Canal Boat Inspection at Macclesfield in the 1930's

During 1977 I was researching the local quarry industry in the Local History section of Macclesfield Library when I came across a small book at the bottom of a cardboard box containing a variety of papers and booklets. On closer examination it proved to be the Canal Inspector's Pocket Book used to record details of boats inspected under the Local Government Board Regulations, 1878 which resulted from the Canal Boats Acts of 1877 and 1884.

These regulations were designed to improve public health and protect morals through the prevention of overcrowding in boat cabins and the introduction of regulations regarding provision of facilities such as drinking water storage. Seventy-six Registration Districts were set up and boats were required to be registered within one of these districts and periodically inspected to ensure compliance.

The information recorded in the book covers the years 1934-39 and reveals some details of the traffic and traders on the canal at Macclesfield at that time.
Macclesfield Wharf
Macclesfield Canal Wharf where many of the inspections took place

The first boat recorded on July 13th 1934 is appropriately one of John Green's. This local carrier is remembered by many people in Macclesfield and perhaps best known today from the representation of one of his boats in a silk picture of Macclesfield Wharf produced by Brocklehurst Whiston. The boat was Duchess of Atholl, registered at Daventry No.426 and is noted as being recently built. The Captain was Thomas Ricketts from Little Moss and the boat was empty and held up through lack of water in the canal. Two days later the Dove and Gaelic owned by Arthur Grimes and registered at Stoke No.891 and Runcorn No.993 were also recorded as held up for the same reason. On August 10th the same difficulties faced Richard and Charles Brookes of Rode Heath masters respectively of John Green's Duchess of York and Prince of Wales. These were new boats registered at Daventry as Nos.447 & 448. Obviously water shortage on the Macclesfield Canal is nothing new. On September 19th all these boats were still held up and Charles Brookes stated that he had been held up for ten weeks.

John Green's Boats 1
Two of John Green's boats at Macclesfield Wharf, the nearest of which is the Kenneth. Note the plain chimneys and interesting decoration on the stands and masts.

The next record is for January 3rd 1935 when William Preston was noted as master of the Rushmere owned by J Dulson & Sons of Dobson's Bridge. The boat, registered at Chester No.759 was empty as were Gaelic, Dove, Prince of Wales and Duchess of York which were all held up by frost on January 9th.

March 19th 1935 saw John Green's latest boat Empress of Britain lying empty at the wharf. The boat was registered at Daventry No.420 and the captain was Arthur Hodgson of Hardingswood.

The rest of the year saw mainly the same boats with occasional visits by other carriers, usually carrying coal. 11th November saw the Betty, registered at Manchester No.1124, owned and skippered by T W Wells of Manchester and also the Swan which was owned by Potter & Son of Runcorn and registered there No.805. The 28th of the same month saw the arrival of three more Potter & Son boats comprising Superior and Snowdrop skippered by William Hollinshead senior and the Success skippered by William Hollinshead junior. They were registered at Stoke No.445 and Runcorn Nos.1007 and 988 and were all empty when inspected.

Arthur Grimes appeared again on July 14th 1935 with the Tom, registered at Manchester No.1095 and owned by Thomas Hassall, and also his own boat Dove, both carrying coal. On the 21st John Green's Duchess of Atholl was noted as requiring attention and the inspector was informed that it was three years old and due for docking within a few weeks. Two weeks later the Duchess of York and Prince of Wales were being repainted. These two boats were being worked together at this time whilst on 9th January 1936 the latter boat was with the Duchess of Atholl both loaded with coal. The skipper was questioned as to the presence of two children, a girl aged 10 and a boy aged 13, and responded that they were on a day trip only as they were on holiday from school.

John Green's Boats 2
Another photograph of John Green's boats tied outside the cottage by Black Road bridge. Both boats have recently been heavily loaded judging by the load lines on the rudders.

February 1936 was frosty and Prince of Wales, Duchess of York and Soho were all held up by ice. The Soho, registered at Tamworth No.125 was owned and worked by John Taylor of Hardingswood.

Another owner boatman was William Green of Stoke-on-Trent who was first recorded on January 13th 1936 with the Kenneth registered at Stoke No.807. March 5th 1937 saw the same boat along with the Rembrandt, Stoke No.844, and the Soho. Green is now listed as living in Tunstall and was questioned as to the condition of the boats and the lack of registration for the Soho. The latter boat was being re-registered it was claimed whilst the Kenneth was to be docked in the summer.

Two boats were inspected on November 11th 1937, the first being the Victoria, registered at Daventry No.485. This was John Green's new motor boat and was such a novelty to the inspector that he added that it "will pull another boat and is to commence on November 13th". The other boat was the George, owned and worked by Joseph Beardmore of Lynton Street, Stoke-on-Trent and registered at Stoke No.734.

The Mersey Weaver Company were represented by the Brian, Stoke No.918, on 11th August 1937 and the Bethune, Stoke No.922, on March 30th 1938, both with coal. Potter & Son sent Speedwell, Runcorn No.1004, and Sunbeam, Stoke No.938, on June 16th 1938 again with coal.

From July 1938 to the last entry in December 1939 only John Green's boats are recorded. Charles and Richard Brookes were working Victoria with Duchess of York on July 15th and November 11th 1938 saw another new motor boat inspected. This was the Benevolence, registered at Daventry No.492, which was skippered by Thomas Taylor of Hardingswood and towing Empress of Britain. Both boats were carrying coal. The same boat was towing Prince of Wales on December 12th 1939.

The information gleaned from this small volume shows that during the 1930's there was still some commercial traffic in coal on the Macclesfield Canal at least as far as Macclesfield from the Trent and Mersey Canal. It is unfortunate that the destination of the boats is not recorded. What is interesting is the variety of carriers still to be seen at Macclesfield at that time and the considerable number of owner boatmen to be found in the area. It appears that many of these boatmen had addresses on the bank and this reflects the shorter haul nature of the trade compared with those boats working on, say, the Grand Union Canal, and the tradition on the Trent and Mersey of boatmen keeping their families in houses ashore.

The lack of any reference to carriers apart from John Green after mid 1938 appears to indicate a decline in trade but this may be due to the inspector not visiting the wharf when other carriers were present whilst the local carrier was always likely to have at least one boat around.

John Green's Boats 3
Macclesfield Wharf in the late 1930's with two pairs of John Green's boats lying on the far side. The Canal Company's wharehouse and the Hovis Mill dominate the background.

I wonder if any inspections were made after 1939? I think this is unlikely as trade on the canal just faded away. John Green continued carrying until the end of 1953 after which two pairs of his boats, Benevolence and Duchess of York, and Victoria and Duchess of Atholl were sold to the Wyvern Shipping Co. Ltd which was formed on 20th January 1954. The Empress of Britain seems to have been sold to the North Staffordshire Chemical Company and used by them until c1960.

I have seen little information about our local carrier and would welcome any information that may be available. If you can help please let me know.

How did the book come to be in the library in the first place? That will probably remain a mystery. It went back into the box after I had made my notes. In 2010 I returned to the library in search of the book and was informed that they have no record of it. It does not appear to have reached the County Record Office either. A sad reflection on the state of local authority services these days.

Back to Ashton, Macclesfield and Peak Forest Canals Page

© David Kitching 2010

Last updated 29.3.2010