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Learning at Black Country Living Museum

Mary Ward

It is 1915 and Mary Elizabeth Ward is 10 years old. She is the third of fifteen children born to Philip Ward and his wife Hannah, a traditional boating family.

Because of the nature of the work, the family constantly moved around the canal system, living and working on a succession of different boats. This made it difficult for Mary to attend school regularly, if at all. Her marriage certificate, signed by a cross, indicates that she remained illiterate.

Mary worked on canal boats for most of her life – and would have started assisting her parents at an early age. She worked the “cut” throughout both world wars, and became Captain of President – the Museum’s steam narrowboat – in 1941.  

Mary Ward Detective Trail

Download the Mary Ward Detective Trail below which lists all the sites relevant to Mary's life. Your students can choose which sites they wish to visit and in which order. There is also a selection of linked activities to undertake at the different sites, including shopping lists and mystery objects to find and identify.


Investigation Resources

These are the downloadable links for all the resources associated with Mary Ward.

Please begin by downloading the Teachers' Notes. When you are ready, download the relevant PDF documents by clicking on the highlighted links. 


Mary's Family Tree - FILE COMING SOON

A summary of the family relationships revealed by the Census Records and other information obtained.

Census Records

1871 Census: John Boswell (the family of Mary’s first husband, Thomas Boswell) - FILE COMING SOON

This is the family of Mary’s first husband – Thomas Boswell. It shows Tom’s father John, as a small baby, just 1 year old.

Family are living and working on a boat called “Liverpool”.

1891 Census: Philip Ward (Mary’s father)

Philip is 7 years old and is listed as crew on a boat called “Ada Annie” at Nether Heyford, Northampton.

1901 Census: Edward Ward

Family are now living on a boat called “Ada” at Malthouse Road, Tipton.

The family are now living on a boat called “Avon”.
Philip is now married to Hannah and they have four children living with them, Hannah (aged 10), Mary Elizabeth (aged 6), Philip (aged 8) and William (aged 6 months).

BMD (Births, Marriages, Deaths)

Parish Record of Marriage August 1935

The record of Mary’s marriage to Thomas Boswell.
Thomas is 47, Mary is 32.

Mary has been a little economical with the truth!
Proof that written information, even though on an official document, is not always accurate.


A map of the Black Country canals


Thomas Boswell

Photograph of Mary’s first husband – Thomas Boswell – on narrow boat “Sultan”. Taken in 1935 – the same year that Mary and Thomas married.


Photograph taken in 1950 of Mary aged 45.
She is on the narrow boat ‘Carp’ in Wolverhampton polishing brasses.

The Safe family - FILE COMING SOON

This was taken at Broad Street, Wolverhampton.
Young John is seen with his adopted parents in the cabin of ‘Carp’


Mary sits on the stern of ‘Altair’, cleaning cloth and cigarette in hand. Her son John on an adjoining boat is playing a portable wind up gramophone, possibly listening to Elvis Presley, of whom he was a passionate fan.

‘Prince Charles’ and the ’Ipswich’ - FILE COMING SOON

Photograph taken about 1957.
Mary steers the motor while Joe steers the butty ‘Ipswich’.

Alfred Mortiboys is Joe Safe’s uncle.
Joe’s mother, Elizabeth, came from a large boating family.


The President was the boat Joe and Mary were working on when they married. It is now based at the Black Country Living Museum.

Horse Boating on the BCN - FILE COMING SOON

This photograph was taken in the 1950s possibly when Joe’s father was still horse boating.

Secondary Source Evidence

Chris Cowley 2014. Memories of his boating grandfather.

From an article “Joe Safe’s Secret” by Tim Coghlan. 2009.


Booking a Visit


Our Booking Team are available to offer help and advice when planning a visit. All educational groups must book in advance.

Plan your booking




Did you know?

interesting fact image

In the Black Country a chamber pot is also called a ‘Guzz’under’ because it ‘goes under the bed’!

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