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Felshampo

Origins of boating families

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I have just been reading one of these metal information signs on the side Middlewich about amoungst things the origin of boat people. It says in the "did you know" section that Gypsies were employed to paint the early narrowboats and that in 1795 there were 103 boat masters registered of gypsy heritage. 

This seems to be contrary to all the history books I have read such as Hadfield who suggest boat people were recruited from farmers, who were already skilled with horses, river workers and even navies. 

The fact that the figure of 103 families is stated with authority implies they are referring to some official census. Does anyone know of such a register? Or can this be put down to the perpetuation of the myth of gypsies and narrowboats. 

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Some commentators (though I cannot remember which) have mentioned  a similarity between narrow boat art and Romany caravan art, so that might suggest a connection.

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2 hours ago, Athy said:

Some commentators (though I cannot remember which) have mentioned  a similarity between narrow boat art and Romany caravan art, so that might suggest a connection.

This is often quoted rather glibly in some places but whenever I have read the more researched histories such as Hadfield he dismisses the comparison. Ransom suggests that the origin is from farm carts, market barrows and rag and bone men who also used geometrical designs. 

It's the reference to the 103 families of gypsy heritage that intrigued me. 

Edited by Felshampo

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There was a form of boat census that was conducted on a county basis in 1795. Harry Hanson author of The Canal Boatmen mentions the folk lore associated with gypsies but notes no historical proof. Hanson notes Tom Rolt being imaginative on the suggestion that romany people encamped on Trafford Moss assisted with the completion of the Bridgewater canal and then exchanged caravans for boats which they decorated. Referring to the 1795 register of boats  of the 898 masters registered 103 may be described as gypsy names according to a list of names prepared by the Gypsy Lore Society. yet such names came into British society previously and Hanson was critical of this speculation. yet he did state that the wanderings of waterways life attracted gypsies in greater numbers, after 1798, if their names were considered.  Hanson preferred to agree with the Hadfield suggestion that the boatmen had origins in the navvy population.

 

Another factor is that have been suggested that agricultual labourers exchanged their basic existence for one on the canals. The basic truth may still be guessed at but family searches are adding more to where the boating families originated from.       

Edited by Heartland
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24 minutes ago, Athy said:

Some commentators (though I cannot remember which) have mentioned  a similarity between narrow boat art and Romany caravan art, so that might suggest a connection.

From one of Tony Lewrey's books with regard to farm carts.

 

Mrs T and myself have researched an Oxford boatman's heritage. His boating ancestors on his father's side were boat men from 1794, the previous five generations were land workers with no connection to Romany's. This is not to say there is no connection to other boaters however.

Decoration comparison.jpg

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1 minute ago, Heartland said:

There was a form of boat census that was conducted on a county basis in 1795. Harry Hanson author of The Canal Boatmen mentions the folk lore associated with gypsies but notes no historical proof. Hanson notes Tom Rolt being imaginative on the suggestion that romany people encamped on Trafford Moss assisted with the completion of the Bridgewater canal and then exchanged caravans for boats which they decorated. Referring to the 1795 register of boats  of the 898 masters registered 103 may be described as gypsy names according to a list of names prepared by the Gypsy Lore Society. yet such names came into British society previously and Hanson was critical of this speculation. yet he did state that the wanderings of waterways life attracted gypsies in greater numbers, if their names were considered.  Hanson preferred to agree with the Hadfield suggestion that the boatmen had origins in the navvy population.

 

Another factor is that have been suggested that agricultual labourers exchanged their basic existence for one on the canals. The basic truth may still be guessed at but family searches are adding more to where the boating families originated from.       

That's where it came from. Thanks Heartland. 

As I said above Ransom suggests that farmers who were use to horses and were known to be navvies would be likely candidates. Also families already working on the River boats. The use of "gypsy" names seems a valid suggestion though. 

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3 minutes ago, Ray T said:

From one of Tony Lewrey's books with regard to farm carts.

 

Mrs T and myself have researched an Oxford boatman's heritage. His boating ancestors on his father's side were boat men from 1794, the previous five generations were land workers with no connection to Romany's. This is not to say there is no connection to other boaters however.

Decoration comparison.jpg

Is this the book "Narrow boat painting"? I shall have to try and get a copy. 

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Just now, Felshampo said:

Is this the book "Narrow boat painting"? I shall have to try and get a copy. 

Yes.

 

Tony has also published "Flowers Afloat" which goes into historical boat decoration in much greater depth.

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All canal boaters are descended from one of seven tribes originating in Oxfordshire.

 

Well, maybe not, but it sometimes feels that way when doing research. The biggest clue to what boaters did before working on the canals lies in the occupations their wider families had in census records. Admittedly this doesn’t go back to the earliest days of canals but there is undoubtedly a theme of agricultural work. But of course this was quite possibly transitory work and many are listed as hay trussers so a nomadic lifestyle for many of them isn’t out of the question.

 

As for @Ray T’s research I wonder if he’s gone back before Daniel Humphries born c1830 in Eynsham, Oxfordshire who was employed in a paper mill at the age 40 and was captain of a narrowboat by the age of 50. So there’s one demonstrable move from canal side occupation onto a boat.

 

It is sometimes the case that parents followed their children into working on boats.

 

JP

 

 

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17 minutes ago, Captain Pegg said:

All canal boaters are descended from one of seven tribes originating in Oxfordshire.

 

Well, maybe not, but it sometimes feels that way when doing research. The biggest clue to what boaters did before working on the canals lies in the occupations their wider families had in census records. Admittedly this doesn’t go back to the earliest days of canals but there is undoubtedly a theme of agricultural work. But of course this was quite possibly transitory work and many are listed as hay trussers so a nomadic lifestyle for many of them isn’t out of the question.

 

As for @Ray T’s research I wonder if he’s gone back before Daniel Humphries born c1830 in Eynsham, Oxfordshire who was employed in a paper mill at the age 40 and was captain of a narrowboat by the age of 50. So there’s one demonstrable move from canal side occupation onto a boat.

 

It is sometimes the case that parents followed their children into working on boats.

 

JP

 

 

How can you research the families using parish records as I imagine the boat people "disappeared" once they moved onto the boats? Are these cencuses readily available. 

You imply hay trussers were nomadic but I thought farm labourers were tied to the land like serfs. 

Also canalised rivers have been around for a long time. The river lea had 15 locks on it in the 1550's so you can imagine the establishment of river boats and families started earlier than the the Canal era

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The "Humphries" or however it is spelt, there are many variations as the family were prolific. To quote the Ex Captain I visit "We had no telly in them days."

 

The earliest verifiable waterways connection we have is a Thomas Humphries b. 1794 Eynsham, Oxford, d. 1870 Whitney, Oxford.  "No trace on census prior to 1861." 

The 1861 census gives the location "The Locks, Napton." We have only followed this one branch of the family. The furthest we got "Back"  was a Ellis Humphries b. 1660. Back up records here are very scant if available at all. We are only really interested in one family branch.

 

We followed the male line as that has canal connections. Strictly speaking genealogy should follow the female line as you can always guarantee the mother, not so the father. For clarity I am talking about the past here before the days of surrogacy etc.

12 hours ago, Felshampo said:

How can you research the families using parish records as I imagine the boat people "disappeared" once they moved onto the boats? Are these cencuses readily available. 

You imply hay trussers were nomadic but I thought farm labourers were tied to the land like serfs. 

Also canalised rivers have been around for a long time. The river lea had 15 locks on it in the 1550's so you can imagine the establishment of river boats and families started earlier than the the Canal era

Census records, also Hatchum, Matchum and Despatchum registers as these give the place of birth, death and weddings with the peoples occupations, i.e. "canal worker, Boatman," often giving the address and name of the boat for births and marriages i.e. "Captain Cook, Tusses Bridge."

Although boat people worked in many locations they tended not to stray far from the bank. Also there were places popular for stopping to get married and to give birth, two examples Braunston and Sutton stop. Church records are also available here. Boaters had both church and registry office weddings, these records are not too difficult to track down. Modern day records offices make this easier. Many boaters liked to have their bairn "churched."

 

With deaths the body was often taken back to what was considered "Home Port" with the coffin going "Fly."

 

Sites like "Find my Past, Ancestry help but one has to be careful when using these as cousins often have family names with similar birth dates and it is easy to go off on the wrong track which is why alternative sources of information are needed. "Who do you think you are" makes it look all too easy. 

 

Cemeteries are also a useful source of information.  

 

Rose & Joe Skinner.JPG

Coffin behind the mast.jpg

 

I suppose one day me boating, it will have to stop
By then I’ll know I’m past me prime
They’ll carry me up the Junction if they have to carry me fly
And by then I’ll know I’ve had me time
Wrap me in a canvas, put me behind the mast
Give me a clean road, won’t we travel fast
With the black crepe blowing in the wind this trip will be me last
I’ll have finished moving up the cuts
With the black crepe blowing in the wind this trip will be me last
I’ll have finished moving up the cuts.

 

http://www.waterwaysongs.co.uk/moving_up.htm

 

Edited by Ray T
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2 hours ago, Felshampo said:

This is often quoted rather glibly in some places but whenever I have read the more researched histories such as Hadfield he dismisses the comparison. Ransom suggests that the origin is from farm carts, market barrows and fag and bone men who also used geometrical designs. 

I

Waterside traders selling tobacco and dog food?

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56 minutes ago, Felshampo said:

How can you research the families using parish records as I imagine the boat people "disappeared" once they moved onto the boats? Are these cencuses readily available. 

You imply hay trussers were nomadic but I thought farm labourers were tied to the land like serfs. 

Also canalised rivers have been around for a long time. The river lea had 15 locks on it in the 1550's so you can imagine the establishment of river boats and families started earlier than the the Canal era

It’s not generally any more difficult than for anyone else. The phenomenon of boat families was probably not established until the latter part of the 19th century and even then evidence shows many of the women folk stayed on the bank and the men continued to work the boat(s). Most boating families had some established base on land be it their own home or the home of a close relative they could use for official purposes; such as registration of family events. There’s a notion of boat families living some sort of detached idyllic existence in blissful ignorance of the rest of the world. It’s a myth.

 

JP

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4 minutes ago, Captain Pegg said:

It’s not generally any more difficult than for anyone else. The phenomenon of boat families was probably not established until the latter part of the 19th century and even then evidence shows many of the women folk stayed on the bank and the men continued to work the boat(s). Most boating families had some established base on land be it their own home or the home of a close relative they could use for official purposes; such as registration of family events. There’s a notion of boat families living some sort of detached idyllic existence in blissful ignorance of the rest of the world. It’s a myth.

 

JP

It was probably railway competition that led to families moving onto boats so not until the mid 19th century. The problem occurs in the 20th century when trying to trace backwards. 

Reading the "Working Waterways" series of books gives ample evidence that boat families did live a a detached existence from the rest of the country. Whether they were ignorant or living a blissful idyll was down to Tom Rolt. 

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Hopefully there will be an article in the Autumn 2019 Narrowboat Magazine of my research into the origins of the Canal Boat Families which has taken me 25 years to find. No Gypsies, one Navvy, some Farm Labourers, quite a lot of Watermen from the navigable rivers and a few surprises.

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24 minutes ago, Lorna said:

Hopefully there will be an article in the Autumn 2019 Narrowboat Magazine of my research into the origins of the Canal Boat Families which has taken me 25 years to find. No Gypsies, one Navvy, some Farm Labourers, quite a lot of Watermen from the navigable rivers and a few surprises.

I will look forward to reading that.

So what is your opinion on the 103 boat families in the 1795 census who had gypsy heritage or a gypsy name. 

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2 hours ago, Ray T said:

The "Humphries" or however it is spelt, there are many variations as the family were prolific. To quote the Ex Captain I visit "We had no telly in them days."

 

The earliest verifiable waterways connection we have is a Thomas Humphries b. 1794 Eynsham, Oxford, d. 1870 Whitney, Oxford.  "No trace on census prior to 1861." 

The 1861 census gives the location "The Locks, Napton." We have only followed this one branch of the family. The furthest we got "Back"  was a Ellis Humphries b. 1660. Back up records here are very scant if available at all. We are only really interested in one family branch.

 

We followed the male line as that has canal connections. Strictly speaking genealogy should follow the female line as you can always guarantee the mother, not so the father. For clarity I am talking about the past here before the days of surrogacy etc.

Census records, also Hatchum, Matchum and Despatchum registers as these give the place of birth, death and weddings with the peoples occupations, i.e. "canal worker, Boatman," often giving the address and name of the boat for births and marriages i.e. "Captain Cook, Tusses Bridge."

Although boat people worked in many locations they tended not to stray far from the bank. Also there were places popular for stopping to get married and to give birth, two examples Braunston and Sutton stop. Church records are also available here. Boaters had both church and registry office weddings, these records are not too difficult to track down. Modern day records offices make this easier. Many boaters liked to have their bairn "churched."

 

With deaths the body was often taken back to what was considered "Home Port" with the coffin going "Fly."

 

Sites like "Find my Past, Ancestry help but one has to be careful when using these as cousins often have family names with similar birth dates and it is easy to go off on the wrong track which is why alternative sources of information at needed. "Who do you think you are" makes it look all too easy.

 

I have a record of that Thomas Humphries but hadn’t confirmed his date of birth. It turns out I’ve got two lines of what are almost certainly the same family but I haven’t yet linked them. I don’t generally do much updating beyond my own blood relatives these days - my only Humphri(e)s link is a second marriage - as I ended up finding many more actual relatives than I thought likely. Seemingly unrelated threads on here throw up useful information quite frequently and help to fill gaps and build a picture.

 

JP

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48 minutes ago, Felshampo said:

So what is your opinion on the 103 boat families in the 1795 census who had gypsy heritage or a gypsy name. 

Do we have any firm information about this 1795 "census", or, I'm guessing more accurately "register"?  Who caried it out,and how was the data collected?  Where can one go to see a copy of it?

 

I think the use of the word "census" is likely to mislead.  The first true UK census by the government that actually listed individuals, did not occur until 1841, of course.

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2 hours ago, Felshampo said:

It was probably railway competition that led to families moving onto boats so not until the mid 19th century. The problem occurs in the 20th century when trying to trace backwards. 

Reading the "Working Waterways" series of books gives ample evidence that boat families did live a a detached existence from the rest of the country. Whether they were ignorant or living a blissful idyll was down to Tom Rolt. 

Railway competition cut tariffs and certainly had an impact although it did not reduce the tonnages carried by canals since there was a growing demand overall.

 

From the perspective of the various authors of the “Working Waterways” series I’m sure canal life appeared very different and isolated compared to their own experiences prior to working on the canals and that may have coloured their view. You can find records of the boaters named in those books, on electoral registers for example.

 

However we started with your assumption that people ‘disappeared’ from society when they lived and worked on a boat and that doesn’t stack up with my own findings which includes over 10,000 records for my own family and wider connections, other documents and reading, plus information directly handed down by word of mouth through generations.

 

And just to add to earlier comments census information also captures boats and it’s not unknown to find boatmen being recorded both at home with the family and working a boat on the same census, that’s a quirk of the way census information was collected in the 1800s.

 

JP

 

 

Edited by Captain Pegg

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21 minutes ago, alan_fincher said:

Do we have any firm information about this 1795 "census", or, I'm guessing more accurately "register"?  Who caried it out,and how was the data collected?  Where can one go to see a copy of it?

 

I think the use of the word "census" is likely to mislead.  The first true UK census by the government that actually listed individuals, did not occur until 1841, of course.

A quick search came up with the following information:

 

Canal Boat Register Index, 1795-1797

In 1795 an Act of Parliament was passed, later given the Short title the Registry of Boats etc. Act. It ordered that vessels using navigable rivers and canals be registered by the local Clerk of the Peace, who issued certificates as evidence that vessels had beenregistered.

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The first national census was taken in 1801 no names purely numerical to ascertain what the population was. The 1811,1821 and 1831 were also just numerical 1841 did give names ages and occupation and if  born in the county enumerated in and no family connections ie husband , wife and so on.

The 1795 Boat Registers where taken in counties where there were canals these are held in local county record offices if they have survived.

 

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21 minutes ago, Captain Pegg said:

Railway competition cut tariffs and certainly had an impact although it did not reduce the tonnages carried by canals since there was a growing demand overall.

 

From the perspective of the various authors of the “Working Waterways” series I’m sure canal life appeared very different and isolated compared to their own experiences prior to working on the canals and that may have coloured their view. You can find records of the boaters named in those books, on electoral registers for example.

 

However we started with your assumption that people ‘disappeared’ from society when they lived and worked on a boat and that doesn’t stack up with my own findings which includes over 10,000 records for my own family and wider connections, other documents and reading, plus information directly handed down by word of mouth through generations.

 

And just to add to earlier comments census information also captures boats and it’s not unknown to find boatmen being recorded both at home with the family and working a boat on the same census, that’s a quirk of the way census information was collected in the 1800s.

 

JP

 

 

Interesting perspective. That's a lot of records of your own family! 

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11 minutes ago, Felshampo said:

Interesting perspective. That's a lot of records of your own family! 

Those particular records relate to about 2,300 people who can be demonstrated to have lived and/or worked on a boat or other canal related job. Only about 10% of them are true relatives. It would be possible to link all canal families together. Lorna probably can.

 

JP

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8 hours ago, Lorna said:

The first national census was taken in 1801 no names purely numerical to ascertain what the population was. The 1811,1821 and 1831 were also just numerical 1841 did give names ages and occupation and if  born in the county enumerated in and no family connections ie husband , wife and so on.

The 1795 Boat Registers where taken in counties where there were canals these are held in local county record offices if they have survived.

 

Was it possible to trace any of the names that were on the 1795 register that were identified by the Gypsy Lore Society or are these records not as easy to find as Captain Pegg suggests? 

7 hours ago, Captain Pegg said:

Those particular records relate to about 2,300 people who can be demonstrated to have lived and/or worked on a boat or other canal related job. Only about 10% of them are true relatives. It would be possible to link all canal families together. Lorna probably can.

 

JP

How many of these records predate the 1795 register? 

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I can give you one example John Corrie/Corry baptised 1778 Newcastle under Lyme Staffordshire he is my 4x Great Grandfather and is on the 1795 Boat Register for Staffordshire. He Worked for Hugh Henshall James Brindley's brother in law.

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