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Early Leisure Boating

This page is in the process of being compiled if you have any information to add to it please contact us on the email below.

We are particularly interested in fleets pre 1970 such as Ernie Thomas', Blue Line, Willow Wren and Wyvern but all information will be gratefully received.

Hire Boats

British Waterways

From around 1950 British Waterways began their pleasure boat operations and by the mid 50’s there were three classes of boat available for hire the two berth Water Baby range ,the middle of the range were the hire cruisers converted from redundant carrying boats and a day cruiser aimed at predominantly the American tourist market these were all available from the Gayton Yard.

Water Baby, pictured on Northampton Arm after passing under bridge number two with the yard staff on board for a trial run.

(picture courtesy J.Payler)

This time on hire and in a much sunnier scene approaching the locks at Napton on the Oxford canal with the famous windmill on the hill in the background. (J.Payler)

Water Lily on the approach to Banbury Lane. Interesting to note the apparel of the gentleman on the stern, despite it being a holiday he still has a shirt and tie on.


Water Iris nears Candle bridge in this shot. The coach like roof was very common and found on most of the available hire boats of the day. (J.Payler)

Water Vixen highlighted the problem of fires on boats, the fire brigade in attendance at Gayton Yard. You can see that quite a bit of the internal furnishings had been removed and also seemingly some of the superstructure. (J.Payler)

The top of the range was Water Rambler, luxuriously fitted for day cruising, aimed at the American tourist market with the use of hotel accommodation overnight with arranged visits to the tourist centres such as Warwick and Stratford upon Avon.  Water Rambler is seen here approaching bottom lock at Stoke Bruerne. (J.Payler)

Moving up the Stoke flight with what is now the Navigation Inn in the background and about to pass a loaded pair just leaving the lock. (J.Payler)

Hotel Boating


Similarly in the mid 50’s the privately operated Nancy and Nelson regularly toured the system and were converted carrying boats used as mobile hotels.  Nancy had been built in 1928 by Walkers of Rickmansworth as a horse boat motorised in 1936 and bought by Michael Streat in 1952 and converted to a hotel boat in 1954.  Nelson was built in 1923 at Nursers yard at Braunston and originally named Blue Lias when purchased by S.E. Barlow in 1935 she was renamed Nelson (Barlows were very patriotic) and acquired by M. Streat in 1952 to be used as a hotel boat.  Both were eventually broken up . (J.Payler) 

Nancy and Nelson moored near Blisworth (J.Payler)

A number of Hotel boats still operate on the canal system with Snipe and Taurus being examples of  them. Taurus being an ex GUCC butty converted for the purpose. (J.Payler)

Trip Boats

Trip boats have now become a common sight on the waterway scene frequently being purpose built, see Taurus and Snipe above, but in the early days boats were converted for passenger carrying.  Enterprise was such a boat  pictured here at Braunston in 1958 at the time of its conversion.  She was originally built as an iron horse boat at Fellows, Morton and Clayton Ltd  Saltley Dock in 1903 and named Kimberley, converted to a motor during 1938 at Yarwoods shipyard on the River Weaver, passing to British Waterways in 1949 and sold to Charles Ballinger in 1953, renamed  Susan and joined a small fleet of boats servicing Cadbury  factories.  In 1957 the boat was sold to a Ram Meinertzhagen, renamed Enterprise and taken to the Willow Wren dock at Braunston where it was converted to a trip boat, with structure and engine changes, the cabin being rebuilt so she could pass under the Bridge St. bridge on the Kennet in Reading.  This bridge had been reinforced in 1943 with steel girders to take D Day traffic and the headroom was only 4ft 6ins. On its passage through it had to be loaded with ten tons of breeze blocks so as to pass under the bridge. The use of this boat on a regular basis was a contributory factor in stopping the Ministry of Transport applying to abandon the Kennet. Other carriers from 1950 onwards had also moved cargoes on the Kennet and Avon canal to keep it open and eventually made available for complete refurbishment and cruising throughout its entire length. This is a perfect example of how leisure use helped keep some of our canals open and safe from abandonment.

Motor Enterprise alias Kimberley moored at Braunston. (J.Payler)

In the Spring of 1961 David Blagrove along with two partners to purchase the boat for operations in the Blisworth area but in 1964 it was again sold on, this time to Jim Marshall who operated her until 1966 and subsequently passed the boat to Robin Hewett at Braunston who operated her as a camping boat until his demise in 1966, eventually sold and now believed to be fully converted and located on the Oxford Canal. [facts provided by David Blagrove and others]  

This motor was originally Archimedes, a small Woolwich boat built in 1935 and originally used commercially , then on Section maintenance, then by a Northampton Brewery company as a trip boat eventually becoming derelict, rescued and restored and now in regular use on the southern part of the canal system selling fuel. (J.Payler)


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