For anyone interested in their canal and river boat ancestors



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)