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We love and care for your canals and rivers, because everyone deserves a place to escape.
So, Mossdale has taken a backseat this week while I’ve been focusing on George, a rare survivor of a type of wide boat common on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal in the olden days…
If you hadn’t heard already, the current Window on the World project plan is to carry out a complete restoration of George so that she looks exactly like she did in her heyday.
Our project hopes to eventually place George back in her traditional historic setting on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. She’s set to be transformed into a ‘floating exhibition’, which the public can climb aboard and gain an insight into life as a boatman/woman as they explore the restored vessel.
Neatly following on from last week’s blog about Mossdale, I thought I’d offer you a succinct synopsis of George’s heritage, from her early life to her ill-fated abandonment and rescue by the museum’s volunteers.
George is very special to us, being one of the last surviving wooden Leeds and Liverpool short boats – she was once one of a hundred back in the day! For a long time, George was considered a ‘mystery’ at the museum. Nobody really knew where she had come from when she arrived in 1973.
George was predominantly a horse-drawn boat, with a distinctive transom stern and a large wooden rudder. She measured at 62ft long and 14 feet and 3 inches wide – pretty standard size for a Leeds & Liverpool Canal short boat. She was built to this specification in order to allow her to pass through the Leeds and Liverpool locks – some of which were 10-feet shorter than the standard length.
On these short boats, cabins were provided in the bow and stern, and some boats were crewed by families. When George was brought to the museum in the 1970s, there were no traces of who she was captained or crewed by during her long working life – her history remained entrenched in ambiguity for many years.
In 1991 Phil Speight, conducted an intensive investigation into George’s past. His efforts were fruitful - after spending months rummaging through countless archives, Phil discovered that she was built in 1910, at Springs Bridge by the Wigan Coal & Iron Corporation to join the rest of their fleet of boats: Blanche, Lindsay, Clara, Tweed and Pluto.
It’s believed that George was employed as a coal carrier between Haigh and Liverpool, sometimes being towed by a steam tug, as well as a horse. There’s also evidence which suggests that she was a carrier of moulding sand and coke for her company’s steel works.
When George reached the age of 20 in 1930, she was captained by William Deakin, falling under the ownership of Wigan Coal Corporation. In 1946 she was bought by the National Coal Board, and worked on the Bridgewater Canal until her retirement. Sadly, poor old George was then left abandoned and sunk for some years at Worsley, in Lancashire.
George’s fortune changed when she was rescued by a team of loyal museum volunteers in 1973 – they regularly cared for her at Burscough. The museum purchased her for a total of £60, a cost covered by the sale of waste paper. Three years later, she made her final journey down the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Nelson Dock and was then transported to Ellesmere Port.
George has resided here at the museum ever since; despite undergoing an extensive restoration in the 80s, a lack of funding has resulted in her rather dilapidated condition. Nevertheless, with a dash of luck (and a lot of hard work!), we’ll be able to secure the funding to restore George back to her former glory as a working horse-drawn vessel on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal - fingers crossed!
The National Waterways Museum is home to the most comprehensive collection of artefacts that tell the story of Britain’s canals and navigable rivers over the last 300 years. With sites at Ellesmere Port and Gloucester, the museum holds over 12,000 historic objects and 68 historic boats and is designated by the Arts Council England as of national importance. The National Waterways Museum Ellesmere Port is also home to the Waterways Archive including over 100,000 papers, drawings photographs, plans and books relating to the waterways – a vital part of our national cultural heritage.