Monday, 2 September 2013

My Bit of Canal

The house where I used to live as a child stood at the confluence of two rivers. We were living on a floodplain, though as a child I never really understood it. Periodically one or other and sometimes both rivers would be in flood. Two never goes into one and the rivers would occasionally top their banks. I remember flood water in the street and watching all kinds of household items float downriver. Now I know that these were items that had been disposed of in the past, by throwing them into the river. When the floods came the discarded items built up over many months between the floods were then flushed away.

Holmes Lock c1963
There are several locks on this stretch of river and canal - Rotherham Town Lock, Ickles Lock and Holmes Lock. I would often hitch a ride on one boat and with a bit of luck come back on another. Sometimes if traffic was light I would have to walk back home. The picture is Holmes lock before the keepers house was demolished.

Coal Barge
Most days I would see various kinds of boats on the local canal and river. They were grain barges with tarpaulin sheets over the hold and a wooden wheelhouse. They would leave the River Don at Bow Bridge and go a short distance up the River Rother to Robinsons flour mill. (Taken over by Hovis the mill stopped operation in 2008) A few were barges which were open to the elements for the steerer. But with sheeted holds for the cargo that were heading towards Sheffield. Most craft would return back down river with empty holds. I was always fascinated by the mechanical bucket dredger with its loud clunking and clanking noise whenever it was in operation. Occasionally a few boats would moor overnight below my bedroom window and the crew (usually just the two) would be off up the road to the 'Dusty' for a beer of two. 

Coal chute on the left c1960
I can't ever remember seeing any real 'pleasure' craft. Though there were the odd small wooden cabin cruiser boats usually with outboard motors. I would occasionally see coal barges loading just below Rotherham Town Lock as fleet of small tipper trucks brought coal to tip into the chute and slowly fill the hold. The crew would move the barge backwards and forwards to spread the load in the hold. Sometimes someone would go into the hold to spread the load with huge shovels that were used almost like paddles to spread the load and balance the boat. The coal barges were the only craft that never seemed to be sheeted.

Barge Highcliffe c1963
There were still lock keepers in those days. With their neat trimmed gardens. Even back then the locks always looked tired but still spruced up from time to time with a lick of paint. Plus the leaks were plugged with bits of wood knocked into place. Ash from the fire was also used to stem leaks from between the planks. Most of all, was the wonderful smell of a mixture of creosote and tar that everything seemed to be coated in.  I would stand on the changeover bridge and observe, I was a gongoozler back then though I did not know it.  Now we go through the same lock with our boat. The changeover bridge has been replaced by a more modern footbridge  There are the remains of a swing bridge below the lock which I cannot ever remember being used. The coal loading wharf is now a visitor mooring and the chute has long gone. I can't pass through this short section of canal and river without the memories pouring back. 

I remember the engineering workshops with steam hammers. The nearby railway line which was still in steam in those days. The old Grand Central railway terminal yard and the bridge over the river that was demolished years ago. More than anything else, everything seems to be so tiny when compared to my memories. How did they ever squeeze so much industry into such a small space. When I look at the empty ground where I lived I can't imagine how the houses were squeezed into such a small area.

 Repair wharf c1930

Just a little further along is where the oil barge Humber Princess terminates. This is the site of the boat repair wharf which is now Tulleys Marina. A mile up the canal is Eastwood lock and the home of the 'Rotherham Plough'. Early law required every ploughman to make his own plough, and no one was entitled to use one unless they constructed it themselves. However a very significant improvement in the plough was the invention of Joseph Foljambe of Eastwood. It was patented by him in 1730. While not the first iron plough, it was the first iron plough to have any commercial success, combining a number of technological innovations in its design, and being lighter than traditional ploughs. It remained in use in Britain until the development of the tractor.

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