Thursday 30 September 2010

Search for Thomas Briggs leads to murder

Continuing along the Regents Canal as seen through my camera we come to the lovely brick building of Thomas Briggs (London) Limited. My internet searches failed to find out anything about this firm. Was this a factory? Or a warehouse?

One of the first references I came across was in an article in headed "East End Canoe Safari". This is a well-written exhortation by Ed Chipperfield to get yourself an inflatable canoe ("for between £125 and £180 on eBay"), dodge the "dead dogs", and paddle a six mile loop around the East End.

How's this for a cruising guide?


After three locks, the canal ends in Limehouse Basin – a huge marina for yachts and cruising boats, overlooked by the monolithic presence of Canary Wharf. Here’s where the dowdy, grubby canal opens to reveal luxury, money and space, with a perimeter of development that puts the rest of the route to shame. It’s a sharp contrast with Limehouse’s historical reputation. During the 19th century, the docks here were London’s original Chinatown, and thanks to the Imperial trade in narcotics the area was synonymous with opium dens. Putting ashore here looks hopeless – you’ll have to take a sharp left, ignoring the first left-hand fork to a loading bay and instead plough on east up the Limehouse Cut.

And here's the next bit - irresistible!

The Cut

Limehouse Cut was London’s first canal, connecting the Lea River with the Thames. It’s long and very straight – 2 miles– and if the wind is coming from the east, very cold indeed. It cuts a channel through Tower Hamlets, and the banks are peppered with offices and dwellings, between run-down and disused factories and warehouses: the finest is a block emblazoned with ‘Spratt’s Patent Limited’. It’s got a great history: the company began the modern dog food industry single-handed. In 1860, Mr Spratt came upon the idea of taking hard meat biscuits that were normally given to soldiers as rations and selling them to dog-owners.

The reference to Thomas Briggs comes in the passage about the Hertford Union Canal. Apparently Thomas Briggs was the victim of the first "railway murder". There's no suggestion that this TB was the one whose name is engraved in two feet high letters. Here's Mr. Chipperfield again:

As you pass Lock No. 3, you’ll see a pub, the Top of the Morning. It’s where in 1864 the victim of the first ever railway murder died, one Thomas Briggs. He was stabbed and thrown from his train near Hackney, robbed of a gold watch, and his attacker, a Mr Muller, gave birth to a brand new cockney verb: to ‘muller’ a man now sits firmly in the language as a byword for violent assault.

HarperCollins - sign up Ed Chipperfield now to update your Nicholson waterways guides!

I was going to include a mysteriously appearing railway bridge and more canoes in this post ... but that can wait until tomorrow!

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Free fuel for the early bird

Ray of No Direction mentions that he's on the lookout for fallen trees to cut up to feed his fire, and says the problem is that he's not the only one looking. But wouldn't the wood be rather too "green" to use straight away in the stove? Don't you get large amounts of tar condensing inside the chimney? Or doesn't it matter, as long as it doesn't trickle down the outside of the boat? The instructions I got with the woodburner we had installed in our sitting room at home stressed the importance of using seasoned logs, where the sap had had a chance to dry out. Perhaps on a boat the risk (of a chimney fire, I suppose) isn't as great as in a house, as the flue is much shorter. A short flue will heat up better than a long flue, thus minimising the tendency for condensation.

This reminded me of Neil's (Herbie) posts earlier this year (here and here) on weight loss by evaporation from some ash logs he'd obtained. Neil draws an impressive graph of weight against time here. After only five weeks his test log had lost nearly a quarter of its original weight.

The difficulty on a narrowboat compared with a house is that of storage. Some boaters, such as Ten Bob Note pictured last year, load their roof with piles of logs; others fill their well deck with them. Unless you're happy to carry a load of logs around with you all year, it must be difficult not to burn them "green".

The picture at the top of this post, by the way, is of a pile of logs-for-the-taking by the towpath of the Llangollen Canal just north of Whitehouses Tunnel. But they're unlikely to be there now - I photographed them two months ago.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

St. Pancras trains, lock and cruising club

15th August 2010

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to see the Eurostar train at St. Pancras. Eurostar moved its London terminus there from Waterloo in November 2007.

It does seem odd, though, that trains to France have to go north from the station! (The line then goes east to Stratford before diving under the Thames and heading for Folkestone.)

Continuing east on the Regents Canal we came to St. Pancras Lock, with the wooden clubhouse of the St. Pancras Cruising Club.

We would be joining a SPCC organised cruise on the Thames tideway later in the holiday. At this stage I didn't know if we had to meet here for the safety briefing. We didn't.

Jan steering Willow through St. Pancras Lock - the clubhouse is in the background

Monday 27 September 2010

Camden - gongoozlers' paradise

August 15th 2010

I've already touched on the gongoozlers' paradise of Camden. Actually - er - no, I haven't! I thought I'd posted about it but I think the problems with the prop may have usurped that one.

So, Camden. It comes as quite a shock, seeing all those people out with their drinks and their cameras, just hanging around the locks.

What's really surprising is how they all keep behind the railings - well, they did at Hampstead Road Lock (above). It was a different story at Camden Lock.

Here you have to pick your way carefully around the human trip hazards.

Everyone was friendly, just out to have a good time in the August sunshine. Our passing through must have added to their enjoyment.

Sunday 26 September 2010

Floating food

There's something about water which attracts restaurateurs and café owners. And, of course, their customers.

The Regents Canal does a 90º left at Cumberland Basin; in the basin sits the Feng Shang Princess, a floating Chinese restaurant. This is an arresting sight when encountered going east, the red standing out against the trees. (Is it really floating, though? What would happen if the water level dropped?)

Back at Little Venice is the Waterside Café, which, when we passed, was sporting an advertising board for The Floating Boater. This, according to the website, is actually two charterable trip boats - FMC motor Lapwing (built in 1913) and The Prince Regent - which do fairly upmarket catering.

Establishments such as the Gongoozlers' Rest on the Grand Union at Braunston must get much of their trade from people who go for a day out to look at a busy canal centre. Gongoozlers, in a word.

That's the Gongoozlers' Rest behind my "breakfast in a bap".

We've been to the Moonraker Tea Room at Slaithwaite on the Huddersfield Narrow: once for an ice cream, and once for a cup of tea.

Then there's the floating Thai restaurant on the River Wensum in Norwich ... there must be many more examples of this kind of thing.

Andrew Denny featured the Curry Boat on Granny Buttons recently, now that's my sort of floating restaurant!

Top Thirty 2010 week 39

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 1510 on Sunday 26th September 2010. This is taken, with permission, from Tony Blews's UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 Canal World Discussion Forums (=)

2 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

3 - Forums (=)

4 Pennine Waterways (=)

5 Granny Buttons (=)

6 CanalPlanAC (+1)

7 (-1)

8 ExOwnerships (+1)

9 Retirement with No Problem (-1)

10 boatshare (=)

11 Towpath Treks (+1)

12 (+1)

13 Canal Shop Company (+2)

14 UKCanals Network (=)

15 WB Takey Tezey (+1)

16 Waterway Routes (+4)

17 Baddie the Pirate (+5)

18 Water Explorer (+1)

19 Halfie (+8)

20 Narrowboat Bones (-2)

21 NBNorthernPride (=)

22 Canal Photos (-11)

23 Trafalgar Marine Services (-6)

24 Chertsey (=)

25 Google Earth Canal Maps (=)

26 nb Lucky Duck (-3)

27 nb Epiphany (-1)

28 Narrowboat Debdale (-)

29 Derwent6 (=)

30 Captain Ahab's Watery Tales (-)

The figures in parentheses denote the number of places moved since the previous chart; (-) denotes new entry or re-entry into the top thirty; (=) denotes no change.

There are 123 entries altogether.

Saturday 25 September 2010

The Elvis Effect

Forget about the Granny Effect (sorry Andrew). For boosting visitor numbers to your blog just mention Elvis Presley. (I did, and I'm not sure I got away with it.)

Four days ago I posted under the title "Open air Elvis and other larger-than-life people on London's canals".

I was astonished when my hit count leapt up the next day to more than 400, nearly double the previous record. This is even more surprising given that I haven't ticked the "make my blog searchable by search engines" box. Nearly all the people who looked at my blog that day were from the USA. How did they find it?

The screen grab of the statistics, from, shows the surge in visitors very clearly (top of this post).

The first peak, on 8th September (244 hits), corresponds with Andrew Denny's post of that day where he draws attention to where I wrote, on my blog, about our propeller falling off. (He then gives an excellent account, with all the photos, of Granny Buttons's prop being removed and replaced on a new prop shaft.)

The second peak, on 14th September (258 hits), corresponds with Maffi's post "A wet Halfie". The Maffi Effect? It comes the day after I cheekily entitled a post "Boat capsizes!".

But the third peak, corresponding with the Elvis post (402 hits), puts both these in the shade.

(Will the same thing happen again now I've posted this? Let's see!)

Friday 24 September 2010

Maida Hill Tunnel and Café Laville

On 15th August we passed through Maida Hill Tunnel near the start of the Regents Canal (if you're entering from Little Venice, as we did). We had to wait for a trip boat to emerge - you can see its tunnel light in the photo below.

Here it is again, a bit bigger!

Some of the people on the trip boat seemed to be enjoying themselves; others looked less sure about it.

And then under the Café Laville and into the short (272 yards) tunnel. What a fantastic location for a café! I looked it up to see if it had a website. I couldn't find one - but top of the search results was a review site giving mostly bad reviews. To be fair, the poor reviews (mainly for bad service) were written over a year ago; the one recent review was rather more positive.

Tomorrow: Forget the Granny Effect, check out the Elvis Effect!

Thursday 23 September 2010

The best sort of prohibition signs

In his blog, Travelling in No Direction, Ray Robinson describes how, as a schoolboy, he used to cycle along the towpaths of the north Birmingham canals. He tells of his feeling of sadness at today's occasional conflict between the various users of canals and their towpaths, made more acute, he says, because of the upgrading of towpaths to be cycleways.

That's by way of introduction to a photograph of Ray's which caught my eye.

(I hope you don't mind me borrowing it, Ray)

At first glance, from a distance, it's a standard prohibition sign: NO CYCLES. But get closer, and you see in smaller print the reason for the ban.



(In a tug-of-war between the bridge and your bike, the
bridge will usually win)

In the early days, just as the canals were built for boats (and not wildlife or anglers), so the towpaths were built for animals* or horses to tow the boats (not built for cyclists).

As this sign at Carreghofa Locks on the Montgomery Canal shows, the canal company only reluctantly allowed people not on canal business to use the towpath - and strictly forbade cycling. What a turn round today!

The sign reads


3. 1901                          BY ORDER

(Apostrophe confusion isn't a new phenomenon!)

I like signs which hint that they've been written by a human being. If they display a sense of humour - like Ray's - then that's even better.

Three months ago I posted a photo of a polite sign I came across in Suffolk.

Instead of merely requesting you not to tie your dog to the gate, K. Baldwin suggests an alternative to the "banned" action.

Returning to Ray's photo, I'm sure there must be lots of signs which make you smile on the waterways - can you think of any others?

*animals - another word for donkeys used to tow boats. According to Bradshaw.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Canalside property - you can't get much closer than this!

It's no secret that when we've retired we'll be looking to move to somewhere rather nearer the canal system than Norfolk, where we are now. It's still some years off - we're not ready yet!

I don't know what sort of house we'll end up getting. Canalside would be good. Canalside with an end-of-garden mooring would be even better.

I wonder how many people living on the bank of a canal appreciate their surroundings. What about people living by the Paddington Branch in West Kilburn?

Someone here has a boat, but it can't be easy to use it attached as it is to the side of the building!

How effective is the damp proof course on this old terrace? The shrubbery growing up the side isn't a good sign, although it's more likely to be getting its water from above.

West Kilburn on the Paddington Branch, about a mile west of Little Venice.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Open air Elvis and other larger-than-life people on London's canals

You do see some surprising things when travelling the waterways. On the Paddington Branch, for example, is Elvis Presley, five (or so) storeys up.

I assume it's Elvis Presley.

And this is Samuel House on the Regents Canal. Orange boards covering the windows of empty flats have been replaced with portraits of past and present residents of the Haggerston and Kingsland Estate in Hackney.

It's an art work called i am here. This is from the website:

Without any prior warning in April 2007 (...) bright orange boards were promptly fitted over the windows of all the vacated and empty flats on Haggerston & Kingsland estate. This rather bold visual statement even further underlined the dilapidation of the estate. The blocks now dotted with orange boards rapidly turned into an object of curiosity, especially for the passers-by using the increasingly popular towpath along Regents Canal for daily commuting to and from work, or for weekend strolls to Victoria Park and Broadway Market.

i am here was initiated by artists who are themselves long-term residents of Samuel House. Through their open windows, facing on to the canal, they often overheard passersby speculating on reasons for the building's demise and its current state. The installation aims to disturb this one-way interrogation by replacing the 67 bright orange boards with large-scale photographs of residents on the estate: onlookers no longer stand unchallenged, as their gaze is met and returned by a multitude of faces consisting of current and former residents on the estate. Thus the project literally humanises a piece of architecture on its final journey.

Monday 20 September 2010

Malcolm Spalding's sponsored towpath walk to Coventry

By the time you read this Malcolm Spalding will have reached about half way along his walk from Little Venice to Coventry Basin. He's doing the walk to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. His wife, Honny, died of cancer while fundraising for Macmillan.

On his JustGiving page Malcolm writes:

We shared a love of boating for over 40 years and I thought it a fitting tribute if I could raise some funds for the charity she became involved with by using our narrowboat to help me walk the Grand Union Canal from London to Coventry.

The walk is 128 miles and 93 locks!

Malcolm's friend Mick is steering Holly while Malcolm walks and, presumably, shakes his collecting bucket, working the locks and using Holly as a "hotel" at night.

We met Malcolm at Bull's Bridge Junction, overnighting before going to Little Venice to start his walk, when we were there cleaning Willow.

The remainder of his schedule is this:

Mon 20th Sep Bridge 126 Cheddington to Bridge 106 Paper Mill near Stoke Hammond
Tue 21st Sep to Bridge 68 Galleon near Old Wolverton
Wed 22nd Sep to Gayton Junction
Thu 23rd Sep to Norton Junction
Fri 24th Sep to Hillmorton (below locks)
Sat 25th Sep to Ansty
Sun 26th Sep to Coventry

A footnote on his schedule indicates that they will be visiting the Old Plough in Braunston High Street at lunchtime on Friday 24th September.

Malcolm receiving a handshake of support from Clive Henderson, chairman of the Inland Waterways Association

If you're in the area you might like to support Malcolm - and mention how you heard about him!

(photos from

Sunday 19 September 2010

How to survive on the Paddington Branch ... and on the Lee

One of the more striking sights on the Paddington Branch of the Grand Union Canal is a survival capsule from a decommissioned oil platform.

It has the less-than-snappy name 211/27A and comes from the North West Hutton rig, eighty miles from the Shetland Islands.

It's designed to hold 60 people. I wonder if they've tried it!

On the River Lee navigation we saw another apparently self-righting boat. Laika was tied up just north of Tottenham Lock.

I haven't been able to find out anything about this boat.

Top Thirty 2010 week 38

Here is the UK Waterways Site Ranking as it stood at 1220 on Sunday 19th September 2010. This is taken, with permission, from Tony Blews's UK Waterways Ranking Site.

1 Canal World Discussion Forums (=)

2 Jim Shead's Waterways Information (=)

3 - Forums (=)

4 Pennine Waterways (=)

5 Granny Buttons (+1)

6 (+1)

7 CanalPlanAC (-2)

8 Retirement with No Problem (+2)

9 ExOwnerships (=)

10 boatshare (-2)

11 Canal Photos (+8)

12 Towpath Treks (-1)

13 (=)

14 UKCanals Network (+1)

15 Canal Shop Company (-3)

16 WB Takey Tezey (=)

17 Trafalgar Marine Services (+1)

18 Narrowboat Bones (+2)

19 Water Explorer (-5)

20 Waterway Routes (-3)

21 NBNorthernPride (+3)

22 Baddie the Pirate (-1)

23 nb Lucky Duck (+2)

24 Chertsey (+2)

25 Google Earth Canal Maps (-3)

26 nb Epiphany (-3)

27 Halfie (=)

28 Seyella's Journey (-)

29 Derwent6 (=)

30 The Meaning of Ubique (-)

The figures in parentheses denote the number of places moved since the previous chart; (-) denotes new entry or re-entry into the top thirty; (=) denotes no change.

There are 120 entries altogether.

Saturday 18 September 2010

Wet, wet, wet: I recovered, but my phone didn't

Exhibit A, on the left, my old phone. Exhibit B, on the right, my new phone.

Wetting one: 26th August. Accidental. Up to thigh level. Number of damp phones: 0.

Wetting two: 27th August. Deliberate. Up to neck level. Number of damp phones: 0.

Wetting three: 31st August. Accidental. Up to head level. Number of damp phones: 2.

Perhaps I should have thought to get the phones out of my pockets as soon as I entered the water that third time. But I didn't. I was hoping that after opening them up, shaking the Thames water out, and drying them in the sun the next day they would work. Well, one phone did, my work phone; but my personal phone, a cheap Nokia, would get a signal only intermittently. Time for a new one. It's a Nokia 1616. Another cheap one (£19.99 including £10 top-up, so costing me effectively £9.99), and has a radio and a torch. The radio works only when the earphones are plugged in, so I'll have to remember to keep them with me.

In future perhaps I'll empty my pockets when boating. At least I didn't have my camera round my neck!

Friday 17 September 2010

Old Oak Wharf - a canal freight revival?

Very soon after setting off on our recent epic cruise we passed Old Oak Wharf on the Paddington Branch of the GU.

I thought I'd make some gag about a pile of old oak at the wharf. So there it is.

But there's more to say, even if the only press release (that I could find) from BW is dated December 2006 (and has a quote from Ken Livingstone (remember him?)).

The press release is headed New Wharf Offers Canal Freight Revival and begins:

British Waterways, Transport for London and Powerday plc are urging west London businesses to consider transporting waste by barge on the Grand Union Canal . The move follows the completion of a new wharf at Old Oak Sidings in Willesden Junction to service Powerday's state-of-the-art recycling centre which opens next year. Built by Powerday and funded by Transport for London and British Waterways, the £450,000 wharf is part of a package of measures to revive canal freight on west London 's canals. Studies have indicated that the 26-mile, lock-free stretch of waterway could accommodate 500,000 tonnes of material each year and offer a cleaner and, in some instances, cheaper alternative to road haulage.

I looked up Powerday and found that they are now very much in operation at Old Oak Wharf. According to its easy-to-watch six minute video it has the capacity to process a tenth of London's waste. The website claims "100% waste recovery". But on the film John McKenna, Operations Manager says, more credibly, "At Powerday we strive for maximum recovery, which means little or no waste goes to landfill whatsoever". He guides us through the various stages the waste goes through, and lists the three modes of transport by which materials can come in and out: road, rail and, yes, canal. There is a single shot of a tube being loaded onto a barge.

I get the impression that, despite the "26 miles of lock-free waterway", the canal is hardly used. From the website:

Where possible, we use environmentally-responsible transport links. Our Old Oak Sidings site sits on a 26 mile lock free section of the Grand Union Canal between Camden and Slough. The company’s wharf can take three 90ft barges at any one time, carrying up to 80 tonnes of waste each. The site is also situated at a key railway junction and has its own sidings. A train leaves these sidings daily carrying recovered soil to Buckinghamshire for use in restoration schemes. One train holds the equivalent of 70 lorry loads of material, making this an extremely environmentally-responsible option.

(my highlighting)

A canal freight revival? Not quite yet.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Handing Willow back in a fit state

Saturday 4th September 2010

We had plenty of time now to clean Willow and make it ready to hand back to our friend. Or, rather, his daughter, as he wouldn't be there himself.

So we swept, wiped, washed, polished - even touched up the paintwork. The mooring outside Tesco at Bull's Bridge was perfect for this. Despite us having bags of time, even after tying up on his mooring, we ran out of time. Our friend's daughter had to wait for us to finish hoovering and loading the last of our belongings into the car. And I'm sure we left the paintbrush and small pot of white spirit in the well deck! Oh dear!

And so comes to an end this most incident-packed narrowboat jaunt we've had.

Engine hours at the start: 236.8

Engine hours at the end: 352.7

Total hours: 115.9

If this seems on the low side bear in mind that the engine was switched off in all the Thames locks (and all the time we were propless!)

In the three weeks we did 414 miles and 175 locks. You don't half clock up the mileage on the Thames!


And now here's something from today, Thursday 16th September 2010.

Cyclists on the Tour of Britain on their way from King's Lynn to Great Yarmouth passed through Norwich city centre at lunchtime. These weren't the leaders - two had gone by five minutes earlier.

Following the one hundred or so riders was what looked like an endless procession of support vehicles, laden with spare bikes. There seemed to be more cars than cyclists!

And preceding everything - and in the middle and at the end - dozens of police motorcycles and cars. It took only about ten minutes for the entire convoy to pass through. There was a great atmosphere in the crowd, and I came away smiling.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

There was a loud bang, and the engine stopped...

After a glorious run in the sun down the Thames from Teddington we made the turn into the River Brent and saw the gates of Thames Lock close against us. The two boats in front were leaving the tideway; it would be our turn next.

And so, after two incident-packed weeks on the River Thames, we were, at last, back on the calmer waters of the canal network. But our problems weren't quite over yet.

Witnessing the latest of these was Neil of NB Herbie. He'd driven over to meet us and give us a hand up the Hanwell lock flight. Neil, it was good to see you, and thanks for your help.

We had barely started up the locks when, as you will have deduced from the title of this post, there was a loud bang, and the engine suddenly stopped dead. Here we go again! No drive, and we were drifting away from the bank. Neil, fortunately, was on the towpath and ready to catch the rope I threw him.

Lifting the weed hatch (hooray!) confirmed what I'd suspected: a submerged log had been trapped between the propeller and the boat. But it wouldn't come off. The shiny new blade of the prop had sliced into the rotting log, and it was stuck fast. Fortunately David had left a small saw behind, and I began cutting bits of wood away.

photo lifted from Herbie's blog - hope you don't mind, Neil

Eventually I was able to knock the log off with the end of the weed hatch securing bar. No damage had been done, but the boat we were locking with hadn't waited, and had gone up the lock by itself.

This could have worked out better. As Neil has already described, there were some low pounds above us, requiring lockfuls of water to be flushed down. This all took a long time, and put paid to my half-formulated plans to squeeze in the Slough Arm before breakfast before tying up that night.

Neil discovering how light the steering is on Willow

We stopped at Bull's Bridge Junction, bought some meat in Tesco, and had a barbecue. A fine relaxing end to another interesting day.