The Joel was originally built as a horse boat for the Buxton Lime Company in 1918. Sold out of service to the London and North Eastern Railway Company in 1926 she was subsequently rebuilt in 1929 as a motor boat fitted with a Kelvin 9HP petrol engine. This was the first motor boat in the maintenance fleet and always betrayed its' origins as a horse boat through the short, low horse boat style cabin cum engineroom with no gunwhales and the long rear deck and consequent long tiller.
A well laden Joel under way (location unknown).
In the late 1920's when the Company was dismantling the Peak Forest Tramway and Joel was sent to collect one of the tramway wagons for the then new railway museum at York and deliver it to Guide Bridge station. The wagon can still be seen at York. Other duties in the 30's included taking coal to the pumping engine at Waterhouses on the Hollinwood Branch (Joel was the last boat along that canal about 1933), towing up to 4 mud boats at once between the steam dredger "Joseph" and the disposal point, taking new lockgates from the workshop on the Stockport Branch as far as Bosley.
By 1946 the boat was in need of rebuilding and it was replaced by a new motor boat built at Gorton. It entered service in British Waterways colours in August 1948, retaining the fleet number 9. It may well be that a number of parts from the original boat were incorporated in the new Joel and that for accountancy purposes it was actually classed as a rebuild rather than a new boat. The boatbuilder at Gorton at this time, one Tommy Challinor, is said to have lacked the confidence to build a new boat from scratch and consequently always rebuilt or modified existing boats so they were like the aged broom that had 3 handles and 4 heads. Powered by a new 15hp twin cylinder Kelvin petrol/paraffin engine this was a fast boat which served until the Ashton canal became derelict in the early 1960's.
After the closure of Gorton dock in 1962, Joel was based at Ashton. About this time Jim Hirst, the regular steerer since the 1920's), retired and the engine was seized up through overheating and lack of attention. Laid up in the warehouse at Portland Basin it was badly damaged in the June 1972 fire which destroyed the warehouse and the maintenance boat Dove. Subsequently Joel was rescued by members of the Peak Forest Canal Society and after some repairs the boat was launched (by crane) at Guide Bridge on New Years Day 1974. The next six years saw the Joel travelling all over the canal system until it became obvious that a major rebuild would be required and this was commenced in 1982.
Joel was completely rebuilt in oak and elm by Ashton Packet Boat Co. and launched (side slip) in Sept.1989, when yet another Kelvin (F4, paraffin 30-36hp) engine was fitted. Since then the boat has visited many places round the canals e.g. York (via Trent Falls), London, Sharpness, M.S.C. Joel is still involved on maintenance work and is still based on the Ashton Canal after more than 70 years of service. Long may it continue!
Thanks are due to Bill Holmes of the Ashton Packet Boat Co for his comments and advice on the history of the Joel.
© David Kitching 2005
Last updated 27.3.2005