Childhood On A longboat

By Kez Turner

Childhood On A Longboat

My granddad was born on a longboat called Energy, in the harsh winter
of October1947, between Redditch and Worcester. He lived on the longboat
with his mum, dad and grandparents. His mum had to work elsewhere, so leaving him to grow up on the longboat.

My gran and his parents carried numerous cargoes. These included chocolate
from Cadburys in Frampton on Severn, to Bourneville in Birmingham. Coal
from Cannock Chase to the west midlands and china from the Royal Worcester
factory to Birmingham. This would come down chutes onto the boats and any not broken would be sold for extra money.

They used to travel up the River Severn all of the waterways in Birmingham and through Sharpness to Avonmouth, and up the Severn estuary. My Grandpa was put to work as soon as he was able, at the age of 5. He would steer the boat up the canals while his parents rested.

He would walk up canals for a very long distance, in front of the boat, opening up to 6 locks at a time before they caught up with him. They had a Welsh Cob Horse, of which would pull the boat along the canal towpaths. My Grandpa would have to unharness the horse when they came to tunnels, walk it over the bridge and along the tow path waiting for his parents at the other end. They lead the boat through the tunnel, this could take anything up to an hour or more.

Having nearly drowned twice, my Gramp's granddad decided to tie a rope around my Grandpa and throw him into the Severn and tow him along behind the boat. He had to swim to stay above the water. He can swim well now! They all lived in a very small cabin behind the cargo deck. My Gramps used to sleepunderneath his grandparents bed in a small cupboard, but when they had cargo on board he would sleep on top of that, under a canopy. They had a small stove and oven where they cooked small meat joint and stews. They ate rabbit and other meats: duck and moorhen. Fresh fruit and vegetable were hard to come by. They would shop in local shops when they stopped in villages or towns. He washed in a basin in the cabin and only had a bath if he went swimming in Gloucester Baths. They washed their clothes in a bucket, unless really dirty when they were towed behind the boat in the water. They had no electricity and used oil Tilley lamps.

My Gramps had hardly any friends to play with, meeting them in Birmingham sometimes, when they stayed there. He had to play outside the pub, while his grandparents were with their friends. He can remember paying with money in a cage, outside a pub in Tar beck. His hobbies were fishing or listening to music. My granddad left the longboats when he was 12 because his granddad left his job with Lighters for British Waterways. The working day was very long in the summer months it could take up to three days to get from Frampton to Birmingham. If they could not work they were given a fallback wage. The longest they did not work was for was six weeks when they closed the canal and drained it, due to a murder investigation in Worcester.

This page was added by Iris Capps on 03/12/2009.
Comments about this page

What a lovely description and what interesting reporting of times gone by. There are different types of boats - are you sure it was a long boat or could it have been a narrow boat ? Do you know why barges don't go to Birmingham? I really enjoyed reading this.

By Jan Thomas
On 04/12/2009

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