Come to Canal Town

Every Sunday throughout the summer, Canal Town is coming to the National Waterways Museum, Ellesmere Port and we’d love to welcome all our Friends to come along for a fantastic, free day out. Through canal boats and costumes, music and machinery, and with plenty of fun, games and treats for the children, (and your dog), Canal Town takes you back in time to when trade and shipping boomed, where canals and the mighty Mersey meet. Waterfront paid a visit to find out more.

Woman in period costume standing on canal barge waves to camera Volunteer Celia is sure to say hello

“Without the canal port being here, then the whole town wouldn’t have been,” explains Chris Done, the affable visitor services manager, from beneath his ‘Peaky Blinders’ cap. “Ellesmere Port truly is Canal Town. We wanted to embrace that. How can we replicate that? What can we do to take people back to when this port was a buzzing hive of activity? We thought we can dress up, we can go traditional and we can create the theatre and bring the site to life by getting our historic boats moving up and down the locks.

A group of four people in steampunk outfits facing camera See the Steampunks at Ellesmere, later this summer

We’re stimulating the senses through sounds too and we’ve got the ‘Baker Street Belles’ in today, singing for us. Using the sense of smell by stoking up the coals in our amazing blacksmithing forge, or shining the leather tack in the stables, once used by the old horse-drawn boats. We want our visitors to step through our doors and get that feeling that they’re back in a different world.”

It certainly feels that way to us here at Waterfront, as one of the delightful team of volunteer guides, Celia, gives us a personal whistle-stop tour of the site. Like many of the volunteers here, she’s steeped in the history of her hometown, the port and the historic boats that have found a lasting mooring here. “Actually, I’m a bit of a newbie,” Celia tells us, “I’ve only been here since 2007. But some of the volunteers have been here over 40 years, and actually helped restore and establish the museum in the first place. If there’s anything you want to know, we’re the people to talk to.”

Celia guides us around the beautifully preserved stables and blacksmiths forge plus the amazing Power Hall, chugging with the glorious sounds and smells of boat and steam engines of a by-gone age. Just outside, there’s a stunning play area for the kids. After watching the boats go up and down the locks you can take in the main exhibition hall, home to ‘Friendship’, one of the last and most-loved working horse-drawn narrowboats. Amazingly, you can now climb inside this beautifully preserved boat and see how cramped and cosy life aboard must have been for proud owners, Joe and Rose Skinner.

A colourful narrowboat with the name "Friendship" at mooring Climb aboard Friendship - one of the last commercial horse-drawn narrow boats to ply its trade

As our tour ends, toddlers are happily playing games from the good old days like skittles, hoopla and hook-a-duck, right outside the historic Porters Row cottages where you can visit the former homes of the dock workers now furnished in different time periods from 1830, 1900, 1936 and 1952.

It’s a popular spot, particularly with older visitors who grow misty-eyed at the memories each home brings. The 1950s sofa in the last of these homes certainly brought a tear to the eye of this Waterfront reporter, as it was exactly the same as the one from my Nana’s old house.

Nostalgia drips from every corner of Canal Town and when we return to the waterside café, Cath Logan, marketing and communications manager, explains there’s much more to look forward to this summer:

Your peaky pooch is always welcome at our Ellesmere Port Museum

“On 17th July, we focus on modern canal life where you can try paddleboarding or canoeing; then it’s Steampunk Sunday on the 24th July where people will be dressed in their Sunday best Victorian fantasy outfits. On the 31st we have a World War One themed day. And on successive Sundays through August, we take you to the 1950s, 20s and 30s. On bank holiday weekend there’s a village fete and our Peaky Pooches competition. We’re a very dog-friendly day out. Just bring your pooch along, join in our dog show and you could win a portrait of your pet and a doggy hamper.” Clearly, there’s no such thing as a boring Sunday in Ellesmere Port this summer.

3 ladies in period costume smile for the camera The Baker Street Belles in perfect harmony.

As the afternoon winds by and the singers mash-up Lady Gaga tunes with the sound of the Andrews Sisters, Canal Town ebbs and flows with a happy stream of couples, families, children and steampunks. Chatting to visitors, it’s clear that many come back time after time to learn more about canals and keep the youngsters happy and entertained through the long summer holidays. And with so much to see, one visit to Canal Town certainly wasn’t enough for Waterfront. We bid farewell, with a hearty recommendation to visit.

Last date edited: 4 July 2022

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