Working boats of the UK Waterways

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British Waterways Board


BOLD lettering indicates the original boat name; new names in plain text. On the 1st January 1948, the majority of the canals in Britain were nationalised. The Docks and Inland Waterways Executive was formed to administer the canals. The Inland Waterways Division, (part of the D & I W E) adopted the name BRITISH WATERWAYS, which appeared on the boats soon after the takeover. The colour scheme originated from Robert Davidson, a member of the Executive, and at first appeared on the boats as a yellow background and blue lettering. Eleven months after Nationalisation, FMC went into liquidation, with the result that the FMC fleet passed into the ownership of British Waterways on the 1st January 1949. At the time of the changeover, three steel composite boats were under construction at Yarwoods; MENDIP, MALVERN, and GORSE. All these were completed, and entered service with BW, the first two going to the North West Division, and GORSE going to the South Eastern fleet. One more boat, the COTSWOLD was being built at Uxbridge at the time, and was never completed, the boat being broken up. In 1952, the last two wooden boats were built for the Executive. Constructed at Walker's of Rickmansworth, they were named ABERYSTWYTH and BANGOR, and were based on the town class boats for the GUCCC. They entered service with the North West Division in 1952.

The RIVER class boats.

On the 1st January 1955 British Transport Waterways took over from the D & I W E, and with it the change to a blue background and yellow lettering. The symbol of a life buoy and waves usually appeared on the boat sides as well. With this new start, six all steel butties were ordered from the Thames Launch Works Ltd at Teddington, in June 1957. The boats were of the River class, all named after 3 letter rivers, and were ALT, AXE, CAM, DEE, TAW, and WYE.

 ADMIRAL Class                                              RIVER Class.

Yarwoods built LINDSAY, (centre) at Stoke in the 1960's  Stern end of AXE; floral display in STONE.

Around 1994, AXE was motorised, the stern becoming spare. Instead of scrapping, this was turned into a flower bed, and can be seen close to Star lock in Stone today. The new boats had blue fibreglass covers, and a wider gunwale all round. The covers slotted into each other, and make a distinctive crunching sound when walked upon. The boats were not that popular with the boat people, as they were poor swimmers, and difficult to handle with their bluff lines.

However, in 1959 another 19 boats of the same type were ordered, this time from E.C.Jones & Son, of Brentford. The names of these are; AWE, ANT, AYE, ELY, EXE, FAL, HAY, KEW, LYN, RAY, ROE, RYE, TOW, URE, WEY, YEO, LEE, ANNE, and BERYL. The last three boats were different in that they had lift out cabins; an attempt to reduce crew waiting time. With ANNE and LEE, diesel outboard engines were fitted, LEE having a Harbourmaster, and ANNE having a Petter PD2. ANNE and the butty BERYL were tested on the London to Birmingham run, but the journey took longer than using conventional narrowboats. In 1963, seven of the River class were sold to Thames Conservancy, together with ANNE, LEE, and BERYL.

The ADMIRAL class boats. In 1957 in the North West Division, four pairs of boats of a new type, were ordered from Isaac Pimblott & Sons Ltd, of Northwich. These were the ADMIRALS, named after Admirals of the Fleet, all steel boats; motors and butties, with canvas sheets spanning steel pipes across the hold. The first four pairs are (motors) EFFINGHAM, COLLINGWOOD, ANSON, GRENVILLE, (butties) BENBOW, DRAKE, FROBISHER and HOWARD. In 1960, two more pairs were ordered from Yarwoods, motors, MOUNTBATTEN and LINDSAY, and butties JELLICOE and KEPPEL. The boats were lighter in construction, and could carry larger cargoes on a shallower draught. Cabins were also steel, and the engines fitted were Armstrong Siddeley 20hp AS2 diesels.


Pimblott built motor. COLLINGWOOD, owned by Birmingham & Midland. 

These boats were the last to be built for commercial carrying on the inland waterways, but fortunately most are still in existence today.



BANGOR. At Battlebridge in 1981. Possibly broken up?

ABERYSTWYTH . Currently (2001) at Broadmore on the Oxford Canal, and possibly for sale. Fully converted since the 1970's and still a butty. Wass fire damaged at Saul Junction 2005 on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. Now on the dock at Jem Bates' awaiting repair

ABERYSTWYTH Photo    Photos of BW boats


NAME         Reg. at Ricky No                                Current location.

ALT          209.                                   Tearoom boat, Welshpool.         Photo

ANNE. (Prototype). Owned April 1965 by Thames Conservancy Division. Oxford section's no. A 1210. Sold by BWB into private ownership in 1980s Motorised, unconverted based Midlands and North West. At Middlewich rally in June, and Braunston in July 2000.

photo Photos of BW boats

ANT            216                            Sold by BWB in 1971 Motorised, on Stourbridge Canal.

AXE       208                Rebuilt as a motor, Stone, 1995. Lister HA3, and 22ft cabin. Trip boat, Aynho, Oxford Canal. Photos of BW boats

AWE                      222                                        Motorised with butty stern, Gloucs.& Sharpness Canal.

AYE               220                                Owned by contractors, Atherstone.

BERYL (Prototype) Sold by Thames Conservancy 1980's. Extended steel cabin.

CAM                   207                                                 Stourbridge Canal.

DEE                    204   Converted, at Braunston marina. New cabin in 1981. Photos of BW boats

ELY                     214                                   Houseboat Norton Jcn, GU

EXE                    212                                            Based at Aylesbury. photo Photos of BW boats

FAL                  213                              Any information anybody ?

                   HAY                    215                        Motorised and converted. Fitted with BMC 1.5 engine.

KEW            210                                   Converted, on the GU. Photos of BW boats

                 LEE                    217                          Effluent disposal boat, Thames Conservancy.

               LYN                     226                  Was trip boat, Kinver, now at Slimbridge, Glouc. & Sharpness.

           RAY                218                 Owned by contractors, on Braunston puddle banks.

                  ROE              219                       Now on the River Cam, Cambridge, (was at Sunbury). Photos of BW boats

                 RYE           225                             Was trip boat Ashby Canal. In 1981 the boat moved to Ellesmere Port as a trip boat. Moved to Tipton, recently sold.

              TAW                206          Motorised , owned and lived on by current owners since 99 and moored at Watford.

TOW                 223                       Mud hopper for BW at Bradley, BCN.

                URE                  211                     Butty, Used by Thames Conservancy Division ( now NRA) on Sunbury Section in mid 1960s. currently at Thurmaston GU Leicester Section. Sold 1995.

           WEY                   221                 Owned by contractors, at Braunston. Worked on Fibreway, and was tied at Rode Heath during 1999. At Braunston in July 2000.

           WYE                205                  Waterways museum, Gloucester. Built for British Transport Waterways in 1958 by the Thames Launch Works at Teddington, WYE was one of the last batch of unpowered narrow boats made for commercial canal carrying. WYE originally had a ply-wood cabin and a compartment with an Elsan toilet, but the Public Health Department objected to this and it was not fitted in later boats of the type. WYE was used for carrying cargoes between London and Birmingham, being towed by a motor boat. The blue fibre-glass covers over the cargo hold were designed to facilitate loading and unloading, but their unusual appearance led to the boats being called "dustbin boats". Alternatively, WYE could accommodate ten 5ft cube blue fibre-glass containers that could each carry 2 tons. Intended to help integrate canal and road transport, these were the brain-child of Mr. Ralph Kirkham, manager of the Willerby Plastics firm, but they limited the payload that could be carried. After inland commercial carrying ceased in 1963, British Waterways used WYE for maintenance work, including a few years on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal. When no longer needed for this work, WYE joined the Museum's collection in 1992. photo

YEO                 224                40ft conversion, with Perkins 4.108, hydraulic drive, and wheel steer. Converted, now at Stockton.


ANSON Motor, Birmingham and Midland, trip boat. Photos of BW boats

COLLINGWOOD Motor, Birmingham and Midland, camper + commercial. Photos of BW boats

EFFINGHAM Motor, Regd Northwich 111 Ex-BW North West Maintenance, Montgomery Canal. 2010: Sold from derelict condition and fully restored with extended cabin following lines of cloths. 2018 : Extended cabin has been removed. Effingham Pics

BENBOW Motorised butty at Battlebridge basin. BENBOW

DRAKE Motorised butty at Kibworth, GU Leicester section.

FROBISHER Motorised butty, almost unrecognisable; new ends. Re-built at Norton Canes. Converted fs 4/82

GRENVILLE Motor, 2000 : BW North West maintenance, T & M. In green BW livery, based at Red Bull. 2018 : Part of A R Rothen fleet available for hire as a work boat. On hire at Longwood, Daw End canal. photo

LINDSAY Motor, Regd 118 at Northwich, BW North West Heritage fleet. Blue & Yellow livery. At Middlewich rally in June. Photos of BW boats

MOUNTBATTEN Motor, unconverted, based Llangollen canal and North West, in trade delivering coal and supplies.  Photo Photos of BW boats

HOWARD Motorised butty, converted, Welford arm GU.

JELLICOE Butty, Regd 116 at Northwich unconverted privately owned with MOUNTBATTEN.  Photos of BW boats

KEPPEL Butty, Paired with Lindsay, BW North West Heritage fleet. Blue & Yellow livery.


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