Jim Shead Waterways Photographer & Writer
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Maintenance Craft

Dredger, icebreaker, tug and work flat.


Bantam Tug

A series of 89 (no numbers 13 or 15 were built so the last tug was number 91) small tugs built by E C Jones & Sons, of Brentford, between 1949 and 1969.

For more information see my Bantam Tugs pages.

Grand Union Regents Canal: York Road Bridge London Canal Museum - 2 November 2000
Grand Union Regents Canal: York Road Bridge London Canal Museum - 2 November 2000

Dredger

The most primitive type of dredger, once widely used on the narrow canals, was the spoon dredger, consisting of large wooden or iron spoons mounted on a boat or flat and used for scooping mud from the bottom of a canal or waterway. Each dredger of this type was manned by a crew of three and a helmsman. One man guided the spoon and two worked the crane to which it was attached by chain and pulley.The mud was deposited on the bank or in barges or mud hoppers for transport to a tipping site. In later years more sophisticated methods of dredging have been adopted, including the use of suction pipes, buckets and endless chains, on river navigations and in estuaries. Currently common on narrow canals is the excavator mounted to work on a flat or raft. Earlier steam dredgers were designed for work on the Thames and connected waterways by Richard Trevithick during the 1800s.


Icebreaker

The earliest type of icebreaker, used on both canals and rivers, was merely a tug or other craft with reinforced bows, forcing its way through the ice, as with larger seagoing icebreakers used in the Baltic. Another type, used on canals and still-water navigations, was known as a rocking boat and had a broad centre platform, with two uprights and a horizontal handrail, rope or bar to which a team of five or more men could cling, rocking backwards and forwards to clear the channel as the boat moved forward. Icebreakers were often towed by teams of heavy carthorses, urged forward at the top speed and made an impressive sight, the icebreaker throwing up lumps of ice on to the banks with a loud cracking noise, to which would be added the thunder of hooves on the towing path. Some icebreakers were powered by steam or diesel. engines.


Tug

The use of tugs on canals and inland waterways was once a matter of heated controversy, the wash from their paddles or screws often being blamed for causing bank erosion and silting. The first successful attempt to harness steam power in a canal tug was the Charlotte Dundas, constructed by an inventor named Symington for the Forth and Clyde Canal and driven by a centre-stern paddle. This towed a pair of dumb barges, loaded with 70 tons of cargo each, a distance of 19 miles at an average speed of 2 miles per hour. The Charlotte Dundas, however, was accused of causing too much wash and was never used in regular service. Steam tugs met resistance when they were introduced and the first tug on the Bridgewater Canal, the Bonaparte, was withdrawn after a short period because it threw too much water on to banks and towing paths. Steam tugs enjoyed a revival towards the end of the nineteenth century and were of particular use in tunnels without towing paths, saving the time and effort of legging or shafting a boat through. Tugs were also used for short hauls on canals connected with docklands, where there might be obstructions along the wharves and towing paths. The Bridgewater Canal system employed steam towage on an extensive scale. They began by ordering twenty-six small tugs of a type that was familiar in the area for about seventy-five years. They were based at a packet dock near the top locks at Runcorn, where they were bunkered and serviced. Their main work was to draw flats and unpowered canal boats between Runcorn and Manchester, which took about eight hours with a full load. A number of the surviving tugs were converted to diesel power during the 1920s. Steam tugs were also widely used on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. At Gloucester cargoes were transferred to narrowboats and towed upthe Severn in trains to several inland ports. These steam tugs were converted to diesel power after the Second World War. From 1855 in the London area steam-powered tugs were used on the Regent's Canal, working through to Limehouse docks. Steam tugs for tunnels were introduced in 1871 on the Grand Junction Canal, which became the Grand Union Canal in 1929, and remained until 1934. One of the first internal-combustion-engined tugs was the Sharpness, built in 1908 by Abdela and Mitchell Limited for work on the Severn and Thames Canal. Several others of similar type, worked on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal and the upper navigable reaches of the Severn, were also constructed about the same period. They all had steel hulls and were 45 feet long with a beam of just under 7 feet and draught of 4 feet. Their petrol or paraffin engines were 30 horsepower, turning a four-bladed screw. Sharpness was mainly used as a tunnel tug and soon transferred for duties on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal, based at Tardebigge and Shortwood, where she was also an icebreaker. Most power tugs had wheel rather than tiller steering, usually at deck level. A tunnel tug in the Harecastle Tunnel of the Trent and Mersey Canal used electrical power for a number of years and was still operating by the mid 1940s. The prototype was run from batteries carried in a separate boat but was later converted to taking power from an overhead wire to which a pole or boom was raised, similar to the pole on a tram or trolley bus.


Work flat

These general service boats and flats were used for maintenance on most canals and rivers. Typically they had swim-ends or a swim-head and rounded or counter stern. It was often a dumb boat or barge and although some were powered. The hold would be used to carry any type of equipment, tools or building materials, or a load of clay puddle for mending the banks. Most had a small fore deck mounted with a windless, also a large stern cabin with plenty of headroom, which was used as a lockup, shelter and office. Some work flats on the Grand Union Canal could be fitted with large brushes gauged to the walls and roof of a tunnel and used for Cleaning away grit or soot that might otherwise fall into passing narrowboats. Examples of these brushes can be seen in the Canal Museum at Stoke Bruerne.


 

Jim Shead Waterways Photographer & Writer
Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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