A quick blog just because I don't know where else to store this idea. Lindsey and I met with Derek Hughes from Friends of the Avon New Cut (FrANC) on Thurs July 31st. The group is very active in getting people to engage in various ways around the river, and one of the things that they do and care deeply about is litter removal. They do regular litter picks, usually involving the same smallish group of people, but litter continues to be dumped on the river side and some of it is difficult to reach/remove. They would like to do more about it but feel constrained in various ways. 

Later in browsing on Twitter I noticed Litterarti, a Bristol-based social collective that aims to engage communities with the guidance of artists, around, you guessed it, litter. To my knowledge they haven't done anything on litter as it relates to waterways specifically, so maybe there's an opportunity there to get them involved. 

Litter may not sound very glamorous but it's one of those things about humans that connects us, often via water, with other species and processes, for instance, the below video, which is truly stunning. Incredible footage and a heart-breaking phenomena.  

Feb 22

I helped my aunt move house recently; she needed to thin out her vast book collection.  After describing the Hydro project to her, she gave me various books including a number about canals and canal people which she had used to help her in genealogical research.  Apparently my 4x great grandfather (and possibly his father too) was a waterman; largely based on the Aire and Calder – mainly the Navigation.  Six of his seven sons were born along the northern canals.  Through text and some wonderful early photos the books provide a small indication of the life of such watermen and women as well as information on the canals of the UK.   I particularly like ‘A Canalside Camera 1845-1930’ by Michael E. Ware (1975) showing the ‘heyday’ of the British canal system.  Images provide a picture of the hard lives of the children, the navvies and the women and men working the waterways.  What really struck me was that these photos show much non-human life: horses, mules, donkeys (known as ‘hanimals’ on the Stroudwater Navigation), dogs, cats and birds.  This led me to wonder what the lives of animals used in and around the waterways was actually like. 

 Old photos show that the condition of both horses and towpaths varied considerably (Source: Canal Junction)

Ware (1975) suggests ‘some boatmen would keep the same horse or mule for their entire lifetime, while others were born horse-traders and would be continually changing their animals’ (image 71).  A loaded single horse-drawn boat could carry as much as 25 tons.  The most gruesome photo in this book is of a drowned horse being hauled out of a canal.  Erosion and collapse as well as keeping the canal sides secure from strays was a common problem and no doubt a lot of canal animals (as well as humans) suffered this kind of watery end.  In a less grisly tale, I was reminded that a horse was much more recently rescued by fireman from a canal near Wolverhampton.

 Rescued from Coseley Canal, 2012 (Source: see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2211751/Horse-rescued-5ft-deep-water-getting-trapped-Coseley-canal.htm).

Another picture in Ware (1975) shows a family with a dog and a bird in a cage; the caption suggests that many families had such pets.  In Ware’s (1989) ‘Narrow Boats at Work’ horses are shown with their nose-bowls eating on the move while working.  Horses rarely went along the towpaths without a ‘backer’ walking behind them or on their back.  Very often children fulfilled this role as seen by photos in the late 1890s (Ware, 1989). Overnight stabling was often associated with canalside pubs, but photos suggest the condition of these buildings were very variable. The Canal and Rivers Trust suggest that a boatman was only as good as his horse and so they were generally well-cared for (https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/bingley-to-saltaire/canal-boat-horse) and Ware’s book also shows photos of animals in good condition.  He suggests that the owner-boatmen who owned their horses did look after their animals, but in the system on some waterways where horses were shared, animals did not apparently fare so well.  Boughey (1994) quotes Hutton (1783): ‘ The boats… are each drawn by something like the skeleton of a horse, covered with skin: whether he subsists upon the scent of the water, is a doubt; but whether his life is a scene of affliction, is not; for the unfeeling driver has no employment but to whip him from one end of the canal to the other.  While the teams practised the turnpike road, the lash was divided among five unfortunate animals, but now the whole wrath of the driver falls upon one’ (pp45-46).  There must have been a lot of unchecked cruelty before the first Act of Parliament to prevent cruelty to horses was passed in 1823 and the RSPCA established in 1824.  


Cartwright’ Grey Mare (Source: Broadhead, I.E. (1994) Up the Cut: an anthology of waterways, Alan Sutton Publishing, Stroud, pp.178)

By J. Chatwin

This is the story of Cartwright the Bold,

Who drove the Grey Mare up the cut so I’m told.

Out early morning and home the next day,

With a boat load of coal from out Anglesey way.


Now this old Grey Mare was just artful you see,

Wouldn’t ‘bacca’ a bit while they supped at their tea,

In vain they could shout, was she afraid?

The old Mare knew all the tricks of the trade.


Did she know ‘Bromwich Eight, and ‘Gansey’ did she!

Where a nose-tin of corn would be waiting you see,

Walsall Wood and Daw End where she knew she could rest,

And home the next day with a load of the Best.


But alack and alas, ‘tis said to recall,

One day she went and lay down in her stall,

And all that is left of this sad little tale

Is the Old Mare’s hind show that still hangs on the nail.


Note: to ‘bacca’ is for the horse to go forward by him/herself.  ‘Bromwich Eight’ and ‘Gansey’ are Riders Green and Rushall Locks, respectively.  Walsall Wood and Daw End are tying-up points on the way to Anglesey Canal Loading Basin. 



Broadhead, I.E. (1994) Up the Cut: an anthology of waterways (Stroud, Alan Sutton Publishing).

Boughey, J. (1994, orig. 1950) Hadfields’ British Canals: The Inland Waterways of Britain and Ireland (Stroud, Budding Books) 8th edn.

Hutton, W. (1783) A History of Birmingham [Available at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/13926/13926-h/13926-h.htm]

Ware, M.E. (1989) Narrow Boats at Work (Ashbourne, MPC).

Ware, M.E. (1975) A Canalside Camera 1845-1930 (Newton Abbot, David & Charles).


Canal Junction http://www.canaljunction.com/craft/horsedrawn.htm

Canal & River Trust: https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/

Horse rescued from 5ft-deep water after getting trapped up to its neck in canal when it was swept away by floods (2012). Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2211751/Horse-rescued-5ft-deep-water-getting-trapped-Coseley-canal.html#ixzz3SUK0PWUH



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