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The Boat Dock & Boat Collection

The thousands of boats that used to work the Black Country canals all needed constant maintenance.

In this area there were many working boat yards, or docks, like this one, where boats were built and repaired. They were busy, cluttered places not unlike a modern scrap yard as it was common practice to break wooden boats, salvaging the ironwork.

Castlefields boat dock is typical of the many on the Black Country canal system of the period and is equipped to build new working craft and to repair those of iron or composite construction. The dock can accommodate three boats, drawn sideways out of the water by winches onto the slip.

Nothing on the boat dock was wasted and most of these buildings are made from reclaimed boat timbers.

The main buildings are the 1880s brick blacksmith’s forge containing a large general-purpose hearth with hand-operated bellows, the nail and rivet store, a woodshed, paint store and stable.

The two wheeled ‘rolling sheds’ were moved up and down the length of the boatyard on rails to provide shelter and allow work to continue in all weather.

The lifting bridge between the Ironworks and the Boat dock was built across the railway transhipment basin at Lloyds Proving House near Factory Junction at Tipton. Huge weights hanging on chains over the four pulleys balance the weight of the roadway and the deck can be raised and lowered by operating a small hand winch.



The canal arm at the Museum is used as moorings for the Museum’s own collection of narrow boats and a number of privately owned traditional narrow boats. Amongst them you will see the steam powered ‘fly’ boat ‘President’ which is of composite construction with riveted iron sides and elm bottom. Fellows, Morton & Clayton Ltd originally built it in 1909 for their large commercial fleet. The steamers operated mainly between London and Birmingham until the mid 1920s when the fleet was motorised. ‘President’ makes regular trips around the English canal system.

‘Kildare’ is an un-powered butty boat constructed of riveted iron. It was built around 1913 by Braithwaite & Kirk of West Bromwich to be towed behind a powered craft like President. It is complete with a fully fitted boatman’s living cabin and traditional covering cloths over the main hold area.

‘Diamond’ a Midlands & Coast Canal Carrying Company was built in Chester in 1927. She was one of six iron boats in the fleet fitted with two cabins for long distance traffic between the Black Country and the ports on the Mersey Estuary. Having been damaged during an air raid on Birmingham in 1944 she was sold for scrap to Ernest Thomas by Fellows, Morton & Clayton who had by then acquired Midlands and Coast. Rebuilt and renamed ‘Henry’ she carried coal until the 1960’s when she was resold to ‘Caggy’ Stevens of Oldbury and renamed ‘Susan’.

‘Stour’ is an all-wooden motor narrow boat powered by a Bolinder 15 h. p. diesel engine. Originally built as a tar tanker in 1937 by Fellows, Morton & Clayton Ltd at their Uxbridge dockyard for fuel oil carriers Thomas Clayton Ltd of Oldbury. The hull has oak planked sides, elm bottoms and pine deck with a fully fitted traditional boatman’s cabin. She was one of a large fleet of all wooden boats used by that Company for liquid cargo carrying, the main hold area being fully decked over. When new it would have carried refined fuels such as gas oil for powering machinery but as it got older it was used for carrying heavier lubricating oil from the fuel distribution plants on the Manchester Ship Canal.

‘Birchills’ is a ‘joey’ boat with a small day cabin. This boat is double-ended and the mast and rudder could be changed from one end to the other. This enabled its use in narrow canals or basins where there was no room to turn the boat around. Built by Ernest Thomas in 1953, ‘Birchills’ it is one of the last wooden day boats made and was used to carry coal to Wolverhampton Power Station.

The Wolverhampton based company Thomas Bantock & Co. originally built ‘Eustace’ for railway transhipment work in the Black Country. In the 1950s a cabin was added and Alfred Matty & Co of Deepfields, Coseley converted the hull to a spoon dredger for canal clearance work. Following a fire it was cut up but the fore end of the boat can be seen on the path at the rear of the boat dock. The boat is a rare survivor of a type of construction unique to Thomas Bantock & Co.

‘Bessie’ is a single ended rivetted iron day boat built locally in 1895 for the Hartshill Iron Company. These open ‘joey’ boats worked short distances carrying bulk cargoes such as coal and iron ore. Although most working boats at the time were wooden, larger firms used rivetted iron boats like this one as though more expensive to build they lasted longer. From the 1930s Bessie was used by Stewarts and Lloyds tube works in Halesowen.

‘North Star’ is a derelict wooden horse-drawn icebreaker built in 1868 and was used to clear a way through the ice when the canals were frozen. The other icebreaker ‘Ross’ is privately owned.

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