used a British company, costs would create a product that would be too much for us to reasonably charge and so we settled for a company in China to handle everything.

Argy Bargey canal board game

Tim was to handle our communication with our Chinese associates, he'd obviously lived there for a time and while he wasn't fluent in the local lingo, he had an understanding of their working practices. This was to prove a lot longer than we first appreciated and took the best part of a year, toing and froing with our designer. During this time we set about finding a name, an impromptu focus group was set up at the end of one of my brothers famous (in our family anyway) online quiz events. 'Canal Network', 'Waterway to have fun' and 'Savvy Navvies' were all thrown out, although the latter has been deemed good enough to be set aside for a potential follow up game. Eventually we settled on the fun and punchy 'Argy Bargey' and when the design was complete we had a sample sent out, it was beginning to get exciting.

That initial sample delivery from China was probably the most exciting part of the whole project, over a year's worth of work in a single parcel. With the anticipation levels through the roof we were not let down, any fears of quality issues were instantly quashed and we were delighted with what we saw. A couple of minor alterations were all that was required, another hill here a typo there and we could look towards printing, CE testing and shipping.

Argy Bargey canal board game

After checking, momentarily stumbling into the hedge trimmer and then rechecking, the internal dimensions of my garage were attained and allowed for an order of a 1000 units to be placed. It was really happening. Random samples were sent to be tested for various nasties, and the all clear meant we were good to go. Pat, my old school friend and under 11's strike partner, set us up with a shipper he uses for his online rubber duck business. This was particularly handy because it meant we knew we wouldn't get fleeced and the shipper would deal with any paperwork at Felixstowe. They arrived safe and sound in November 2021, thanks for the recommendation Pat.

The whole dynamic of the business suddenly changed, we were no longer manufacturing a game, we were marketing one. Tim and Sam created a YouTube video advertisement on their channel and it was up to Abbie to dispatch the orders that were flooding in on our website. Secondary advertising came in the form of posting on relevant Facebook groups and Tim, Sam and myself have done various interviews with the inland waterway press. Looking forward we have plenty of other marketing opportunities, in particular we are all looking forward to attending some of the boat shows later this year. Crick and the Canalway Cavalcade in Little Venice have already been booked up for a bit of wheeler dealering and we're also hoping to get Argy Bargey into a Chandlery near you. We're a friendly bunch, so don't hesitate to say hello if you bump into us.

Argy Bargey - new canal board game

Anyway, it's been a great adventure for all of us so far and if you're thinking of starting your own business we'd say go for it. Although it turned out to be quite a lot of effort, just to put off doing the dishes. It's hard work being lazy you know!

Argy BargeyArgy Bargey is available online