Blog

Nostalgia

There have been a few ancient photos of me posted on the internet of late by some of my old mates from Rotherham. This has put me in a nostalgic frame of mind, particularly as Jenny and I made the effort to go and see my old house-mate Vaj playing slap-bass in his rockabilly band, the Tombstone Buzzards. (Click on the picture for a tune from them).

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Vaj and I used to knock about with a bunch of Teds in the late seventies, and I even played sax in a band with him. When I say played sax, what I really mean is that I could go “PARP” occasionally, in between dancing around on stage - an early Bez really. The truth of the matter is that I was the only one with a driving licence and access to a car, which meant that I had to be in the band. "The Wurlitzer” we were called, which gave rise to the classic gig opening of:

“Knock knock”, “Who’s there?” “Wurlitzer” “Wurlitzer who?” “Wurlitzer one for the money, two for the show…….”

This photo of “Wurlitzer” is taken from the “Sheffield Star” in 1978. Cool, or what?

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Back to the cut then, but still a few years ago, sometime in the mid eighties, I took these photos of a Waddingtons keel loaded with steel bars on the river Don round the back of Thrybergh Bar Mill near Rotherham. This was back in the day when our weekends amusement was boating from Rotherham to Thorne and back. The main reason for these trips was the fact that Darley’s Brewery was situated in Thorne, and most of the licensed premises there sold said beer, which was an excellent pint. Darley’s was eventually taken over by Wards of Sheffield, who also brewed good beer (even if it did smell of eggs!), who were in turn taken over by Vaux of Sunderland. Scottish and Newcastle Breweries finally acquired Vaux, so that was the end of that.

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These photos are a bit random, it just depends which carrier bag I most recently came across at the back of the shed. Talking of sheds, the yard of Les Allen and Sons was the home base of Roach in the early coaling days. This photo shows Roach in the old arm (now filled in) at Valencia Wharf shortly after the Allens had finished boat-building in the shed behind. I enjoyed my time at the Allens yard, it was a little piece of proper old days - they didn’t even have a telephone there; if you wanted the Allens to build you a boat, you had to get out and find them. Even then, you wouldn’t get the boat you wanted - you would get the boat that Bob Allen thought you should have. The electricity supply was equally idiosyncratic; the cables were carried overhead via telegraph pole in the foreground from T & S Elements yard across the main road, and terminated in a jumble of spaghetti-like wiring in the shed which was made from an old wooden joey boat on it’s side, the boats bottom being the back wall of the shed. Only Albert Brookes was allowed to touch the wiring as only Albert Brookes had any idea of how it worked at all.

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Coal-bagging was carried out by us at the Allens yard, but we also used to load coal loose into the boats, usually just along the cut at Tividale Stop. This was done unofficially, as it was assumed that if permission was to be sought from British Waterways, then we would be waiting still. Tipping twenty tonnes into a boat from a lorry was certainly a time to keep your wits about you, as this amount of coal definitely fills a narrow boat. The first picture shows Richard Clapham in charge of loading Cepheus, and the second picture clearly shows how careful everyone involved needs to be as the lorry looms over the butty boat Ethel. 

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We used to tip loose coal into boats at various locations around the canal network, but many of these places are no longer available which is a shame. I expect that the HSE would also have a view on these proceedings now.

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Occasionally, we would sneak into the wet-dock at Icknield Port when it was raining to bag up coal from the boat; this was possible as Richard had some sort of caretaker mooring round there. He was a bit handy with a shovel in those days was Richard; he’s older and wiser now, and no longer owns a shovel. We could do with finding another, younger, Richard Clapham to help out now that I’m getting old and doddery.

We haven’t tipped coal into a boat for a few years, as nowadays we have to carry such a variety of fuels to satisfy the demands of the modern fire enthusiast.

Here is a fine picture of Cepheus appearing from under Icknield Port Road bridge having just loaded at Tividale. This whole area is soon to be re-developed with housing, and having seen the artists impression that has been released, I fear that the Icknield Port Loop will just end up as another bit of homogenised urban canal that could be in any old city anywhere, and be of no interest to boaters at all.

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Oh! By the way, we are still flogging coal, and it’s getting cold so get your orders in now. We have been busy, out and about, and Pete Hawker has been seen out on Roach occasionally too. Here’s a picture to prove it! Tony Phillips also turned up at the yard recently with Trent 5, to load a few tonnes for the usual crew in Gas Street. Needless to say, his main concern was whether the Bathams was on at the Bell. It was……...

coalboat@waitrose.com © John Jackson 2014