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Origins of boating families


Felshampo
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2 hours ago, Felshampo said:

 

How many of these records predate the 1795 register? 

Not many but largely that’s because there are far less records overall for the 18th century compared to the 19th century so it is more difficult. It requires a lot more groundwork to go further back and the time I can put to research is limited. However there some specific areas I would like to research further in future.

 

I can trace the three legs of my boating ancestors back to 1756, 1784 and 1803 respectively but I have no record of any family involvement in canals until 1812. Other legs of my family I can trace back to the start of the 18th century but another leg gets cold even from the late 19th century.

 

Information resulting from the 1795 legislation on boat registration is available at least in part in both published and online form. Boat registrations in general aren’t particularly helpful in constructing family trees but they do help in building a picture of a particular person’s life.

 

With the caveats above I am sure you could trace the origins of folk listed in the 1795 boat registrations to satisfy your gypsy fascination. I rather think though you’ve already been given more than a large hint by Heartland and Lorna, both of whom are part of small pool of genuine experts on the forum who’s information can be taken as read.

 

JP

Edited by Captain Pegg
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Books which may prove of use are:
National Waterways Museum: Researching your waterway family history.

A series of booklets produced by EurekA Partnership - boat registrations on the Oxford Canal. These really only tie people with boats, not really helpful in direct tracing of ancestors. Although some jobs and locations are given.  Caveat Emptor!

 

There are a few waterways heritage web sites around as well.

 

 

 

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16 minutes ago, Lorna said:

Hi Captain Pegg thank you for your comment, I'm signing off now for today. I'm on my way to Stoke B Canal Museum to do a workshop on family history. 

I was thinking of visiting Stoke Bruerne after my boat has had a bit of TLC at a nearby workshop in early September. I see there’s another such event on the 28th September. There’s a plan.

 

JP

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

 

To add to what has already been said, information does come to light from a variety of archive sources and as more look into their family tree there might be untapped sources held with the wider family circle. Such information might be passed down from generation to generation, there might be a note in a family bible or there may be a case in law where a prosecution is recorded.

 

Religion is a key element in tracing families, and remains so. Yet traveling the waterways network, meant that those boatmen, and there were many, if not the majority, believed in baptism and marriage be it non conformist or conformist religion. Records might exist somewhere, but not necessarily in an obvious place.

 

Yes, it is true that river navigations existed before canals and I suppose those that worked flats on the Mersey & Irwell and the Weaver had an element that chose to move to the canals. Similar cases could be also be with the Severn trow and barges and the Trent Boats. Of course in this latter case Trent Boats of 14ft width would work on the new East Midland waterways that were built with them in mind.

 

With both river and canals there were few family boats, as far as I can see, in these early times. Perhaps somebody knows of family boats on the rivers at such dates. Boat crews were limited to number and it was common for male crews at one time, although Harry Hanson in his book does mention the ladies as well.

Edited by Heartland
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5 hours ago, Captain Pegg said:

 

 

With the caveats above I am sure you could trace the origins of folk listed in the 1795 boat registrations to satisfy your gypsy fascination. I rather think though you’ve already been given more than a large hint by Heartland and Lorna, both of whom are part of small pool of genuine experts on the forum who’s information can be taken as read.

 

JP

Unfortunately I have no interest in geaneology so that's unlikely. My interest is in industrial archaeology and so that's why I asked the experts on here to clear up the validity of the sign. 

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2 hours ago, Heartland said:

Religion is a key element in tracing families, and remains so. Yet traveling the waterways network, meant that those boatmen, and there were many, if not the majority, believed in baptism and marriage be it non conformist or conformist religion. Records might exist somewhere, but not necessarily in an obvious place.

The religious element is an interesting observation. I happy to be shot down here but aren't Romany gypsies quite observant in their religious beliefs but boat families were not. The implication being that if they had moved onto boats they would have continued this tradition as well. Another reason I presumed the connection was a myth. 

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Just as a further note to the idea that people "disappeared" when they took to the canals, from about the time of George Smith of Coalville:

 http://www.crick.org.uk/smith.html

 

Boats had regular health inspections with the captain's / owner's name and whereabouts being recorded. There are records of captains keeping unhealthy boats being summoned. There were also statutes passed on the number and age of children sharing cabins with parents and siblings. It is recorded that those with large families tended to have children "disappear" when wind of inspectors coming, only to "reappear" when the inspector had gone.

Edited by Ray T
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19 hours ago, Felshampo said:

The religious element is an interesting observation. I happy to be shot down here but aren't Romany gypsies quite observant in their religious beliefs but boat families were not. The implication being that if they had moved onto boats they would have continued this tradition as well. Another reason I presumed the connection was a myth. 

I have no idea about Romany people but as far as boat families go those that lived aboard - which was a minority - may have struggled to be observant. However evidence shows that baptism was pretty much universal and occasionally into both non-conformist and conformist churches. Marriages were obviously in churches as there was no alternative other than not getting married, but there seems to be little evidence of that.

 

Canal companies observed some rituals around Sunday’s as well, such as not mandating work on a Sunday and also preventing the use of some lock flights.

 

All I can say is that my own boating family were church going folk, just one of many verifiable facets of their life that contradicts the popular view of traditional boating family life. They may not have been absolutely typical but they weren’t unique. Then again perhaps that was true of all boat people and there is no such thing as a single tradition.

 

JP

 

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1 hour ago, carlt said:

 

Would one of those be a "Pegg leg"? 

 

Oh... Is that my coat? 

 

I thought I’d headed off those kind of jokes with the user name to accompany the profile pic. I’ve heard ‘em all before but that’s not a bad effort.

 

And the straight answer is no anyway since the boating folk are my maternal line.

 

JP

 

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On 26/07/2019 at 17:48, 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.

I'm not sure which you are suggesting influenced the other.

I have read on more than one occasion that boat cabins pre-date Romany Caravans.

 

I remember reading somewhere that "Gypsies" started acquiring living wagons in the mid 1800s and prior to that spent their travelling time using tents.  Especially single sheet sided tents stretched between the top of a dry stone wall and the ground.

However I really can't be trusted and shouldn't be humoured, I am on record as commenting once that [url=http://www.burtonsbiscuits.com/our-brands/wagon-wheels/]Wagon Wheels[/url] were so big in the late 50s they were as good as a meal, and twice as filling! 

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It was mooted in Anthony Lewerys' 'Narrow Boat Painting' book that some had thought the origins of boat people might have come from Gypsies. Mr. Lewery considered this could be discounted due to the nomadic existence of Gypsies, who had the wider range of road networks to travel and that their traditions of work and making, selling and mending things did not fit with comparatively short working routes of boat people, who themselves at one time were land based in the first instance, and handling boats was their main work. That changed when economics forced many to live aboard, though there are similarities to the internal layout of a Vardo to a back cabin. But the Vardo was not adopted by the Romani until around 1850, prior to which Gypsies or Romani lived mostly in bivouacs made of sticks and tarpaulins, and cooked outside. So the origins of the older back cabin layout is still a little obscure. But given a small space with need for a stove, somewhere to sit, somewhere to sleep, and a bit of storage - what would you do?

 

One thing that does compare directly in terms of layout, is that the Vardo would have its chimney (and therefore stove) towards the centre of the road so as to be less affected by overhanging branches (the Vardo entrance being at the front, so stove on the left), and the boat cabin had 'its' on the left (entered from the back) to avoid bridge arches. Thought even that doesn't match for some Northern boating practices of old where boats passed by keeping left. The other is of course the cross bed. From a simple practical point of making the most efficient use of a small space, it was sensible to put it at the 'closed' end of the Vardo and cabin. The rest - to any skilled carpenter, would become a natural process of putting storage where it was most practicable. As to the 'Art', it follows that the comparatively wealthy Romani people who were able to buy Burton and Reading vans, would decorate extensively the carved woodwork (saves weight) as a show of status. The comparable for the boat person was a bit of brass and for No.1's - some fancy signwriting. So the thought that 'Gypsies' were the origins of boat people can be pretty well discarded.

 

Along with the move aboard due to economics, was the possibility that some Navvies took to working boats and living aboard, which compared with the sheer physical hard work of digging the cuts, must have been very tempting with a wife and possibly children on the way.

 

And yes - 'Wagon Wheels' were bigger back then, but so was most confectionary. Downsize and up-price = greater profits. Larger gaps between the chunks too - and thinner. Did they think we didn't notice?

  • Greenie 1
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9 hours ago, Derek R. said:

given a small space with need for a stove, somewhere to sit, somewhere to sleep, and a bit of storage - what would you do?

 

Can anyone come up with an improvement on the standard boat cabin, in the same space and for the same number of people?  And no fancy lekky gadgets.

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On 31/07/2019 at 07:14, Derek R. said:

It was mooted in Anthony Lewerys' 'Narrow Boat Painting' book that some had thought the origins of boat people might have come from Gypsies. Mr. Lewery considered this could be discounted due to the nomadic existence of Gypsies, who had the wider range of road networks to travel and that their traditions of work and making, selling and mending things did not fit with comparatively short working routes of boat people, who themselves at one time were land based in the first instance, and handling boats was their main work. That changed when economics forced many to live aboard, though there are similarities to the internal layout of a Vardo to a back cabin. But the Vardo was not adopted by the Romani until around 1850, prior to which Gypsies or Romani lived mostly in bivouacs made of sticks and tarpaulins, and cooked outside. So the origins of the older back cabin layout is still a little obscure. But given a small space with need for a stove, somewhere to sit, somewhere to sleep, and a bit of storage - what would you do?

 

One thing that does compare directly in terms of layout, is that the Vardo would have its chimney (and therefore stove) towards the centre of the road so as to be less affected by overhanging branches (the Vardo entrance being at the front, so stove on the left), and the boat cabin had 'its' on the left (entered from the back) to avoid bridge arches. Thought even that doesn't match for some Northern boating practices of old where boats passed by keeping left. The other is of course the cross bed. From a simple practical point of making the most efficient use of a small space, it was sensible to put it at the 'closed' end of the Vardo and cabin. The rest - to any skilled carpenter, would become a natural process of putting storage where it was most practicable. As to the 'Art', it follows that the comparatively wealthy Romani people who were able to buy Burton and Reading vans, would decorate extensively the carved woodwork (saves weight) as a show of status. The comparable for the boat person was a bit of brass and for No.1's - some fancy signwriting. So the thought that 'Gypsies' were the origins of boat people can be pretty well discarded.

 

Along with the move aboard due to economics, was the possibility that some Navvies took to working boats and living aboard, which compared with the sheer physical hard work of digging the cuts, must have been very tempting with a wife and possibly children on the way.

 

And yes - 'Wagon Wheels' were bigger back then, but so was most confectionary. Downsize and up-price = greater profits. Larger gaps between the chunks too - and thinner. Did they think we didn't notice?

This all makes perfect sense. 

The fact that gypsies had caravans after the boats came along contradicts the assertion on the sign that they were responsible for painting the boats. This along with the generally held view that some boat families were originally gypsies further enforces the myths around their origins. 

Similar to the myth that the navvies were all Irish. Yet in England they were more likely to be made up of local farm laborers who couldn't get jobs in factories which mainly employed children and women. 

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On 26/07/2019 at 18:18, Ray T said:

 

 

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.

 

I had a book about the families from I think it was Fisher Row. but I gave the book away a few years back to a fellow boater who came from that part of the world

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3 hours ago, Felshampo said:

Similar to the myth that the navvies were all Irish. Yet in England they were more likely to be made up of local farm laborers who couldn't get jobs in factories which mainly employed children and women. 

Local labour was used on canal building, but usually at times when agricultural work was slow, so between spring sowing and the autumn harvest. Numbers employed on canal building could also fall during winter when conditions were not good for constructional work. However, by the 1790s there were full-time navvies who travelled from job to job. For example, many of those building the L&LC from the 1790s were Scottish, and followed the engineer Whitworth southwards after work on the the Forth & Clyde was completed.In Terry Coleman's book,The Railway Navvy, I seem to recall that he suggested Lancashire and Yorkshire navvies were considered the hardest working, and the hardest to control. The Irish who became navvies on the railways after the potato famine were much easier to control, and even saved up and sent money back to their families.

 

In factories, there would be considerable number of men employed, particularly on skilled work. In textiles, mule spinners were almost always male as it was considered a hard and skilled job. Women worked in the weaving shed as the power loom became more widespread, though the tacklers who looked after the looms mechanically were all male. Power loom weaving would be regarded as a semi-skilled occupation, with women taking over from the more skilled male hand loom weavers.

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2 hours ago, Pluto said:

Local labour was used on canal building, but usually at times when agricultural work was slow, so between spring sowing and the autumn harvest. Numbers employed on canal building could also fall during winter when conditions were not good for constructional work. However, by the 1790s there were full-time navvies who travelled from job to job. For example, many of those building the L&LC from the 1790s were Scottish, and followed the engineer Whitworth southwards after work on the the Forth & Clyde was completed.In Terry Coleman's book,The Railway Navvy, I seem to recall that he suggested Lancashire and Yorkshire navvies were considered the hardest working, and the hardest to control. The Irish who became navvies on the railways after the potato famine were much easier to control, and even saved up and sent money back to their families.

 

In factories, there would be considerable number of men employed, particularly on skilled work. In textiles, mule spinners were almost always male as it was considered a hard and skilled job. Women worked in the weaving shed as the power loom became more widespread, though the tacklers who looked after the looms mechanically were all male. Power loom weaving would be regarded as a semi-skilled occupation, with women taking over from the more skilled male hand loom weavers.

Anthony Burton in The Canal Builders was referring to unskilled farm workers who couldn't get work in industry as most unskilled jobs were done by women and children. After the enclosures act reduced the amount of common land available and the factory system lowered the amount of hand work available as cottage industries closed down this became more acute. 

I also remember that farm labourers became full time navvies and when they were needed for the harvest would not go back so they tried various legal methods to stop them being navvies but I can't remember the details. 

Found it.... Sir Charles Morgan tried to get a bill in Parliament to 'restrain the employment of labourers in the time of the corn harvest' eg the labourers should work on the farms for less money. The bill failed! 

Edited by Felshampo
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1 hour ago, Felshampo said:

 

Found it.... Sir Charles Morgan tried to get a bill in Parliament to 'restrain the employment of labourers in the time of the corn harvest' eg the labourers should work on the farms for less money.  

Some things never change

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16 hours ago, Felshampo said:

Anthony Burton in The Canal Builders was referring to unskilled farm workers who couldn't get work in industry as most unskilled jobs were done by women and children. After the enclosures act reduced the amount of common land available and the factory system lowered the amount of hand work available as cottage industries closed down this became more acute. 

 I also remember that farm labourers became full time navvies and when they were needed for the harvest would not go back so they tried various legal methods to stop them being navvies but I can't remember the details. 

Found it.... Sir Charles Morgan tried to get a bill in Parliament to 'restrain the employment of labourers in the time of the corn harvest' eg the labourers should work on the farms for less money. The bill failed! 

Having had a quick look at my notes taken from the L&LC minutes, the numbers employed on canal building varied considerably, presumably dependent upon the weather and what was being undertaken, and who was available. For example, in December 1808 some 236 men were employed, by February 1809, this was down to 171 men, reducing even further in June to 118. Sometimes the type of workers was mentioned, diggers, stone masons, etc, but not always. It does show that the numbers employed did vary, and that can only suggest that local people were taken on and released dependent upon requirements. Some may have wanted to stay on, but work was not available. In terms of type of employment, and land owners wanting to retain low paid workers, there would be a variation between northern and southern England, influenced by the large arable estates in the south. Regarding cottage industries, particularly in textiles, these did not decline radically until after the canal building period. At the time the L&LC was being built in East Lancashire, the Peel family was employing some 5000 outworkers across Lancashire and as far south as north Derbyshire, a larger industrial workforce than that employed by Arkwright in his factories.

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Land enclosure was certainly a factor of the movement of the population to find work. There must have been a matter of chance with finding canal work and it is important to segregate the canal builders/ tramway builders/ railway builders from those that worked on the boats. Whilst there may have been those that drifted between these two groups, I would think that other factors, such as the opportunity for work, decided who would end up on the boats. Carrying coal, limestone and general merchandise fluctuated with demand and there were times when more people were needed. At such times new personnel came into the trade. Those that stayed formed the hardcore of the boating population.

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