For anyone interested in their canal and river boat ancestors

Searchable newspaper archives - Midlands


This is the section of the site which is going to take some time to complete.

However, I would make a few comments.  Because boatmen moved around the country on their voyages, even when they had a house on land, newspaper articles about them can turn up in any area where there is a canal.  Looking at the two areas which I have so far explored in more depth, Chester and Birmingham, there is overlap of names.

So, as more data is added, it is worth checking all newspapers in all areas - you never know what you might find!

Birmingham Post

About 1400 articles from the Birmingham Post about boat families, dating from 1857 to 1918. There were so many articles in this particular newspaper that I have had to divide the information into four documents, to avoid it becoming too unwieldy.

Here is a list of names which appear on the document.

Names - Birmingham Post to 1880 (49kb)

The second of the documents from Birmingham covers the dates 1881 to 1900.  So here is the list of names from that document.

Names from Birmingham Post 1881 to 1890 (44kb)

And here's the list of names from the Birmingham Post, dates 1891 to 1900.

Names from Birmingham Post 1891 to 1900 (54kb)

Names from Birmingham Post, dates 1914 to 1918.

Names from Birmingham Post 1914 to 1918 (50kb)

And here are the newspaper articles themselves.  Any typing errors are mine and mine alone!

As you have probably already guessed, there are a lot of articles from Birmingham, as might be expected.  Rumour has it that Birmingham has more canals than Venice!  At the height of the canal age, 174 miles of canal, from what I've read.

Birmingham Post Articles 1857 to 1880 (974kb)

Document 2 from Birmingham covering the period 1881 to 1890.  Just over 400 articles here.

Birmingham Post Articles 1881 to 1890 (560kb)

The canals were the lifeblood of Victorian Birmingham, carrying raw materials and finished goods to and from the factories in the area.  Many of the canals still remain and are navigable, even those in the centre of Birmingham.  The BBC has an interesting article entitled "A Walk throughTime" which covers this subject.

And now the third set of articles from the Birmingham Post. 225 articles here.

Birmingham Post Articles 1891 to 1900 (420kb)



Staffordshire Gazette

A small selection, this one, dating from 1839 to 1842, but an interesting one.  Another "crime" for which boatman could be fined was having a fire and producing smoke in the Harecastle Tunnel!

The major case reported here is the trial and execution of the boatmen accused of the murder of Christina Collins on the Trent and Mersey Canal at Rugeley - probably the most famous canal case of all, because it was used as the basis of the Inspector Morse novel "The Wench is Dead".

Names from Staffordshire Gazette (47kb)

Reading the trial details can be confusing unless you already know the details of the case, as two of the boatmen accused had aliases, and both names for each are used interchangeably in the articles.

There were five people on board the "Staffordshire Knot" when the crime took place:

  • Christina Collins herself
  • James Owen, the captain
  • George Thomas alias Dobell
  • William Ellis alias Lambert
  • and William Musson, the cabin boy

Articles from Staffordshire Gazette (210kb)

There has been much discussion lately about the doctrine of "Joint Enterprise", a concept which has been enshrined in English Law since 1846, when two cart drivers, Swindell and Osbourne, had a cart race, during which a pedestrian was run down and killed.  It could not be proved which cart had struck the pedestrian, but both carters were held jointly liable.  Although this case predates this doctrine, it strikes me that a similar decision was taken by the jury here, as it was surely unlikely that all three men drowned Christina Collins, but all of them were involved in the crime, and acted "conjointly" to commit it.  The prosecution were unable to prove which man was the guilty party, so all three were held equally liable.

I found the attached record of the case a while ago, and it gives a good overview of it.  (Looks an interesting book, this)

Staffordshire Murders (5103kb)



Staffordshire Advertiser
Canal family

Another small but early selection of articles, dating from 1800 to 1847.  Luckily, this newspaper covers the aspects of the Christina Collins murder case not covered by the "Staffordshire Gazette" ; the inquest, and the first trial for rape, when the judge decided there was insufficient evidence and therefore no case to answer.

Names from Staffordshire Advertiser (51kb)

For anyone with ancestors who come from the Black Country, do please take a look at www.blackcountrymuse.com, which is full of interesting information about the area.

Fascinating stuff.

Articles from Staffordshire Advertiser (343kb)



Wolverhampton Chronicle

Around 500 articles from the Wolverhampton Chronicle, dates 1830 to 1868.  Includes an 1849 description of the sanitary state of Wolverhampton and its surrounds, which puts a whole new slant on the phrase "multiple occupancy".  In the same year, there was an outbreak of cholera in the town, when the occupants of Castle Yard were removed to tents on Graiseley Hill to allow their houses to be "purified".

In August 1838, two boatmen, James Holmes and Robert Bromley, were involved in a drunken quarrel, when James Holmes bit off Robert Bromley's lower lip.  The lip was exhibited in court - in a tin box!

Names from Wolverhampton Chronicle 1830 to 1849 (57kb)

In 1851, Thomas Day, recorded as an "insane pauper" died in the Workhouse.  Questions were asked about the treatment he received, and his body was disinterred and a post mortem carried out.  Thomas Day died of erysipelas, which in its later stages can cause disorientation and confusion, and the treatment meted out to him reads like a horror story to our modern ears.

One major set of articles in August 1858 records a train crash at Brettel Lane which killed a Worcester boatman, Henry Marshall.

Some pretty inept rum stealers are recorded in December 1857.  They had all drunk so much of their ill gotten gains that they couldn't stand upright, so denial was impossible.

Names from Wolverhampton Chronicle 1850 to 1859 (59kb)

In 1861 the Harrison family were involved in the theft of boat loads of coal from the Lay Colliery in Kingswinford.

A set of articles from 1863 detailing a "conspiracy" in the iron trade is notable for the courtroom exchanges between the prosecutor, Samuel Griffiths, and Mr Kenealy, one of the counsel for the defence, in which the two exchanged insults not normally heard in a court of law.

Names from Wolverhampton Chronicle 1860 to 1868 (68kb)



Lichfield Mercury
Lichfield canal

110 articles from the Lichfield Mercury, dating from 1878 to 1900.

Boatman names from Lichfield Mercury (37kb)



Tamworth Herald

A couple of hundred articles from the Tamworth Herald, dated 1870 to 1936.  Another offence for which boatmen could be fined was for throwing coal and other materials into the canal, which seemed to be a common practice in Polesworth, near to the Poole Hall Colliery.  These articles introduce the delightfully named Horace George Eggleton, a police constable employed by the canal company, who seems to have made a habit of hiding in the bushes by the canal to catch boatmen in the act.  Bet he was popular!

The picture is the toll house at Fazeley Junction.

Names from Tamworth Herald (54kb)



Hawkesbury Junction

Dates 1826 to 1918, most of these are from the Coventry Herald.

A lot of drunkenness and fighting in this particular selection, but also the sad story of the Malin family, whose leaky boat finally gave up the ghost  in the second rising lock between Newbold and Hillmorton.  The boat had leaked throughout the family's journey, a problem which John Malin had tried to solve, without success, by driving the boat into the mud to seal the cracks.  John managed to save two of his children from the sinking boat, but his wife and youngest child Arthur were both drowned.

The picture is Hawkesbury Junction.

Names from Coventry (57kb)

Another article of particular interest here is the description of an explosion on the Grand Junction Canal.  The boat which exploded was the Tilbury, and her cargo comprised "sugar and other miscellaneous articles, such as nuts, straw boards, coffee and some two or three barrels of petroleum, and about five tons of gunpowder" - difficult to imagine a more combustible mixture.  The Tilbury was one of six barges being towed by the Ready steam tug from the City Wharf of the Grand Junction Canal when it exploded.  It is plain from the tone of the article that the writer's sympathies are not with the crew of the Tilbury, both of whom lost their lives in the explosion, but with those whose property was damaged by the exploding "monkey boat".

Articles from Coventry (908kb)



Leicester Daily Mercury

A small selection from the Leicester Daily Mercury, dated 1879 to 1898, and featuring the following names:-

Boswell                        Chater                      Cooper                     Edwards

Foster                          Hemsley                   Jones                        Keeling

Marlow                         Skidmore                  Smith                        Withers


There is also an article dated 1898 regarding the implementation of the Canal Boats Acts, and the inspections carried out during that year.

Articles from Leicester Daily Mercury (96kb)



Leicester Chronicle
Loughborough Canal

Over 750 articles from the Leicester Chronicle, dates 1827 to 1915.  Includes records of two cholera outbreaks in Leicester, one in 1832 and one in 1853, both of which badly affected the boat population.  An article from 1849 detailing the sanitary condition of Leicester also makes for interesting reading, and includes the statistics that infant mortality in Leicester was one in six, and that 30% of children died under the age of five.

There is a plea, in October 1855, from a member of the general public, asking the people of Leicester to refuse to use chimney climbing boys - another section of the population targeted by propagandist literature in the shape of Charles Kingsley's The Water Babies,

Names from Leicester Chronicle 1827 to 1855 (43kb)

The major article in the second document is an account of a poaching affray in 1874 in which one of the gamekeepers was killed, and  which took place near to the canal at Wistow.  There is also an interesting article from 1863 which chronicles the early career of a "professional vagrant".  On a lighter note, in 1859, there is the story of neighbours, the Whitcrofts and the Alveys, who had a falling out because Mrs Whitcroft and Mrs Alvey had "trolled their mops in each other's windows".

Names from Leicester Chronicle 1856 to 1879 (58kb)

A couple of articles feature the use of umbrellas as weapons by the female of the species!

Witness in a sugar stealing case in August 1895 was the boat boy, Harry Whitehouse, who stated in evidence that he did not know how old he was, and that he had "been to school for a bit - about three weeks".

Names from Leicester Chronicle 1880 to 1899 (51kb)

Back in the day, people who swore a lot were known as "Barge Mouths", and certainly one of the criticisms levelled against boatmen was their use of bad language.  There are a number of prosecutions for using obscene language here.

John Draper was a persistent offender, mostly for being drunk and disorderly, making over 30 appearances in court for various misdemeanours.

Names from Leicester Chronicle 1900 to 1915 (48kb)

As one might expect, given that George Smith lived in Coalville, there is much data in this selection from Leicester about his campaign on behalf of canal and gipsy children.

Leicester Chronicle 1827 to 1855 (530kb)