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.


  1. This is great fun! But how will you let us know when you update it? You can't just put a new blog post really can you?

    (P.S I'm excited to see that there is one called Calstock - my mum grew up there.)

  2. Thanks to Halfie for pointing out a typo, and also that I had misspelt misspelt. Now that takes some doing!

  3. Amy - I'll update it just by editing the posts - they're all there (apart from, it has been pointed out, Aberystwyth and Bangor) and I posted them in reverse order so that they'd come out in the right order. I'll mention it on Chertsey when I do it. Calstock is one of the ones I've never seen or heard of. In fact I don't even know where Calstock the place is... can you enlighten me?

  4. I've done a post on my blog with pictures of the Town Class boats I've photographed, and I see that Jim on Starcross has now done the same. I wonder how many more bloggers will join in?

  5. Calstock is a village, barely a town really, although it does have a raliway station, which I believe was one of the requirements for having a boat named after it.

    It is on the Cornwall side of the Tamar, a few miles North of Plymouth. I've been there a few times, and the things I remember most are the fantastic railway viaduct over the Tamar and the large ugly ducks which seem to congregate there.

    And that's a good idea for letting us know which ones you've collected!

  6. I spent many happy weeks on Aber in the 80s/90s before my friend sold her - I don't know where she is now. She used to be based around the Cowroast/Berkhamsted area. I copied a couple of slides quickly which I've put on my blog as I couldn't find a way to post them here.
    She was partly converted with a cabin extension but still had the cloths and boatman's cabin.

    Alperton, which was Aber's butty I think, was also around in those days, and I'm sure the slides (and more of Aber) will turn up sooner or later :)