This is the second installment in a new series of posts about BCN tugs. Other posts in the series list below can be accessed by clicking the red ‘Introduction’ link :

1. Introduction
2. Tug Portrait: Enterprise No. 1 (this post)
3. Tug Portrait: Bittel
4. Tug Portrait: James Loader
5. Tug Portrait: Judith Anne
6. Tug Portrait: Caggy

Originally named Count, the Enterprise was built by Fellows, Morton & Clayton on their dock at Saltley, Birmingham, in 1899 for their own use (BHM 1036). The composite hull (iron sides and elm bottom) was fitted with a Haines Patent engine supplied with steam from a coke-fired Danks boiler.

In 1925 Fellows, Morton & Clayton converted her to a motor boat using a fifteen horse power Bolinder semi-diesel engine with a fleet no. 47, and BCN gauging No 1162, (23/4/1926). She carried general cargoes until she was damaged by an incendiary bomb at Fazeley Street Depot, Birmingham during the Second World War.

Following the war, Ernest Thomas was called in to salvage a number of vessels of this type. As well as being in the scrap business, he was one of the main Black Country canal hauliers and saw the potential in this shapely hull for a powerful and manoeuvrable tug.

After reconstruction, the Enterprise retained her original bow and stern, but her power was increased by a massive 35 inch in diameter and 25 inch pitch propeller.

Power for the tug was provided by a Gardner five cylinder L2 diesel engine originally supplied in 1931 to Walker’s of Wigan and fitted to their prototype Pagefield Paladin seven ton lorry. It was obtained from a breaker’s yard at Shoreham-by-Sea and reconditioned by Sam Satterthwaite at Streetly Garages Ltd. A Parsons HRG forward/reverse box with 2:1 reduction, supplied new to Leonard Leigh in 1939, was also fitted.

On commissioning for Ernest Thomas, the test load was ten(!) laden wharf boats – known as ‘hamptons; a payload of four hundred tons, but for safety when working, trains were limited to six.

Most of the tug’s working life, until the early 1960s, was spent moving coal from the Cannock, Holly Bank and Hatherton collieries to Birchills Power Station, Walsall. Enterprise was number one of fourteen tugs run by “Ernie”, who had over four hundred boats at the peak of the trade.

By the late 1950s, Birchills power station began to receive supplies by rail and the Enterprise was laid up for increasing periods. She was virtually untouched for about ten years until 1973, when Ernest Thomas disposed of some of his notable boats including the tugs Enterprise No.1 and Birchills No. 2.

Enterprise was bought by her current owners, Bernard Hales & Partners, who found that the hull sides were very thin in places, with a hole in the bows and a clay puddle covering a weak spot on the stern bottoms. The front deck was full of dry rot and the cabin cladding was disintegrating. Despite neglect, the Gardner engine still ran and everything else worked. However, after a prolonged period of rain she sank twice in the deepest part of the Cannock Extension canal. She was re-floated and moved to Peter Keay & Son’s yard at Pratt’s Bridge Dock for major repairs, which lasted almost four years.

The fore, front and stern decks were completely removed together with the condemned two hundred gallon diesel tank and very worn elm bottoms from the front half. The wrought iron plates in the previously inaccessible areas were badly scaled. The thin areas were cut out and three by eight inch mild steel plates were hot formed to shape and welded in position. Both the fore-end and stern swim sections were repaired in this way, thus retaining their double curvature.

The counter sides were replaced in mild steel, re-using the original guard irons. A weed hatch was made in the uxter-plate with a corresponding lift-out section in the new oak deck. Gunwales alongside the cabin were renewed by Jim Forrester in 1984 prior to replacement of the cabin sides which now incorporate a double skin. After over twenty years of use, the oak deck was replaced in 1998-1999 with more traditional ash boards on top of new structural keruing.

New three inch thick elm bottom boards were fitted at the stern and in the fore-end. In place of the rotten keelson, one inch longitudinal shearing planks were used. Beneath the engine room the bottoms, although worn to two and a half inches, were so well pickled in oil etc. that they did not need replacing until 1991. Alan Williams (who rebuilt the Severn trow SPRY) performed this operation using elm and traditional ‘chalico’ sealant. The fore-end, front and counter decks were reconstructed between 2000 and 2004 replacing all the oak structure with keruing and the oak shearing with ash strips.

The partners acquired a wrought iron BCN day-boat in 1993 (built circa 1910) and named it BHP No. 2, making it possible to perpetuate the tradition of tugs and day-boat towing. Another day-boat, BHP No. 3, (a double ended ‘joey’) was added to the fleet in August 2001.

(Information drawn from numerous sources including HNBC and National Historic Ship sites)

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