Saturday, 16 January 2010

Introducing the Town Class Sticker Album

I've always had a bit of a thing for collecting and cataloguing things.
I now have a serious thing for narrow boats. Old working narrow boats. In particular, Grand Union large motor narrow boats.

For anyone who has alighted on this out of the blue, between 1934 and 1937 the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company commissioned eighty-six new pairs of boats - that's eighty-six motor boats and eighty-six unpowered butties which they would tow. They are called 'large' because of the depth of their holds, deeper than their predecessors'. In every other dimension they were the same - the standard narrow canal guage of seventy-one feet six inches long by seven feet wide. Most of the butties have disappeared (it didn't help that many of them were built from wood), but most of the motor boats are still extant in some form or another - indeed, I have heard it said that they all are, although there are some of which I have certainly never heard tell.

Many of them have been lovingly restored to represent how they would have looked in the heyday of canal carrying on the Grand Union; others have been restored to later incarnations with other companies; others still have had their holds converted into living space. Some were rescued from abandonment and sinking, others spent years as British Waterways maintenance boats before being sold to private owners.

The name 'Town Class' is derived from the fact that this tranche of 'large' boats were named after, essentially, railway stations; the story goes that they were plucked randomly, but alphabetically, from a railway gazetteer. So we have towns, but also cities, villages and tube stations. Some were endearingly miss-spelt - perhaps through being transcribed over the telephone: Bilster, Fulbourne, Edgeware. To refer to a 'class' is really a misnomer; these were never classes in the sense that there were on the railways, but rather a post hoc classification. It makes a good title though.

I love all old narrow boats, but I love these Towns the best. The large motor boats can be further subdivided into Large Woolwiches and Large Northwiches, depending upon where they were built: at Woolwich, by Harland and Wolff, or at Northwich, by Yarwoods. Although they are built to the same specification, there are subtle differences between the two. I love all Grand Union large motor boats, but I love Woolwiches the best.

Now I've harboured this passion for a few years, I have seen and photographed quite a few of these boats - travelling around the canal system, visiting rallies and even, now, getting to know some of their owners. So naturally, I need a way of cataloguing which ones I've seen, and which ones I have still to seek out. This is it; a sticker album in which to collect a photograph (or maybe more) of each Grand Union large motor boat I've spotted. There is one simple rule: I must have seen the boat in the flesh and taken the photo myself in order to include it.

I hope you will enjoy looking at my collection, and adding comments where you have information about a particular boat.

And yes, I know I'm mad, but you've got to have a hobby, haven't you.

101 ABER

Discovered on the iPad, from June 2012.

102 ALTON

Bugsworth Basin, my 50th birthday.

103 ALDGATE

April 2017, Brownhills

104 ASCOT


No recollection of having seen this one, nor of having heard anything of it....
But I had! (at least if Jim Shead is to be believed) On the G.U., I suspect near Wolverton, August 2009.

105 AYNHO

Aha! I did photograph it. Limehouse Basin, August 24, 2008. Imaginatively put to use as the elsan emptying point. But did I hear that BW have put it on their latest sell-off list?

106 BALDOCK


Not a very flattering picture, but I haven't seen it since its recent splendid repaint. April 2009.

107 BANSTEAD

Banstead is now owned by my friend Mike, and I've stayed on board, at Braunston 2016. But this is the only photo I seem to have taken, which was in Little Venice, Cavalcade 2016.

108 BADSEY


Here's Badsey, spotted on our travels in August 2007 (or possibly 2008). One of the very worst photos in the collection, I suspect. (That's Warrior in the foreground.)

109 BARNET


Now in new ownership but here looking a bit sorrowful in August 2006 on the Staffs and Worcs.

110 BAINTON

August 07, on the G.U.

111 BATH


August 10th 2009, Great Northern Basin, Langley Mill

112 BATTERSEA


Spring 2007

113 [BEAULIEU]

Hear of but not seen yet.

114 [BARNHAM]

One of those very low profile ones - until I write this list out I'd never even have known it was on it.

115 BELFAST


Braunston, 2017

116 [BEXHILL]

Not to be confused with the West Sussex seaside town beginning with B... don't think I've spotted this one yet.

117 BICESTER


May 11th 2009, on brokerage at Warwickshire Fly.

118 BILSTER


Little Venice 27.02.10

119 BLETCHLEY


Cowroast, July 18th, 2009

120 BOGNOR


Battlebridge Basin 27.02.10

121 BIRMINGHAM

Alvecote, April 2017

122 [BOURNEMOUTH]

Another one I think I've not seen.

123 BRISTOL


Braunston, 2009

124 BUCKDEN


Braunston, June 2009

125 BARROW


Well there's a thing. I didn't even recall having seen this one - sorry. Braunston 2008.

126 [BUXTON]

Is this the one we saw on the bank, with a fore cabin? Or was there another Derbyshire town? Photo somewhere....

127 [CALDY]

not yet collected

128 [CALSTOCK]

not yet collected

129 [CAMBOURNE]

not yet collected

130 CHERTSEY

Chertsey, of course, is my boat, my very own big Woolwich, and gives its name to my blog here. This is us towing it from Dimmingsdale to Stretton, September 24th 2009.

131 CHISWICK


April 19, 2009, when I was helping to move Chiswick from Aylesbury to Paddington.

132 [COLESHILL]

not yet collected

133 [CANTLEY]

not yet collected

134 CARNABY

Braunston, 2017

135 DARLEY


Now I know I've seen Darley more recently than this, but here it is unexpectedly turned up in August 2006 - somewhere near Stone?

136 DOVER


Little Venice, October 2006

137 [DUNSTABLE]

not yet collected

138 EDGEWARE

On the G.U., August 2007

139 [ELSTREE]

not yet collected

140 [EPSOM]

not yet collected

141 FENNY


Braunston, June 25th 2010

142 FULBOURNE

One of my favourites. Above at Braunston, 2008, and below, St. Ives, 2007.

143 [GAINSBOROUGH]

not yet collected

144 GREENOCK


Undergoing restoration at Brinklow, May 2009

145 [GREENLAW]

not yet collected

146 HAMPSTEAD


Lots of photos - I've even steered it. Just got to find a nice one.

147 HADLEY


Braunston, 2006

148 HAWKESBURY


August 26, 2009, Fradley Junction.

149 [HALSALL]

not yet collected

150 KENILWORTH


Ellesmere Port, Easter 2011

151 [KELSO]

not yet collected

152 LADYBANK



April 12th 2011, Shroppie somewhere not far below Bunbury.

153 LETCHWORTH

Letchworth, aka Flamingo (its Willow Wren name) is now owned by Alan and Cath Fincher and I have seen it a lot, even been on board. This is the only photographic evidence I have however, when it was moored alongside Chertsey at Braunston in 2015. You may have to take my word that the green and red stripes in the background are in fact this boat.

154 LANCING


June 14th 2009, on the K&A near Reading. Mike was skippering and very kindly invited me along for the ride.
 Braunston 2017 - quite a contrast.

155 NABURN

October 8th 2016, Tinsley