Blog

Steam ’n’ Stuff

Pete Hawker has just brought “Roach" back to the yard. He has been down to Banbury to deliver coal to his customers down in that neck of the woods. He also towed the butty-boat “Gosport” down there for the Ivermees. This was a smart move on Petes’ part - it meant that he had help with all his deliveries. 

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We had previously been up t’North on “Roach”, and had despatched Ian Braine from our yard on Jim Taylors' “Empress” a couple of days before our own departure. This was loaded with coal for Middlewich, together with some for Acton Bridge. We had picked “Empress" up below Minshull Lock on the Middlewich branch, where Jim had left it. I steered it from there, and left Jenny in charge of “Roach”. “Empress has an old Armstrong Siddley engine fitted, and it turns out that you have to start it with a fire-lighter! Not quite “Euro Cat 5", then. Anyway, I managed to perform the starting ritual and we headed off to Middlewich, mainly to deliver the coal on  “Empress” to Steve Wedgwood at Kings Lock chandlery. We off-loaded the coal, loaded fish ’n’ chips, and then continued on to Broken Cross, where there just happens to be a canal-side hostelry. 

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“Empress” is a “Josher", that is to say that it is an ex Fellows, Morton & Clayton boat, as is “Roach”, but “Empress” was built about 40 years before “Roach”, and was originally powered by steam. This means that it is a fair bit different to our boat. It is a nice boat to steer, though, and I managed to get it down to the Weaver without breaking it or crashing into anything. The cratch was very close to some of the bridges, mind. 

We ended up on the Weaver just before the "Little Leigh Steam Party” weekend. We had some coal for one of the engines that attended, and this was unloaded over the wharf at Acton Bridge on the Thursday morning from Jim’s boat, “Empress". It goes without saying that Wednesday night was spent in the Leigh Arms, so a brisk spell of unloading was just the thing to excise the excesses. Max, the owner of the aforsaid engine, swears by our coal - he’s been using it for a few years now and reckons that it performs better than the Welsh ‘steam coal” that is currently available. He even went so far as to carry an advert for us on the rear of his engine, with no prompting from our advertising minions at all. For those among you who need to know, his engine is a Burrell, and very nice it is too. 


We had to nip back up the Anderton Lift on Thursday, so we ended up in the Stanley Arms, known to many as “The Tip”. Then off to Preston Brook to complete our deliveries before returning to Little Leigh and tying up on the canal just up the road from the steam gathering to spend Saturday there. There were plenty of old faces in evidence at the gathering, although now I come to think of it, nearly everyone I know has an old face. 

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There were a few boats tied on the wharf down by the river, and one interesting craft was the ugly old work-horse, “Loach”, partly loaded with grain for onward delivery to the docks at Runcorn. This vessel is owned and operated by Viaduct Shipping, who are engaged in regular trade on the Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal. Long may it continue.

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A fine day was had, and a fine evening followed, which involved even more of those old faces, and predictably, lots of beer. On the left is an atmospheric shot taken as we left the pub. If you squint, you can see a couple of steam engines in silhouette against the pub floodlights. 


One unrelated feature of the trip up North stands out, and that is the grass cutting that we encountered being carried out on the towing paths. Lots of the grass cuttings were being deliberately disposed of into the canal by operators of noisy, mechanical grass-cutting equipment. I had already asked one operator not to blow the cuttings into Stanthorne Lock, explaining that the canal had enough silt in it without adding further detritus. He responded by informing me that “It’s my job to do this”. The picture below is at Wightwick on the Staffs & Worcs Canal, where there is enough trouble with silting up (as mentioned in previous blogs), without adding to the problem. Everywhere that these cutting teams have been, CRT staff are needed to clear the weirs out over the following days. False economy is a phrase that springs to mind.

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