Canal family at Braunston

This fabulous photo, taken in the Edwardian era, shows a boat family at Braunston.

There is some material from Braunston in the Nuneaton Advertiser.


Northampton Mercury 1801 to 1845
Blisworth Tunnel

A letter fom 1819 complains about the use of "leggers" at the Braunston and Blisworth tunnels.  Between 30 and 50 men had congregated in the area as a result, "the most idle, disorderly and unprincipled characters in the neighbourhood".  The going rate for legging a boat was 1s 6d (7p) at Blisworth, and 1s (5p) at Braunston, but boatmen sometimes paid the leggers in goods from the cargo.

Names from Northampton Mercury 1801 to 1845 (51kb)

A couple of run-ins between the police and boatwomen are recorded.  In December 1837, the wife of Thomas Footman assaulted a constable with a hatchet when he tried to arrest her husband.  She hit him on the head, and he was saved from serious injury by the whalebone strips in his helmet.  In April 1841, the wife of Samuel Conliff, also preventing the arrest of her husband, "stood up to the policemen like a man, and knocked them about with the skill and strength of an experienced prize fighter".

I also enjoyed the suggestion from 1840 that adding a drop of Kreosote to whisky would create an authentic "peat flavour"!

Articles from Northampton Mercury 1801 to 1845 (526kb)


Northampton Mercury 1846 to 1864

The major article in this particular selection, from September 1861, concerns an accident in the tunnel on the Grand Junction Canal between Blisworth and Stoke Bruerne in which two men were killed and three injured.  The Grand Junction Canal Company had recently introduced steam boats in the tunnel, rather than using leggers.  As the article says, "The engine is not without its disadvantages for, as the tunnels are long and no larger than sewers, the boatmen are half stifled by the volumes of carbon".  There is a vivid description from one of the survivors of the way in which the smoke "hung about our lips", and of his rapid loss of consciousness.

Names from Northampton Mercury 1846 to 1864 (52kb)

Proof, if proof were needed, of the lack of understanding of the sources and causes of disease.  In August 1849, Thomas Hanscomb, a boatman, died of cholera in a boat on the river Nene, which had come from Westminster Bridge.  When the boat crew, including Hanscomb,  arrived to start their voyage at Westminster on the Monday morning, they found the body of another boatman, Joseph George, lying in the cabin.  The body was not removed until Tuesday, when the new crew threw the bedding Joseph George had been lying on into the water and burnt some brimstone in the cabin.  The doctor who treated Thomas Hanscombe said he did not believe that Asiatic cholera was infectious, but suggested that the bedding should be burnt and the boat scuttled just to be on the safe side!

Articles from Northampton Mercury 1846 to 1864 (336kb)


Northampton Mercury 1865 to 1879
Gayton Junction

In August 1879, John Garratt was "drunk and creating a breach of the peace" in Gold Street.  PC Grainger said he gave the prisoner the opportunity of leaving but, "like most drunken men, he had taken an enemy into his mouth, which took away his brains".

In November 1874, an affray happened at the locks at Braunston between the Birch family and the Drakefords as to who should take precedence through the lock.  William Drakeford was hit over the head with his own windlass, which was "wrested from his hand" by one of the women who had joined in the fight.

Names from Northampton Mercury 1865 to 1879 (55kb)

In April 1878, William Cox was acquitted of being involved with a gang of "smashers" who were trying to pass counterfeit coins at booths on the racecourse.

Articles from Northampton Mercury 1865 to 1879 (352kb)


Northampton Mercury 1880 to 1895
Leamington Lift Bridge

A couple of "tunnel incidents" in this selection.  In March 1885, boatman Thomas Smith died going through the Blisworth Tunnel - the result of over exerting himself by dragging his boat from the top lock to Stoke village, a distance of half a mile, as he was late and did not want to miss the tug boat.

In July 1890, Charles Jacks's boat was left behind by the tug, much to his annoyance.  He set off "legging" through the tunnel, but met  the tug boat on its way back when half way through the tunnel.  He refused to let the tug boat pass for over 40 minutes, during which time the tunnel filled with smoke almost to suffocation.  In court, Jacks said he was "vexed at being left behind".  Like you would be!

Names from Northampton Mercury 1880 to 1895 (56kb)

In March 1881, John Chambers saw a woman throw herself off South Bridge, but instead of doing anything about it, he calmly went to bed and didn't report the event until the following morning.  Both his captain and the police thought that it was a figment of his imagination until a month later, when the body of Emily Clarke was found in the water under the bridge.

June and July of 1889 saw a clampdown on boatmen keeping dogs without licenses.

Articles from Northampton Mercury 1880 to 1895 (363kb)