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)


Warrington Guardian
Barge Coronation at Preston Brook

Document One : 1859, 1865, 1873

Includes details of an assault case from August 1865 involving Ann Bostock, wife of James Bostock, waterman and PC Thomas Williamson, a Runcorn police officer.  The Bostocks and Williamsons were neighbours, and PC Williamson was plainly fed up with the Bostocks' unruly behaviour.  But his reaction didn't go down too well with his superiors.

In June 1873, Thomas Hill escaped a conviction for being drunk and riotous after falling down outside the Red Lion Inn in Middlewich, by claiming that he was unsteady on his feet after an accident a few years before, when he broke his hip and thigh.

Names from Warrington Guardian Document 1 (55kb)

Document Two : 1877, 1889, 1903

In July 1877, John Hurst tried unsuccessfully to claim demurrage from Mr Falk, a salt merchant, for delaying the unloading of his flat.

Thomas Smith, captain of the narrowboat Elba, said of his mate on the boat, Samuel Chorlton, who was drowned in the Iron Ore Dock at Runcorn in March 1903, "He had a drop of beer to do him good once in a way, but was a steady man".

Names from Warrington Guardian Document 2 (52kb)

More general information about Warrington can be found at, which also has a link to the Sankey Canal website.


Nantwich Guardian
Canal at Runcorn

The first document includes details of an affray between boatmen in Lowlands Road, Runcorn, in which Frederick Orme had his jaw broken.  John Bailey and Richard Cresswell were also involved, Bailey kicking PC Sweeney and biting his finger.

A case of May 1880 shows the rules on "bona fide" travellers were often abused by boatmen to get drink out of hours.

The picture is the canal at Runcorn in the early 1950s.

Names from Nantwich Guardian 1871 to 1880 (54kb)

Canal Street, Runcorn

In January 1884, Runcorn's answer to the Artful Dodger, 10 year old Thomas John Oliver, was found guilty of pickpocketing.

Two loading accidents in which members of boat families were drowned are detailed here.  The first, from May 1883, happened at Runcorn Tidal Dock, when the boat of the Musker family capsized when being loaded with stone.  And ten years later, in September 1893, two of the children of Thomas Theobald were drowned when one of their two boats capsized when loading at Brunner Mond's.

I believe the image may be Canal Street in Runcorn, but would be interested if anyone could confirm or disprove this.

Names from Nantwich Guardian 1881 to 1899 (54kb)

In July 1914, John Meredith and his family were luckier, escaping their sinking boat after their dog woke them up by jumping on the bed and barking.

There are some pictures and information on canals in Runcorn on the website of the Runcorn Historical Society

Names from Nantwich Guardian 1900 to 1919 (50kb)