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ElaineWalker

Horse boating

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Good morning - I'm new to this group so still finding my way around. We have a small narrowboat moored at Tattenhall - my husband's dream but we both have a long-term interest in the canals and boating.

 

My special subject is horses - I write books on the horse in cultural history and I'm researching for a new book on canal horses.

 

I'm working in the archive at Ellesmere Port but I'm also hoping to hear from anyone with stories, photos, family memories and so on. 

 

The Canal Bookshop at Audlem has offered to put up a flyer for me so I thought I'd post it here too - it would be great to hear from anyone with anything to share. 

 

I am a member of the Horseboating Society, I've read 'The Horse on the Cut' by Donald Smith and 'Some Aspects of Horse Boating' by Tony Lewery, who I am in direct contact with and who has been very helpful. I've also just read 'Last of the Number Ones' which is also really useful. 

 

There may be lesser known or maybe much older out-of- print publications I've not come across yet - all information would be appreciated.

 

Thanks. 

 

 

boat horse flyer final.jpg

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Whilst I personally can't help you with your research I do like the look of this project and look forward to the end result. Good luck with it and I hope you enjoy the research. 

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One thing is for certain big / heavy horses like Cracker were generally not used to pull narrow boats - too big, too powerful and would not fit under the bridges :captain:

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Thanks for replying and for your good wishes, Reg.

 

Cracker is actually pretty small (about 13.3, I think) but I'd agree that you are correct that small and strong rather than Shire-horse-type tall would be most practical.

 

Images do suggest a range of sizes (mostly between 14 and 15 hands maybe though photos can be misleading) and I'm interested in where horses were sourced - I wonder if any were bred to be boat horses or if it was a case of what was available. I've found out a little about the 'Dirty Fairs' (ie horse fairs held in the winter) at Market Drayton but I'm still working on this.

Edited by ElaineWalker

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If you can get along to the boat gathering at Audlem this weekend you may find John Blunn about, ask any of the boaters and they are likely to know John.  John was a horse boater and he has written a couple of books, https://www.towpathtalk.co.uk/cockerels-in0-the-cut-by-john-blunn/  was his last book.  I'm sure John would be happy to talk to you about his working days.

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13 minutes ago, ElaineWalker said:

Images do suggest a range of sizes (mostly between 14 and 15 hands maybe though photos can be misleading) and I'm interested in where horses were sourced - I wonder if any were bred to be boat horses or if it was a case of what was available. I've found out a little about the 'Dirty Fairs' (ie horse fairs held in the winter) at Market Drayton but I'm still working on this.

I am not aware of horses being specifically bred to work with boats, but why would they be when they were used in all works of life as a form of motive power and so readily available.

 

Following the Great War there were a surplus of horses that were disposed of a government surplus and I am pretty sure some of these found their way to the waterways :captain:

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That's great Rob-M - I do plan to be there. The flyer was done to go up in the bookshop in time for the weekend and Peter has said he will do copies for all the boats.

 

I'll do as you suggest - thankyou so much!

Edited by ElaineWalker

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I'm not sure how to reply to specific messages but I'm replying to Pete - I think ex-army horses found their way into many new roles.

 

I think Joe Skinner's Dolly was an ex-army mule (I'd have to check the book but I'm pretty sure).

 

As to why they'd be bred specially, maybe they weren't but many types and breeds were bred for specific roles, such as mining, pulling a carriage rather than a cart - as you say above, they needed to be small but strong so anyone who had a good horse, might decide to breed the next generation.

 

It's just a thought at this stage - Darwin uses the breeding of horses for specific roles as an example of human intervention in the evolutionary process so it was well-established by then.

 

But that's the nature of research - I have to pin down evidence, rather than assume that things were a certain way because that seems most likely to me.

 

I was told by someone who I consider an expert that horses made an easy transition from the cart to the narrowboat - but I've also come across an interview from a horse-boater that said ex-cart horses didn't make good towing horses at all, because the boat didn't respond to the pull in the same way. Once I've found out as much as I can, I look at the balance to form any sort of conclusion (which is often still 'we can't be sure'!).

 

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32 minutes ago, ElaineWalker said:

but I've also come across an interview from a horse-boater that said ex-cart horses didn't make good towing horses at all, because the boat didn't respond to the pull in the same way.

That sort of item could make an interesting chapter in itself, what makes a good canal horse and how we're they handled and looked after. 

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This is the sort of thing I'm interested in Reg - good to hear someone else would be too! It's one of those subjects that is covered in passing a lot but not in any great detail. I'm always interested in the impact on the horse, not only it's usefulness to us too. 

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Poor old horse:

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

 

A number one came a bacca-ring by,
And they think so, and they hope so.
I said, Old man, that horse will die.
Oh, poor old horse!

Oh, he'll work all night and he'll work all day,
And they say so, and they hope so.
Put him on the inside he'll back her away.
Oh, poor old horse!

At Exhall wharf they go to load,
And they say so, and they hope so.
And then he comes out on the London road,
Oh, poor old horse!

From Atherstone in the Heart's Hill length,
And the say so, and they hope so.
T'was there that poor beast broke his strength,
Oh, poor old horse!

And after years of such abuse,
And the say so, and they hope so.
You're salted down for sailor's use,
Oh, poor old horse!

 

Elaine, if you haven't already get hold of "Painted Boats." Although today it would be classed as a "docu soap" it does contain quite  a bit of horseboat working.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2/262-5904320-8280157?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=painted+boats

 

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Joe Skinners Mule was ex army as to quote Rose "He had a good position in the army"in later years of his mules life Joe acquired a second not sure if it was a mule or a large Donkey Disaster the lead  animal wouldn't walk & kept looking around for his mate  my late wife was the stand in trip boat steerer for Norburys horse boats " Bunny Bunford"  who at that time lived at Shebdon used a mule to tox his Clayton tar boat " Gifford" the second Norbury boat "Bellerophon " renamed "Iona" after the original wooden boat went to & is possibley still working horse dran on the Wey area

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50 minutes ago, X Alan W said:

Joe Skinners Mule was ex army as to quote Rose "He had a good position in the army"in later years of his mules life Joe acquired a second not sure if it was a mule or a large Donkey Disaster the lead  animal wouldn't walk & kept looking around for his mate  my late wife was the stand in trip boat steerer for Norburys horse boats " Bunny Bunford"  who at that time lived at Shebdon used a mule to tox his Clayton tar boat " Gifford" the second Norbury boat "Bellerophon " renamed "Iona" after the original wooden boat went to & is possibley still working horse dran on the Wey area

For Iona, see: http://www.horseboat.org.uk/

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I am pretty certain that my wife's late grandfather used a Welsh Cob to tow their work boat. I know nothing about horses, but this has been mentioned in the past.

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Not sure if this has been mentioned but August edition of Tillercraft pg 16 has info on national waterways museum, Ellesmere Port 'working horses day' August 12th.

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2 hours ago, catweasel said:

I am pretty certain that my wife's late grandfather used a Welsh Cob to tow their work boat. I know nothing about horses, but this has been mentioned in the past.

We ran horseboat  Maria as a 50 seat trip boat in the years 1978 to 1998. Most of that time we had two horses, Sonny, was a Welsh Cob, 15 hands and lived to the ripe old age age of 36 years. The other was  Cleo, about the same size but very powerful, lazy and laid back. She was a Suffolk Punch and yes, she was a lawn mower amongst other things?. Both animals had to duck their heads at many of the bridges, they soon learned to do this with experience. Horse falling in the canal happened more than once, that never seemed to faze  either of them .

Very difficult horse boating these days: cyclists, moored boats , anglers, TV aerials, badly designed fences at the towpath edge, blah  blah. 

I remember  once trying a mule at boat towing. Strong and willing but too giddy, he was all over the towpath and wouldn't stand still for more than a few seconds.

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13 hours ago, X Alan W said:

Joe Skinners Mule was ex army as to quote Rose "He had a good position in the army"in later years of his mules life Joe acquired a second not sure if it was a mule or a large Donkey Disaster the lead  animal wouldn't walk & kept looking around for his mate  my late wife was the stand in trip boat steerer for Norburys horse boats " Bunny Bunford"  who at that time lived at Shebdon used a mule to tox his Clayton tar boat " Gifford" the second Norbury boat "Bellerophon " renamed "Iona" after the original wooden boat went to & is possibley still working horse dran on the Wey area

This is really interesting - as herd animals, horses and donkeys can get very distressed if they are parted from a regular companion or even a passing contact if they are left alone. The two horses react in Tony Lewery's 'A Towpath Encounter' as they call to one another as the boats move off after passing - the nature of the animal is ultimately what we're always working with. Donkeys are especially pair-bonded (I have two donkeys and they do everything together and are a separate sub-herd to my horses). I'd like to know more about the Norbury boats - I've messaged you - many thanks.

Edited by ElaineWalker

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9 hours ago, billh said:

We ran horseboat  Maria as a 50 seat trip boat in the years 1978 to 1998. Most of that time we had two horses, Sonny, was a Welsh Cob, 15 hands and lived to the ripe old age age of 36 years. The other was  Cleo, about the same size but very powerful, lazy and laid back. She was a Suffolk Punch and yes, she was a lawn mower amongst other things?. Both animals had to duck their heads at many of the bridges, they soon learned to do this with experience. Horse falling in the canal happened more than once, that never seemed to faze  either of them .

Very difficult horse boating these days: cyclists, moored boats , anglers, TV aerials, badly designed fences at the towpath edge, blah  blah. 

I remember  once trying a mule at boat towing. Strong and willing but too giddy, he was all over the towpath and wouldn't stand still for more than a few seconds.

I guess the height at the withers must be the crucial factor with bridges - I have no experience with mules but I have donkeys and they have a different way of looking at the world to horses. I'm still working my way through the replies but I will follow up with you further, if I may, as this is really interesting. 

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12 hours ago, Cheese said:

This boat is The 2nd "Ionae the small Woolwich" Bellerophon renamed the same as the original wooden boat which would not pass it's BOT test in around 1968 It was purcased from BW & I towzd it from Hillmorton to Norbury where it was modified to a trip boat.It was sold to the present owner when John Stothert sold SUC & started up the Mill at Audlem as a canal side store

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On 28/07/2018 at 09:17, X Alan W said:

This boat is The 2nd "Ionae the small Woolwich" Bellerophon renamed the same as the original wooden boat which would not pass it's BOT test in around 1968 It was purcased from BW & I towzd it from Hillmorton to Norbury where it was modified to a trip boat.It was sold to the present owner when John Stothert sold SUC & started up the Mill at Audlem as a canal side store

Is this the boat Tony Lewery used as a horse-boat for passengers then? He's mentioned that to me several times. 

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37 minutes ago, ElaineWalker said:

Is this the boat Tony Lewery used as a horse-boat for passengers then? He's mentioned that to me several times. 

Tony was a good friend of JS & harry Arnold who was the manager at SUC at that time I can't remember Tony using #2 "Iona " but he could have been involved with the original wooden boat he was also friends with Martin Bunford who mule towed his "Clayton boat "Giffard". & was often seen at Norbury

Edited by X Alan W

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On 27/07/2018 at 12:55, ElaineWalker said:

That's great Rob-M - I do plan to be there. The flyer was done to go up in the bookshop in time for the weekend and Peter has said he will do copies for all the boats.

 

I'll do as you suggest - thankyou so much!

I had a great chat with John Blunn and his wife - had a very good day at Audlem and hope to go to Alvecote at the end of the month too.

On 27/07/2018 at 22:08, reg said:

Not sure if this has been mentioned but August edition of Tillercraft pg 16 has info on national waterways museum, Ellesmere Port 'working horses day' August 12th.

Thanks - I plan to be there! I volunteer as a researcher specialising in horses in the archives. 

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34 minutes ago, ElaineWalker said:

I had a great chat with John Blunn and his wife - had a very good day at Audlem and hope to go to Alvecote at the end of the month too.

Thanks - I plan to be there! I volunteer as a researcher specialising in horses in the archives. 

I'm glad you had a chance to meet John, I've had some interesting chats with him about 'oss boating.

 

May see you at Alvecote, I'm planning on being there on the Saturday.

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