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This article Bantam is No Spring Chicken is the copyright of Jim Shead - The story of the Bantam tugs built in the 1950's and 60's. First published in Waterways World September 2002.


Bantam 4 at the London Canal Museum

Bantam is no spring chicken


Jim Shead

During the fifties and sixties E C Jones & Son (Brentford) Ltd built a series of tugs which they called "Bantams". Several of these boats are now exhibited at various waterway museums but even more are still at work every day on navigations, in harbours and gravel pits throughout the country. The time is ripe to record something of the history of these work-a-day boats before the people who used them disappear and their documentation is finally cleared from the backs of dusty filing cabinets.

Production and Sales

The builders of these craft are no longer trading but over the years have produced 89 of these "Bantam" tugs as well as a whole range of other working boats including barges and dredgers. A number was allocated to each tug as it was built but for some reason numbers 13 and 15 were never used so the last tug, finished in April 1969, was number 91. At the time of peak production, in the 1950s, they produced as many as eight of these tugs a year, however after 1961, when they made 7, they never built more than two a year (see figure 1). Although all the Bantams had common design features they varied in length, beam, draught and in other minor ways as the basic craft was adapted to meet the requirements of individual customers and to allow the tugs to work on both deep open waters and on narrower and more confined canals.
Figure 1Figure 2

The major single customer for Bantams was British Waterways (and its predecessors the Dock & Inland Waterways Executive and British Transport - Waterways) who bought 20 tugs between 1951 and 1969. They purchased the last one built, Robin Hood, a 38 foot long boat with a 13 foot 6 inches beam, which is still at work on the River Trent. At one time BW used several Bantams as part of the Compartment Fleet, towing the well known 'Tom Puddings' between local collieries and Goole Docks. Seventeen other customers also purchased more than one Bantam (see figure 2) the remaining 26 tugs being sold to companies that only took a single boat. Mineral extraction concerns were major buyers with sand, gravel, ballast, grit and aggregates appearing in the names of the purchasing companies.

At Work

The Bantam 4 engine at the London Canal Museum

The Docks & Inland Waterways Executive were impressed with the Bantam tugs, as they reported in Lock & Quay their in house journal in 1953. They report on the performance of Will Scarlet and Little John which had been in service for some months.

"One of these is of 30 h.p. and of standard type, with a fixed wheelhouse of low headroom, the other is a 40 h.p. vessel of an improved type, specially built to our requirements."

Later they say " In dredging operations both tugs have done useful work - previously the dredger has been a cumbersome craft to handle when towed, but with a Bantam coupled for pushing, a straight course has been kept without trouble and the larger vessel has handled an average of 2,000 tons of dredgings per week."

The BW "Waterfront" magazine featured their most modern Bantam, Robin Hood, in the Autumn 2000 issue. Robin Hood is over thirty years old but is not the only Bantam still in service with BW. Perhaps the oldest BW one still working is Will Scarlet, built in 1951. This vessel is still in service in the North East Region on the Grand Union Canal (North) where Will Stutely (1961) is another working Bantam, both boats having originated in the Nottingham area. Alan A Dale (1957) is still working on the South Yorkshire Navigation as is Eric of Lincoln (1957). These craft also started in the Nottingham area as you may guess from the names. Working on the tidal Trent with Robin Hood is Arthur A Bland (1961) and on the Grand Union, in the Hatton area, is Bantam 67 which concludes the BW Bantams which I know are still working although there are probably more out there waiting to be discovered.
The wheelhouse of Bantam 4

Some ex-BW tugs have found their way to other organizations. One was the first of BW's Bantams, City, which was purchased in 1951 and worked on the Grand Union around Brentford. In 1963 it was decided that this tug was no longer needed and it was sold to the Lower Avon Trust, where it has been used in the restoration of the river, carrying new lock gates from Diglis, down the Severn and up the Avon, and continues to be used in maintenance work. Some BW tugs have been sold to commercial companies.
Bantam 4 maker's plate and the EC Jones
Sales brochure at the London Canal Museum.

Other Bantams are also used for waterways restoration. The Chichester Canal Society have Bantam 6, bought from Portsmouth Harbour around 1987 and, like many other Bantams, fitted with a Lister JP engine. They also have Bantam 23, which they bought about three years later from ARC. I believe that there are also one or two of these tugs on the Basingstoke Canal but I have not been able to confirm this so far.

Land & Water Services Ltd., the dredging company, have a couple of Bantams and often hire others. They also have one of the few Bantams (number 42) that is a confirmed "write-off" although no doubt others have disappeared without notice. There are certainly still Bantams working in the quarries, sand and gravel pits that were their original homes. Many of the smaller firms have been taken over by larger companies during their long working life, making it more difficult to track them down.
Chris Gibson's father surveying
Bantam 4 prior to purchase
Attaching the straps ready to lift
Bantam 4 when it was purchased by Chris Gibson

On Show

Bantam 4 is one of the earliest examples of the class and is now an exhibit in the London Canal Museum. It has its original, Lister JP2 engine, with hand starting. Like most of the first dozen Bantams it has a 2l bhp engine. Starting in 1951 most Bantams were fitted with 30 bhp engines and the majority of those built after 1959 were 35 bhp. Bantam 4 was in a very poor condition when it was bought by Chris Gibson. He spent several years restoring it and used it for work on the Kennet & Avon Canal, a story which appeared in WW back in February 1987. In 1994 Chris donated the tug to the London Canal Museum where it can be seen as a floating exhibit. It not only floats it works too and is often shown, by the museum, at the National Waterways Festivals and is even entered in the illuminated boats competition. In addition to the tug Chris Gibson has also donated to the museum documents and photographs showing not only the restoration of the tug but also its original commissioning trials.
Bantam 4 commissioning trials.

The Bantam tug Walsall is now a static exhibit at the National Waterways Museum at Gloucester Docks. Its chances of re-floating have been reduced by the large apertures cut in its hull to show the Lister air-cooled engine and gearbox. We are told that Walsall was built in the 1960's and was used around the Birmingham canal on BW dredging operations, however this was probably not what she was originally used for as BW Birmingham does not feature as one of E C Jones & Sons original customers. Walsall may be Bantam 77 as it is the only 1960s BW Bantam not accounted for.

Wheldale, one of the Bantams used with the "Tom Pudding" compartment boats, is now moored at Goole Waterway Museum, together with two compartment boats and a jebus (the false bows attached to the first boat in a train of compartment boats).

The Boat Museum at Ellesmere Port has the MSC Bantam II, which is Bantam number 20, supplied to the Manchester Ship Canal Company in 1952. This is 23 foot 6 inches long with a 8 foot beam. and has a Lister JP3 engine.

Bantam Appeal
I'm asking for help in recording some of the history of Bantam tugs. In writing this article I have discovered that only a fraction of the information I was looking for is available from any published source - unless you know more than I do. I must also record my thanks to all the people I have contacted and who have so generously taken time to supply details to me. Figure 3 is a summary of the information I have on each of these tugs. If you know more, or can suggest some useful lines of enquiry, please contact me. If you are on-line my email address is Jim.Shead@btinternet.com or you can write to me at 26 Riverside Mead, Peterborough PE2 8JN

Name No Bhp Built Original Customer Additional information
1 Swan, Hunter
2 9/55 Farrans, Belfast
3 21 1/50 Wraysbury Sand & Gravel
4 21 3/50 Walter Smith, Brasted London Canal Museum
5 21 6/50 Hall & Co., Rye Harbour
6 21 7/50 Darenth River Aggregates Chichester Canal Society bought around 1987
from Portsmouth Harbour. Fitted with a JP Lister engine.
7 21 9/50 Thames Sand & Gravel, Ashford
8 21 10/50 Thomas Roberts, Wraysbury
9 21 11/50 Hilton Gravel, Derby
10 21 3/51 Branston Gravels, Birmingham
11 21 6/51 Walter Smith, Brasted
12 30 1/51 Thomas Roberts, Thrapston
14 30 3/51 Thomas Roberts, Bletchley
MSC Bantam 1 16 30 8/51 Manchester Ship Canal Co.
City 17 30 7/51 D&IWE, Watford Bought by the Lower Avon Trust Apr 63
Will Scarlet 18 30 10/51 D&IWE, Nottingham 23ft long 8ft 6in beam BW-NE Still used
by BW on the Grand Union Canal (North)
19 30 12/51 E. Hill & Sons, South Cerney
MSC Bantam II 20 30 2/52 Manchester Ship Canal Co. Boat Museum. Registered as built in 1955.
Length 23ft 6 inches, Lister JP.
21 30 5/52 E. Hill & Sons, Newbury
Little John 22 40 7/52 D&IWE, Nottingham 20ft 6ins BW-NE - BW SF say 27' X 9' Transferred
to Castleford Area about 1967
23 30 8/52 Ham River Grit, Waltham Abbey Chichester Canal Society bought around 1990
from ARC, 3 cylinder engine.
24 30 9/52 D&IWE, Liverpool
25 30 4/53 D&IWE, Liverpool
Endeavour I 26 60 2/53 Reading Dredging Co., Marlow
27 30 5/53 Ham River Grit, Thorpe
28 21 7/53 Hall & Co., Bedfont
29 30 9/53 Ham River Grit, Chertsey
30 30 10/53 Ham River Grit, Fisher's Green
31 21 1/54 Wraysbury Sand & Gravel
32 30 2/54 W.J. Lavender, Littleton
33 30 4/54 Darenth River Aggregates
Margaret 34 90 7/54 Thomas Watson, Rochester
35 30 9/54 D&IWE, Liverpool
36 30 10/54 T.W. Howard, Langley
37 30 11/54 Thomas Roberts, Wraysbury
38 30 12/54 Derbyshire Aggregates, Derby
39 30 1/55 H. Haines, Witney
40 30 3/55 Murray-Taylor, Colnbrook
41 30 4/55 Ham River Grit, Chertsey
42 30 5/55 Hall & Co., Bedfont
43 30 6/55 Thrapston Sand & Ballast
44 30 1/56 Marley Tile, Riverhead
45 30 3/56 Ham River Grit, Fisher's Green
46 30 5/56 BTW, Liverpool
47 30 7/56 John Hawtrey, Harefield
48 30 8/56 Bletchley Concrete Aggregates
49 2/57 Forgings & Presswork
50 4/57 Shree Digvijay Cement
Alan-a-Dale 51 7/57 BTW, Nottingham 30ft x 11 ft BW-NE
Eric of Lincoln 52 9/57 BTW, Nottingham 30ft x 11 ft BW-NE
53 30 11/57 T.W. Howard, Iver
54 1/58 Joseph Sankey, Wolverhampton
55 30 11/57 Ham River Grit, Thorpe
56 30 12/57 Kent Sand & Ballast, Sevenoaks
57 30 5/58 BTW, Liverpool Sold to Forster marine of Kegworth, Derbyshire in 1993.
58 9/58 Shree Digvijay Cement
Nudgette 59 4/58 London & Rochester Trading Shovette
60 7/58 London & Rochester Trading
61 33 8/58 BTW, Liverpool
62 33 8/58 Marco Aggregates, Chertsey
Tenguin 63 114 12/58 MB Dredging
Wheldale 64 10/59 BWB, Leeds Used for Tom Puddings 48ft X 14ft 6 ins
Moored at
Goole Waterway Museum
Allerton Bywater 65 12/59 BWB, Leeds Used for Tom Puddings 48ft X 14ft 6 ins
Water Haigh 66 3/60 BWB, Leeds Used for Tom Puddings 48ft X 14ft 6 ins
67 4/59 BWB, Liverpool Asset No 80098 Working on GU
68 3/59 H. Lavender & Son
69 5/59 BWB, Liverpool
70 35 8/59 Thames River Grit
Melita 71 12/60 E.C. Jones & Son
72 35 5/60 Kent Sand & Ballast, Sevenoaks
73 35 6/60 Cape Asbestos
74 35 7/60 W.W. Drinkwater
75 35 1/61 Marley Tile, Poole
Will Stutely 76 2/61 BWB, Leeds Reg No 80184 23 ft X 8ft 6 ins BW-NE
77 6/61 BWB, Liverpool
Arthur-a-Bland 78 60 7/61 BWB, Nottingham 35ft X 11ft Still working on the Trent
79 35 7/61 Thames Ballast, Shepperton
80 35 9/61 ARC, Lydd
81 35 11/61 Hall & Ham, Wraysbury
82 35 1/62 Greenham Sand & Ballast, Staines
83 35 4/62 Robert Brett, Sturry
84 35 7/63 T.W. Howard, Iver
85 35 7/63 Greenharn Sand & Ballast, Feltharn
86 35 2/64 W.J. Lavender, Shepperton
87 35 2/65 Hall & Ham, Chertsey
88 35 7/65 W.W. Drinkwater
89 7/68 Butterley Quarries, N. Hykeham
90 11/68 W.J. Lavender, Hersham
Robin Hood 91 160 4/69 BWB, Nottingham BW River Trent 38 foot x 13ft 6ins BW-NE


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Jim Shead Waterways Photographer & Writer
Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
Home Introduction Waterways List Waterways Map Links Books DVD Articles Photo Gallery
Features Contact me Glossary Boats Events List History Local Waterways Help Photo List