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Canal Boat or Narrowboat

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A happy new year to all and to begin this years discussion, a question of terminology.

 

A discussion regarding the origin of the term Narrowboat recently appeared on the Birmingham History Website which raises the question of when the term Narrowboat came into being. When old newspapers are consulted the term Canal Boat was commonly used for local sales or discussions. No distinction was made as to type. Although terms such as trow, Trent Boat, Keel, Sloop may also be found documented in the press. Narrow boat as term is mentioned pre 1900 when the text is made outside the narrow canal area. 

 

It is a subject that is complicated by local names being applied, such as Monkey Boat, Josher, Cuckoo, Bantock etc. Further complications occur when the term barge or boat should be used.

 

So, is there an accepted date for the origin of the term Narrowboat, or should it be Narrow Boat?

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Not sure about dates but I have always understood Narrowboat =  working or ex working boat. Narrow boat = noddy boat. :captain:

 

The historical magazine spells its title "NarrowBoat."

 

The narrowboat (one word) definition in the Oxford English Dictionary is:[1]

A [British] canal boat of traditional long, narrow design, steered with a tiller; spec. one not exceeding 7 feet (approx. 2.1 metres) in width or 72 feet (approx. 21.9 metres) in length

Earlier quotations listed in the Oxford English Dictionary use the term "narrow boat", with the most recent, a quotation from an advertisement in Canal Boat & Inland Waterways in 1998, uses "narrowboat".

The single word "narrowboat" has been adopted by authorities such as the Canal and River Trust, Scottish Canals and the magazine Waterways World to refer to all boats built in the style and tradition of commercial boats that were able to fit in the narrow canal locks.[citation needed]

Although some narrow boats were built to a design based on river barges and many conform to the strict definition of the term, it is incorrect to refer to a narrowboat (or narrow boat) as a barge. In the context of the British inland waterways, a barge is usually a much wider, cargo-carrying boat or a modern boat modelled on one, certainly more than 7 feet (2.13 m) wide.[citation needed]

Another historic term for a narrow boat is a long boat, this name was used in the Midlands and especially on the River Severn and connecting waterways to Birmingham.[citation needed]

Usage has not quite settled down as regards (a) boats based on narrowboat design, but too wide for narrow canals; or (b) boats the same width as narrowboats but based on other types of boat.[citation needed]

Narrowboats may have ship prefix NB [2].

 

Edited by Ray T

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My understanding is the opposite to Ray T's.

Narrow Boat (as in LTC Rolt) is original, and narrowboat is modern.

 

Harry Arnold's magazine in the 80s was Narrow Boat.

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I've heard them called longboats (or long boats) too.

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19 minutes ago, zenataomm said:

My understanding is the opposite to Ray T's.

Narrow Boat (as in LTC Rolt) is original, and narrowboat is modern.

 

Harry Arnold's magazine in the 80s was Narrow Boat.

All the early publications in my library use the two word form, and as virtually all those who would have used the term on a regular basis were unable to read or write, we shall probably never really know whether a one word form was ever in existence until quite recently.

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22 minutes ago, zenataomm said:

My understanding is the opposite to Ray T's.

Narrow Boat (as in LTC Rolt) is original, and narrowboat is modern.

 

Harry Arnold's magazine in the 80s was Narrow Boat.

In the glossary of my 1918 copy of "Bradshaw's Canals& Navigable Rivers of England & Wales", a Narrow Boat (two separate words) is "a type of boat in extensive use on canals, commonly called a "boat"" 

 

In another section of the book, section 9 ...Vessels used in Inland navigation, it says Narrow Boats or Monkey Boats are by far the most numerous class of vessel engaged in inland navigation. They are from 70 to 72 ft long by from 6ft 9in. to 7ft 2in. beam and draw from 8in. to 11in. of water when empty, loading afterwards about 1in. to 1 ton.

 

There is no separate description of anything called a Canal Boat, but there are pages devoted to various descriptions of boats, wide and narrow, including sailing vessels,  used on specific navigations which have different names or dimensions. 

 

I hope that is useful.

 

Howard

 

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The 1881 census lists some occupations as "Captain of Narrow Boat" and place of residence "Narrow Boat XXXXX". Ironicly the same entries often also include descriptions of boats as "Barges" and occupation as "Bargeman"  Unfortunately my 1881 Census resouirrce file will not work in Windows 10, so I am unable to give any specific examples, but the absence (from recollection) of the term Narrowboat suggests that the single word is a modern variation.

 

 

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From some of the hatchems, matchems & despatchems certificates  I have:

 

Canal Boat Worker - Canal Boat "Florrie" Hawkesbury Stop Foleshill

Boatman - Barge Bawtry Grand Union Canal Cowley

(no stipulation for wife) - Barge Kentley Grand Union Canal Watford

Canal Boatman - Canal Boat Captain Cook Tusses Bridge Longford Coventry

Canal Boatman - In a canal boat Bawtry.

Canal Boatman - Canal side Boons Quarry Nuneaton.

Canal Bargeman - Barge Lambourne Punch Bowl Nuneaton. (The person here was born in the Punchbowl) This Punchbowl was demolished in 1950.

 

Of the 36 certificates I have non use the word Narrow boat or the variation of that spelling.

The certificates range from 1875 - 1968.

 

On a census 1911 under "personal occupation" Master of Canal Boat

On another census the occupation is referred to as Captain; Steerer; Master; Boatman and Boatwomen.

 

Also got; Canal Driver on a 1901 census for Moira, Market Bosworth.

 

I am not going to show the certificates as many of the descendants of this family, in this tree are still alive.

 

 

Edited by Ray T

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3 hours ago, Athy said:

I've heard them called longboats (or long boats) too.

Only heard them called that in the Gloucester/Sharpness area, perhaps a west country thing?

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3 hours ago, zenataomm said:

My understanding is the opposite to Ray T's.

Narrow Boat (as in LTC Rolt) is original, and narrowboat is modern.

 

Harry Arnold's magazine in the 80s was Narrow Boat.

Yes, I agree.

The opposite of what Ray said.

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I stumbled across this PDF document recently. It has quite a bit of detail about canal boats in the 1800s but narrow boat or narrowboat is never mmentioned

(Link opens a PDF)

 

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=http://static.premiersite.co.uk/23415/docs/7046215_1.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwjOta31msLfAhVOxxoKHZVwB6s4FBAWMAF6BAgIEAE&usg=AOvVaw0Ezxakq-tB0bUHjw6_IVWj

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3 hours ago, David Schweizer said:

The 1881 census lists some occupations as "Captain of Narrow Boat" and place of residence "Narrow Boat XXXXX". Ironicly the same entries often also include descriptions of boats as "Barges" and occupation as "Bargeman"  Unfortunately my 1881 Census resouirrce file will not work in Windows 10, so I am unable to give any specific examples, but the absence (from recollection) of the term Narrowboat suggests that the single word is a modern variation.

 

 

Not my reaearch but pinched from a post made by Alan Fincher in June 2009 about the descriptions Monkey Boat and Narrow Boat

 

"......There are numerous references to "Narrow Boat", with a name and/or number, as a place of residence in the 1881 census, as well as the occupation "Captain of a Narrow Boat" But just to confuse you get things like "Bargeman Mate on a Narrow Boat" too. Or address as "Narrow Boat Loretta", but occupation as "Boatman (Master) (Barge)"

 

We don't know really whether this is how the people being recorded chose to state their abode or occupation, (they would have been illiterate), or how the census enumerator decided to record it, (as that is how it would have occurred).

 

I don't think it is possible to say accurately 128 years later exactly how terms like narrow boat, monkey boat and barge were used, but it is very obvious that sometimes they were taken as being the same thing, and that no special or locational regional difference really applies, (in my view!)."

 

 

Edited by David Schweizer

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2 hours ago, archie57 said:

Only heard them called that in the Gloucester/Sharpness area, perhaps a west country thing?

We had long boats on the L&L, presumably to differentiate them from short boats due to having both 72' locks and 62' locks on the same canal.

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1 hour ago, David Schweizer said:

Not my reaearch but pinched from a post made by Alan Fincher in June 2009 about the descriptions Monkey Boat and Narrow Boat

 

"......There are numerous references to "Narrow Boat", with a name and/or number, as a place of residence in the 1881 census, as well as the occupation "Captain of a Narrow Boat" But just to confuse you get things like "Bargeman Mate on a Narrow Boat" too. Or address as "Narrow Boat Loretta", but occupation as "Boatman (Master) (Barge)"

 

We don't know really whether this is how the people being recorded chose to state their abode or occupation, (they would have been illiterate), or how the census enumerator decided to record it, (as that is how it would have occurred).

 

I don't think it is possible to say accurately 128 years later exactly how terms like narrow boat, monkey boat and barge were used, but it is very obvious that sometimes they were taken as being the same thing, and that no special or locational regional difference really applies, (in my view!)."

 

 

Thanks for reposting that David.

Being nearly a decade ago, I can't recall much about posting it, if I'm honest!

I no longer have a subscription to Ancestry, or I would have checked out some other censuses.

I remain fairly confident, I think, that I have not seen "narrowboat" (as a single word) in any old documents like that, and think the single word version has really only come into usage with the advent of narrow boats built specifically for leisure purposes rather than carrying.

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I can't recall having seen either "narrow boat" or "narrowboat" being used in any historical records. That's not to say it never was and I will keep an eye out for it. Even in the 1939 England & Wales Register the terminology is still generally "Canal Boatman". A lot of census records also seem to have "Barge" written in subsequently against a lot of descriptions that simply give the occupation as "Boatman" or similar as though there was a requirement to confirm the type of vessel.

 

JP

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1 hour ago, Captain Pegg said:

I can't recall having seen either "narrow boat" or "narrowboat" being used in any historical records. That's not to say it never was and I will keep an eye out for it. Even in the 1939 England & Wales Register the terminology is still generally "Canal Boatman". A lot of census records also seem to have "Barge" written in subsequently against a lot of descriptions that simply give the occupation as "Boatman" or similar as though there was a requirement to confirm the type of vessel.

 

JP

As you will see in my post above (6) Bradshaws refers to "Narrow Boats"

 as a commonly used description, but it depends whether you accept that Bradshaws reference work ( my copy is dated 1918 but I believe the first edition is from 1911) is a historical document or not. I think many people interested in the subject regard the book as a useful source of reference; I certainly do.

 

Howard

 

 

 

 

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8 hours ago, Captain Pegg said:

I can't recall having seen either "narrow boat" or "narrowboat" being used in any historical records. That's not to say it never was and I will keep an eye out for it.

Did you not read David's reposting above of a statement I made nearly 10 years ago about the 1881 census?
 

Quote

 

There are numerous references to "Narrow Boat", with a name and/or number, as a place of residence in the 1881 census, as well as the occupation "Captain of a Narrow Boat" But just to confuse you get things like "Bargeman Mate on a Narrow Boat" too. Or address as "Narrow Boat Loretta", but occupation as "Boatman (Master) (Barge)"

 

I would say the 1881 census is beyond any reasonable question an historical record.
 

I'm fairly certain "Narrow Boat" appears in earlier censuses, probably back to the first in 1841, but I no longer have a subscription to a service that allows me to look.

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I have seen , but cannot now find, a claim by the early editorial staff of Waterways World magazine that the usage 'narrowboat' is a neologism coined by Waterways World.  If so it would date no earlier than mid 1972 when the first issue was published.

Richard Fairhurst may be able to shed a little more light, though if it is WW originated, the term is from before his time as editor.

N

 

 

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24 minutes ago, alan_fincher said:

Did you not read David's reposting above of a statement I made nearly 10 years ago about the 1881 census?

Yes Alan. Hence I said that I couldn't recall seeing it not that you hadn't. I have viewed over 10,000 records for over 2,000 boat people. The use of "narrow boat" wasn't common in census records or other family records.

Edited by Captain Pegg

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52 minutes ago, Captain Pegg said:

Yes Alan. Hence I said that I couldn't recall seeing it not that you hadn't. I have viewed over 10,000 records for over 2,000 boat people. The use of "narrow boat" wasn't common in census records or other family records.

Surely the issue is not whether the description "Narrow Boat" was commonplace in the 1880's, but whether it existed. Both my research, and that of Alan Fincher, suggests that the term did exist, but was one amongst several used by enumerators at the time.

 

The same issue arises in one of my areas of research which is the history of British woodworking planes and their makers. The current description of the tradesmen who made them is "Planemaker" but the term appears as both one and two words in the Census records.  However, most Census enumerators used the generic term "Ironmonger" which was the one most readily accepted at the time by the compilers of early Trades Directories.

 

Edited by David Schweizer

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3 hours ago, BEngo said:

I have seen , but cannot now find, a claim by the early editorial staff of Waterways World magazine that the usage 'narrowboat' is a neologism coined by Waterways World.  If so it would date no earlier than mid 1972 when the first issue was published.

Richard Fairhurst may be able to shed a little more light, though if it is WW originated, the term is from before his time as editor.

N

Certainly WW popularised it. The single-word form was occasionally seen beforehand: there was a pre-1972 firm called Lapworth Narrowboats, for example, who used "Narrowboat" in their publicity material. But looking through the Canals Book 1972 this is the only occurrence I can find: everyone else used "narrow boat" or, now and then, "narrow-boat".

 

So you can probably thank/blame Machin, Arnold & co. for "narrowboat" becoming the most common form, even if it wasn't their invention.

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3 hours ago, David Schweizer said:

Surely the issue is not whether the description "Narrow Boat" was commonplace in the 1880's, but whether it existed. Both my research, and that of Alan Fincher, suggests that the term did exist, but was one amongst several used by enumerators at the time.

 

The same issue arises in one of my areas of research which is the history of British woodworking planes and their makers. The current description of the tradesmen who made them is "Planemaker" but the term appears as both one and two words in the Census records.  However, most Census enumerators used the generic term "Ironmonger" which was the one most readily accepted at the time by the compilers of early Trades Directories.

 

I'm unsure of its use in census but have seen many items, particularly the work of tin smiths and the like, that is stamped 'maker'.

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I think this question has been asked several times in past years in the letters pages of Waterways World magazine.

The earliest reference of the term ‘Narrow Boat’ I know of was first used in 1877 with the creation of the Canal Boats Act. It was probably an administrative construct invented by Government officials to make a distinction between types of craft when calculating the interior cubic air space of cabins. It was merely as an expression, along with 'Wide Boat', to differentiate between a boat that was less than seven feet six inches beam and a boat that was over seven feet six inches beam. These details are recorded in the Act in Chapter VI - Interpretation of Terms.

The key word here is ‘expression’, in other words ‘Narrow Boat’ is not the name of an actual boat but any boat that falls within the Canal Boats Act that is under seven feet six inches beam.

Its likely Henry Rodolph de Salis with his connections to Fellows, Morton and Clayton saw the details of the Act, then used the term Narrow Boat in his explanation of terms when compiling his Bradshaw's Canals and Navigable Rivers of England and Wales book published in 1904.

This book was seen and used by Canal Companies and Carriers as a reference work and so they too started to adopt its use, but only rarely. I have seen it used on gauging tables for instance.

Bradshaw’s was seen by L. T. C. Rolt who copied the term when writing his book 'Narrow Boat' (he says he had a second hand copy in Chapter 1), and because so many people ‘off the bank’ came onto the cut after the war having read Rolt's book, the term Narrow Boat or Narrowboat has come into general usage. The generations that followed have simply continued it to the present day.

The boaters of course use the word ‘Boat’, or sometimes a more regional name such as ‘Longboat’ or ‘Monkey Boat’. Christopher March (of the boat Heather Bell) wrote that when travelling the cut in the 1930’s and 40’s, ‘The appalling word ‘narrowboat’ had not then been perpetuated’.

Can anyone give specific examples of ‘Narrow Boat’ used in the census returns?

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1 hour ago, Chris M Jones said:

I think this question has been asked several times in past years in the letters pages of Waterways World magazine.

The earliest reference of the term ‘Narrow Boat’ I know of was first used in 1877 with the creation of the Canal Boats Act. It was probably an administrative construct invented by Government officials to make a distinction between types of craft when calculating the interior cubic air space of cabins. It was merely as an expression, along with 'Wide Boat', to differentiate between a boat that was less than seven feet six inches beam and a boat that was over seven feet six inches beam. These details are recorded in the Act in Chapter VI - Interpretation of Terms.

The key word here is ‘expression’, in other words ‘Narrow Boat’ is not the name of an actual boat but any boat that falls within the Canal Boats Act that is under seven feet six inches beam.

Its likely Henry Rodolph de Salis with his connections to Fellows, Morton and Clayton saw the details of the Act, then used the term Narrow Boat in his explanation of terms when compiling his Bradshaw's Canals and Navigable Rivers of England and Wales book published in 1904.

This book was seen and used by Canal Companies and Carriers as a reference work and so they too started to adopt its use, but only rarely. I have seen it used on gauging tables for instance.

Bradshaw’s was seen by L. T. C. Rolt who copied the term when writing his book 'Narrow Boat' (he says he had a second hand copy in Chapter 1), and because so many people ‘off the bank’ came onto the cut after the war having read Rolt's book, the term Narrow Boat or Narrowboat has come into general usage. The generations that followed have simply continued it to the present day.

The boaters of course use the word ‘Boat’, or sometimes a more regional name such as ‘Longboat’ or ‘Monkey Boat’. Christopher March (of the boat Heather Bell) wrote that when travelling the cut in the 1930’s and 40’s, ‘The appalling word ‘narrowboat’ had not then been perpetuated’.

Can anyone give specific examples of ‘Narrow Boat’ used in the census returns?

Yes, I have searched and found one. There is an entry for Peter Littlemore (transcribed incorrectly as Littlemoor) in the 1881 census for Stretford, Lancashire which has an address listed as Near Watch House on Canal. "Loretta". Narrow Boat.

 

ETA - In addition to the above a general search of census information shows the description "Narrow Boat" used in place of a specific name for the vessel in the 1861 census for Ripley, Derbyshire. These entries are on sheets specifically used for vessels. Searches for either "Narrow Boat" or "Narrowboat" pick up nothing else prior to 1881.

 

Edited by Captain Pegg

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