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 Willow Wren Canal Carrying Company

The company was formed in 1953 and was the brainchild of Leslie Morton former manager of GUCC Co Ltd during their rapid expansion in the mid 1930's. He was present at a talk given by Robert Aickman and excited by what he heard he approached British Waterways to talk about reviving canal carrying, the feedback he got from both BW and the Ministry of Transport was less than enthusiastic. He went to see Aickman who then introduced him to Captain Bulkeley-Johnson who agreed with his wife to make a generous investment in the formation of the company. The name of the company was inspired by the B-J's cabin cruiser WILLOW WREN and the decision was made to name the fleet after other water birds. Despite the excellent intentions and some achievements the company never made a profit, there were many reasons for this not least the age of the boats and cost of maintaining them and the loss of contracts to road transport. 

The end came in early 1963 when the B-J's having invested close to 100,000 felt they could not go on, this was influenced by indifference and sometimes downright hostility to any form of encouragement for canal carrying. It wasnt a coincidence that that winter was one of the worst in recent times and the boats were iced in for over 3 months with the boatmen still needing paying. Leslie Morton was instructed to sell both the fleet and the well equipped boatyard at Braunston, it seemed like the dream was over.  

Motor/Butty - Name - Date bought - Registration - Date entered fleet - Further Information 

 
M WARBLER Dec 53 RICK 202 Apr 54 Ex LIBRA GUCC now part converted and based at Amington on the Coventry canal GUCC I-Z Willow Wren Photos
M DIPPER Dec 61 COV 556 Jan 62 Ex BRISTOL GUCC
B DRAKE Jan 60 COV 552 Aug 60 Ex TAUNTON GUCC
B TEAL Jan 55 COV 550 Aug 55 Ex MINNIE Cowburn & Cowper Willow Wren Photos
M CRANE Oct 54 B'HAM 1470 Jan 56 Ex CRANE FMC Willow Wren Photos
M CURLEW Dec 61 COV 553 Dec 61 Ex SEAFORD GUCC paired with KESTREL
M WIDGEON Dec 61 COV 555 Feb 62 Ex THAXTED GUCC
M SANDPIPER Oct 54 UXB 588 Apr 55 Ex FALCON FMC
B KESTREL Jun 56 LINSLADE 8 Jul 56 Ex SCALES & ELIZABETH Wyvern Shipping Willow Wren Photos
M AVOCET Oct 54 UXB 597 Aug 58 Ex RAVEN FMC Willow Wren Photos
B DABCHICK Jul 57 DAV 554 Nov 57 Ex DOG ROSE P.Keay / LMS Willow Wren Photos
M QUAIL Oct 54 UXB 598 Nov 54 Ex FMC Bought by Willow Wren in 1954 as QUAIL. Regd at Uxbridge No 598, and paired with FMC FLORENCE, (W.Wren KINGFISHER). 1969 at Cowley and converted, and at Paddington in 1980. In 1998 at Coppermill, and hogged. Autumn 2000 craned out at Devizes and broken up after repeated sinking.  Willow Wren Photos
B KINGFISHER Feb 54 UXB 561 Nov 54 Ex FMC Florence. Was usually painted COV 518 in error Was cut up and conv to 2 boats 3/68 50ft boat was for sale 1/77  Willow Wren Photos
M FLAMINGO Dec 61 COV 554 Jan 62 Ex LETCHWORTH GUCC Full length conversion in WW colours. GUCC I-Z
M REDSHANK Feb 54 Rick 111 Jun 54 Ex READING GUCC Willow Wren Photos
M GREBE Oct 54 B'HAM 1452 Dec 57 Ex ANTELOPE FMC Willow Wren Photos
B SNIPE Jan 55 DAV 556 Sep 57 Ex KILDARE FMC Bought from E.Thomas Willow Wren Photos
GREENSHANK Feb 54 Rick 203 Jun 54 Ex GUCC BAWTRY Willow Wren Photos
M MALLARD Feb 54 LOUGH 62 Aug 54 Ex ELM EREWASH CCC Ltd Willow Wren Photos
B HERON Jul 55 DAV 551 Jun 56 Ex CALEB LMS Willow Wren Photos
M RAIL Dec 61 COV 557 Jan 62 Ex HADLEY GUCC  A Lister HA2 diesel engine was fitted by Willow Wren in 1968. Sold to a private owner in 1970. Has undergone extensive restoration by the present owner over the last ten years during which time the boat reverted to its original name.
B WAGTAIL Jan 54 UXB 562 Apr 54 Ex FREDA FMC, she was the first boat to enter the fleet Willow Wren Photos
B DUNLIN Jan 60 DAV 565 May 60 Ex HADFIELD GUCC Willow Wren Photos
B SHOVELLER Jan 54 B'HAM 1522 Aug 54 Ex Bascote FMC Willow Wren Photos
M MOORHEN Oct 54 UXB 553 Jun 55 Ex Briar FMC Willow Wren Photos
M BITTERN Oct 54 B'HAM 1286 Aug 55 Ex LION FMC Willow Wren Photos
M TERN Oct 54 B'HAM 1490 Jan 57 Ex EMU FMC
M SWAN Oct 57 STOKE 971 Oct 57 Ex DUNSTABLE GUCC/ DUNSTAN J.Knill Willow Wren Photos
B CYGNET Aug 58 TAM 206 Jan 59 Ex GLADYS G.H.WADDINGTON / C&C Willow Wren Photos
M EGRET Jun 59 RICK 46 Jul 59 Ex MIMAS A.WANDER/GUCC
B COOT Jun 59 RICK 45 Aug 59 Ex ENID A.WANDER /URSA GUCC
B BUNTING Jan 60 DAV 564 Feb 60 Ex DUDLEY GUCC Willow Wren Photos
B GODSWALL Jan 60 DAV 566 May 60 Ex DENTON GUCC
B SMEW Jan 60 DAV 567 Feb 61 Ex NORTON GUCC
M OTLEY Dec 61 RICK 96 Dec 61 Ex OTLEY GUCC GUCC I-Z
M BUCKDEN Dec 61 BREN 621 Jan 62 Ex BUCKDEN GUCC
B ELTON Jan 60 RICK 186   Ex ELTON GUCC (never entered service)
M GAINSBOROUGH Dec 61 RICK 177   Ex GUCC (never entered service)

Willow Wren Canal Transport Services Ltd

Faced with the collapse of the company and everything he had worked so hard for the previous decade it would have been understandable if Leslie Morton had given up and walked away from canals altogether. The fact he believed so passionately in canal carrying meant he wouldn't do this, especially as it would have meant making the boat families homeless. He got the idea to reform the crews into a co-operative of self employed workers all hiring the boats from the company and funding their own fuel and maintenance/repairs. The so called laying money (paid when the boats weren't working such as during the last freeze) was scrapped, this meant if the boats were waiting for either a load or equipment breakdown they got no money but it did allow them to claim 'dole' if held up for long periods, to compensate for this the tonnage rates were increased. Even so the company was only made possible due to the continuing generosity of Captain Bulkeley-Johnson, he allowed the fleet to be used for the scheme and transferred the leases of the Braunston boatyard to Leslie Morton both for nominal fees he gave them some working capital and all the stores and equipment were sold at cost.  The company was incorporated in April 1963 and by early May for the first time in his long experience of canal carrying Leslie Morton could at last report that the boats were making a profit both for the management company and for the boatmen, many of whom had seen their earnings doubled.

The end came following the deaths of both Captain Bulkeley-Johnson and Leslie Morton in 1968, a lot of the traffics for the fleet had been moving away from the canals and the loss of the Croxley paper mill coal contract ultimately proved a step too far. BW closed the head of the Ashby canal cutting off the loading points for boats and forcing the traffic to move to road haulage, this was due to mining subsidence ultimately the mining itself closing the means for the coal to be carried by canal. Small contracts from various coal mines to Croxley continued until 1970 but the switch to oil firing meant the end and in Sept 1970 on delivery of the last load Willow Wren ceased to exist as a carrying company with BW repossessing the boats. Of the original directors who got together to create Willow Wren only Robert Aickman lived to see the end.

The name Willow Wren however lives on, a modern day owner of one of the fleet 'Baldock' has the rights to the name and will carry it proudly on his boat, a testament to one of the last great attempts at canal carrying.

Boats hired from British Waterways by Willow Wren Canal Transport Services

South Eastern Fleet 1963-1970

Motor/Butty - Name - Registration Details - Further Inofrmation

 
M GREENOCK   GUCC A-H
M BAINTON   GUCC A-H
M BALDOCK    
M BARGUS   GUCC A-H
B ALPERTON   Ex GUCC GUCC A-H
M BARROW    
M HAWKESBURY   Ex GUCC GUCC A-H
M BATTERSEA   GUCC A-H
B ARGO   Ex GUCC GUCC A-H
B SATELLITE   Ex GUCC
M BEAULIEU    
B ARGUS   Ex GUCC
M HAMPSTEAD   Ex GUCC GUCC A-H
M COLESHILL COV 547 Ex GUCC
M BELFAST    
M BICESTER   GUCC A-H
M BIRMINGHAM   GUCC A-H
B AXE   only hired for a couple of months to help with a gas pipeline contract at Olton. Photos of BW boats
B BAILDON   GUCC A-H
M SUDBURY   GUCC I-Z
B PUPPIS    
B HYADES    
M TOWCESTER   GUCC I-Z
B BINGLEY   GUCC A-H
B BANBURY    
M TARPORLEY   GUCC I-Z
B VELA   GUCC I-Z
B TOUCAN    
B BORDESLEY   GUCC A-H
M RENFREW   Ex GUCC GUCC I-Z
B TITANIA    
M STRATFORD RICK 128 Ex GUCCGUCC I-Z
B ARA   uncnv.5/90; sc paired with ARCHIMEDES on the coal and diesel trade southern GU
B ABOYNE    
M WHITBY    
B BIDEFORD BREN 603 Ex GUCC GUCC A-H
B CYGNUS BREN 489 see GUCC list Willow Wren Photos
M ALDGATE   Ex GUCC GUCC A-H
M SHIRLEY   GUCC I-Z
M ALTON   Ex GUCC GUCC A-H
M SLOUGH    
M AQUARIUS    
B SERPENS    
B BEDWORTH    
B CAPELLA    
B MOON    
B BRIGHTON    
M BUXTON    
M NUTFIELD   GUCC I-Z
M GREENLAW    
M ASCOT    
B ARGON   GUCC A-H
M STIRLING   GUCC I-Z
B BALHAM   GUCC A-H
M BOGNOR    
B CARINA    
B VIRGINIS    
M PETREL   hired Jan 1965 but may not have been used in the fleet
M NUNEATON    
M BLETCHLEY    
M DARLEY    
B BEVERLEY    
B BETELGEUSE    
M COMET   GUCC A-H
M HALSALL    
B BEDWORTH    
M EDGWARE   GUCC A-H
M ELSTREE    
B BARNES   GUCC A-H
M BADSEY    

Boats hired from British Waterways by Willow Wren Canal Transport Services

North Western Fleet 1964-1967

 
M APPLE   Ex FMC
M CLEMATIS   Ex FMC
M EFFINGHAM   Ex BW
M GRENVILLE   Ex BW
M LINDSAY   Ex BW
M MALVERN   Ex FMC
M MENDIP   Ex FMC
M MOUNTBATTEN   Ex BW
M PERCH   Ex FMC
M PIKE   Ex FMC
M SHAD   Ex FMC
M TENCH   Ex FMC
M TROUT   Ex FMC
B ABERYSTWYTH   Ex BW hired seperately early in 1965
B BANGOR   Ex BW
B BIRDSWOOD   Ex LMS
B CREWE   Ex LMS
B EXETER   Ex LMS
B KEPPEL   Ex BW
B JELLICOE   Ex BW

ALTON, HALSALL, HAWKESBURY and TARPORLEY served in the North West fleet for a while as did Willow Wrens own butty SNIPE. HYPERION also served on a sub contract basis.

TAPLOW was rebuilt and motorised in the 50s and given a full-length cabin conversion, by WW, to be used as a floating conference/exhibition centre (early corporate entertainment). The company who commissioned the work subsequently sold the boat back to WW and she was renamed Willow Wren who sold her with the new name and only when an enthusiast bought her at a later date was she given her 'proper' name back.

Several boats were transferred from the original company to Willow Wren Hire Cruisers when the company was reformed in 1963, among these were CRANE, SANDPIPER, TERN and WARBLER for use as camping boats with GREBE being converted to a 72ft cruiser. They also operated WATER OUZEL for roughly two years but George Walker, one of the directors, took over the operation of the boat in 1967 as a private venture.

Most of the information on this page was gained from Alan Faulkner's book Willow Wren published by Waterways World in 1986, loaned to me by Mr Carl T,  if you can get a copy I heartily recommend it for a full and fascinating history of the company.

 

All pictures and information are either the authors or sent in by contributors, they are displayed in good faith.

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