Bringing up the boats

We've lifted 11 historic narrow boats and barges, ranging in size from 33 to 72 feet in length, from the canal basin using a massive crane to get them ready for storage and conservation.

These boats date from the late 1800s to the 1950s, with the majority on the National Historic Ships Register, making this the UK’s largest ever movement of historic vessels. The re-floating and movement to a dry store is the start of a major conservation programme.

So why are we moving them?

The boats date back to the days of freight carrying on the nation’s waterways and include former horse drawn barges, narrowboats and an icebreaker. From 'Phoebe', a 1900s ‘white van’ of the waterways and rare example of a once common working boat to 'Aleida', heroine of the Fenland Floods; and the massive chalk carrying barge to the iron plated ice breaker 'Marbury' each boat is an important part of the country’s waterway heritage. Many have been adapted over the years, sometimes from working to pleasure use. 'Ferret' began life in the 1920s as a working narrow boat, lovingly converted for leisure use by the Clark family in the 1970s. Her story is told in the museum in the new interactive display.  

Since the 1980s lack of money available for conservation, and suitable storage space, and thinking they were best remaining in the water has in fact meant they have gradually deteriorated. However, thanks to an Arts Council England grant of over £300k, the Canal & River Trust is now able to give each boat the attention it deserves.

Once on dry land, and in the newly developed dry store at the museum, the conservation team will assess each vessel. Experts will consider several options depending on the condition and historical significance of each boat.

Keep an eye on this page to see our progress or visit us at the museum this week.

Historic boat collection at Ellesmere Port Historic boat collection at Ellesmere Port

Last date edited: 28 November 2017