For anyone interested in their canal and river boat ancestors

Newspapers -North West


The North West, as might be expected, has a wealth of material.

I have learned a lot from studying these articles, about quite unexpected things.  I now know that the RSPCA was formed before the NSPCC, and that soldiers' belts were designed to be used as weapons.  I have also learned rather more about horse diseases than I really wanted to know!

Cheshire Observer

The Cheshire Observer considered itself as a rather better class of newspaper. and not the equivalent of the "red top tabloids" of today.  One of its comments pages records that the Liverpool Mercury had printed  a small "page filler" article saying that a canal boatman had decapitated his paramour, and that virtually every newspaper - apart from the Cheshire Observer of course - had reproduced this information, although it was not true.

I have, indeed, found  this tale in pretty well every newspaper archive.  Here is the version from the Oxford Mail :-

September 2 1865   DREADFUL MURDER IN CHESHIRE   At a late hour on Saturday night last, information reached Crewe that a boatman, in the employ of the Shropshire Union Canal Company, committed a most brutal murder on his wife, at Calveley, six miles from Crewe.  The perpetrator of the deed severed the head with a razor, all but a ligament of the skin. He has been apprehended.

Here a list of boatman names from the articles in the Cheshire Observer.


Boatman names - Cheshire Observer (45kb)

And here are the actual articles.

Cheshire Observer - articles (718kb)




Chester Chronicle
Old Quay Locks, Runcorn

Articles from the Chester Chronicle, dates 1797 to 1870 and 1914 to 1918.

There are two major articles here.  One is an account of the killing of flatman Richard Maddocks by John Whitfield, a respectable farmer from Winnington.  To those of us of a certain age, the accounts read like an 1818 version of the film "Straw Dogs".  After the killing, John Whitfield headed home, where he locked all the doors and windows and barricaded himself into the house - perhaps a wise move, because when word of the killing got out, a group of flatmen congregated outside the property and attempted to break in.

Names from Chester Chronicle (43kb)

The second is the 1827 account of a court case, when the Corporation of Liverpool took the proprietors of the Mersey and Irwell Navigation Company to court. stating that the navigation of the Mersey had been compromised by the extraction of water for the new canal.

Finally, a cautionary tale from 1858, when 10 year old Jane Johnston, the daughter of a flatman, fell headfirst down a privy at the timber wharf at Plumbe Street and was asphyxiated.

The photograph is the Old Quay Locks at Runcorn.

Articles from Chester Chronicle (826kb)



Liverpool Echo
Lord Kitchener

A small but interesting selection dating from 1914 to 1918.

Includes the obituary of 89 year old James Evans, who had fought in the Crimean War.  He was wounded at Sebastopol, and treated at Inkerman, where he met Florence Nightingale.  His description of her - "She was a grand young woman, who always walked and worked among the wounded.  We all thought the world of her, and she was just like a mother to us lads".  Not a bad way to be remembered.


Names from Liverpool Echo (38kb)

An article from February 1917 also shows the difficulties in keeping the canals working during war time, when so many men had been called up to fight at the front.  The government wished to maximise the use of canal transport in order to free up the overcrowded railways, but many boats were lying idle for lack of crew.  Mr Peploe, traffic manager of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal Company, was trying to gain exemptions for canal boatmen, and he stated :-

"You cannot make a canal boatman.  He has to be brought up to it from the time of leaving school".

Articles from Liverpool Echo (138kb)



Manchester Times
Ship Canal

Articles from the Manchester Times dating from 1828 to 1900.  Included is a record of a major flood which took place in November 1866, inundating large swathes of Lancashire and Yorkshire.

A number of articles detail the living conditions of the urban poor in graphic detail.  Read the details of the murder and suicide in Ancoats from June 1887, or the records for the cold winter of 1891.

Names from Manchester Times 1828 to 1859 (56kb)

Spending time on a canal boat on holiday, cruising through the British countryside, is great for rest and relaxation.  But this bears no resemblance to the working waterways of our ancestors.  An article from March 1867 details a court case against the Bridgewater Trustees, and the detail it gives of the state of the canal does not make for pleasant reading!  The Trustees had used the water from two streams in Manchester for the canal, and the result was that "in December 1865, the state of the canal was such that the whole of the water for many miles was simply common sewage water". Doesn't bear thinking about.

Articles from Manchester Times 1828 to 1859 (827kb)



Manchester Courier
Mode Wheel Lock

As one might expect, there are a lot of articles in the Manchester newspapers, and the Manchester Courier also covers areas such as Runcorn, Wigan and Warrington.

I have come across a number of articles detailing "Wife selling", and in every case, it is obvious that the bargain between buyer and seller had already been struck before the public sale.  But when Peter Cawley "sold" his wife in May 1850, things nearly went awry, as there were two bidders for the lady in question!

Names from Manchester Courier 1825 to 1855 (55kb)

An article from September 1866 detailing an affray in Jersey Street shows the police using an early form of a "line up", when the accused parties were put into a group at the police station and the eye witnesses asked to pick out those involved in the affray.

Names from Manchester Courier 1856 to 1885 (58kb)

A fascinating article from February 1859 states that one third of all burials in Manchester at that time were pauper burials paid for by the Guardians.  Complaints had been made that the Guardians were too slow in providing the money and that the unburied corpses were a source of disease.  In one case, a boatman's wife had died, and he had a whip round to pay for the funeral.  Having acquired the coffin and shroud from the undertaker, he went to the pub and drank the money, leaving his wife's body at a lodging house.  The lodging house keeper complained to the Guardians, who had to retrieve the body, and then made the undertaker take back the coffin and shroud, as they were better quality than normal.  Pity the poor soul who got the recycyled goods.

Articles from Manchester Courier 1825 to 1855 (602kb)

The photograph is of Mode Wheel Lock on the river Irwell.

Articles from Manchester Courier 1856 to 1885 (607kb)



Manchester Evening News
Manchester Ship Canal

A small selection of articles with dates 1870 and 1914 to 1917.

In March 1916, the Spiraea, a large steamer with a cargo of oil, caught fire, and the blazing oil floated along the canal for a quarter of a mile, endangering both other shipping and the canal banks and buildings.  Must have been terrifying.

Names from Manchester Evening News (39kb)

The Spiraea was later taken to Morecambe to be broken up, and there are a number of photographs which show her on the beach there, still burning.

Articles from Manchester Evening News (119kb)



Rochdale Observer

A few articles from the Rochdale Observer dated from 1856 to 1866.

Boatman names from Rochdale Observer (30kb)


Burnley News
Gannow Wharf

Another small selection from the Burnley News, dating from 1912 to 1929.

The photograph is of Gannow Wharf.  Thanks to canalplan.org.uk.

Names from Burnley News (43kb)