Graham & Jill on nb. Armadillo spotted this shortened ex-BCN day boat, No. 113 Joseph Wilkes, built in 1908, at the Moira Furnace Museum. If you click on the link above you’ll be able to read of their experience at and around the museum.

Does anyone have any further information about the prior history of the boat?

ps. click any of the images in the collage to access a carousel of images…

A bit of background:

The museum is operated by Moira Furnace Museum Trust.

The centre of the site has an impressive iron-making blast furnace built by the Earl of Moira in 1804 , to exploit the wealth of coal and iron ore in the area. Moira Furnace was a coke-fuelled, steam-engine blown blast furnace for the smelting of iron from local iron ore, with an attached foundry for the manufacture of cast-iron goods. It has a vertical blast furnace, an attached bridgehouse, and loading ramp.

The furnace within was supplied with raw materials (iron ore, coke, and limestone) by tipping it in through a charging port at the top, accessed from the bridgeloft. The loading ramp, which crosses the Ashby Canal, allowed the raw materials to be raised into the bridgeloft, the large building with the pitched roof behind the furnace. It is here that the materials were probably weighed and, maybe, mixed before being charged into the furnace.

When the furnace was fired the steam engine blower, (no longer there), forced a continuous blast of air into the bottom of the furnace in order to make the coke burn brighter and raise the temperature inside high enough to melt the iron, any hot gases being sent out of the low chimney at the top of the furnace. When ready, the molten iron was tapped from the bottom of the furnace and run into moulds to produce pig iron.

However, it was not a commercial success and was eventually abandoned with its final charge still inside, partially smelted. The attached foundry did go on being used, the pig-iron being brought in, but this was also demolished in the 19th century and the bridgehouse and engine house converted to houses and survived until in the 1970’s when the engine house, having been affected by subsidence and being derelict, was demolished.

Joseph Wilkes (1733–1805) was an 18th-century English industrialist and agricultural improver born in the village of Overseal in Derbyshire but more commonly associated with the village of Measham in Leicestershire. Joseph Wilkes displayed a true entrepreneurial flair to become one of the leading businessmen in the area during the early part of the Industrial Revolution in England.

Joseph Wilkes’ business enterprises were many and varied, and during his lifetime he transformed Measham from a tiny mining village to a model settlement of the Industrial Revolution. Purchasing the manor with his brothers from William Wollaston in 1777 for £56,000, he undertook the development and expansion of the village, opening a bank, an inn, building factories, a boat yard, a market house and a vicarage, and constructing affordable housing for his workers.

In an effort to improve the transport links and open up the area, and more importantly his wares to distant markets, he was initially active in building a coaching inn and turnpike roads in and around Measham, these he built to his own design, utilising a ‘concave surface’ which was more durable and easier to maintain.

He was a member of a consortium calling itself the ‘Burton Boat Company’ which leased the rights to make the River Trent navigable to barges in 1762. In the latter part of his life he was a promoter, and at one time treasurer, of the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal. Obviously well aware of the economic benefits the canal would bring to the district, Wilkes pushed local landowners such as the Earl of Moira to expedite its completion and was also to supply bricks for its construction. The canal was originally intended to link the Coventry Canal to the River Trent, it was finally completed over-budget in 1804 and unfortunately never lived up to expectations.

Wilkes also saw the early potential of another means of transportation which was eventually to supersede the canals, namely, railways. Before the advent of the steam locomotive, Wilkes recognised that horse-drawn carts on iron rails were the most efficient means of moving heavy loads overland. Wilkes promoted the use of these tramways, and  in conjunction with Benjamin Outram was to construct iron tramways connecting his collieries to canals.


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