Other posts in the series list below can be accessed by clicking the red ‘Introduction’ link :

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

James Loader passing Nick Hill’s motor, 1970’s…

James Loader is a much renovated and altered wooden BCN tug, built by Joe Worsey of Walsall for Leonard Leigh Limited in 1946. It entered service in 1947, and was named after Leonard Leigh’s son James Loader Leigh. Its dimensions were 41’ by 6’ 10” by 3’ draught.

As originally built… in 1946-7.

One of two wooden tugs built at the time for the company, the other being the Christopher James, built at Spencer Abbotts dock. Worseys also built the tug Joan II, in wood, for Leigh, she was launched on 16 April 1936.

Hull construction is on a flat double planked 4” elm bottom, 2” planks longitudinally on 2” cross planks. 2” by 8” oak side planks held by iron omega cross section knees along the sides, with 8” deep wooden frames to form the shape of the bow. A long bow and counter and an inward curve of the knees to the bilge give a fine shape to the hull, and an easy swim through the water to the vessel. Planks are fixed with cut iron boat nails in the scarf joints and to other timbers, and nails riveted and cropped over roves through the frames and knees. Internal ¾ inch oak shearing is fixed with iron nails with tar paper behind.

The original cabin was shorter than the present and had sloping fore and back ends and a level roof, with six marine portholes. A long tiller gave extra leverage for steering when towing. The original engine was a four cylinder Fordson diesel/paraffin marinised tractor engine developing 56hp. The 40’ long tugs had been developed to be able to be turned more easily, and in more places, than full length boat conversions, and being a plank short of a traditional boat, and having flat fore and aft decks, were level with the canal banks for easy and safe access.

As a working tug there would have been basic fittings for day use – possibly wooden benches with a bottle stove, with storage forward for ropes, chains, engine spares, fuel, lubricants etc.

The tugs would not necessarily work through locks – the full boats would be towed, for example, from Anglesey Basin to the top of a flight by one tug, then worked through by hand to be towed onwards by another tug, the tug at the top taking empties back to the collieries.

A train of five dayboats or ‘ampton boats could hold over 200 tons, steered by a man on every other boat, attempting to keep warm in winter with a brazier burning scrap wood, envying the tug captain with his hot engine and stove.

The tugs worked very hard, 7 days a week and 18 hours a day, loading at Anglesey, Cannock and Holly Bank for delivery to Wolverhampton, Nechells and Walsall power stations. Once under way with a load, a steady run was kept up, sometimes aided by a gentle current induced by leaving open the top paddles at the Wolverhampton 21. On arrival at ‘Hampton Light’ the tows were berthed and the tug turned immediately, and with the train of empties lying ready, set off for the pits. from ‘Boundary Post’, July 1987

The wartime Leonard Leigh tug fleet, including Spitfire, Tempest, Hurricane, Typhoon and the wooden Joan II was expanded after the war with James Loader, Christopher James, and Helen. James Loader was fleet No.8.  The tug fleet worked on the BCN until the winter of 1962/63, when the Cut froze for weeks and the coal traffic was transferred to road vehicles, never to return. The tugs were laid up at the yards, and offered for sale.

Peter Freakley on James Loader
James Loader was bought by Peter Freakley in March 1964.

Peter Freakley made extensive repairs to the hull, “gunwales, side planks and foredeck all having to be replaced.” A new cabin was built with four berths, a separate engine room, and toilet/wash room.

The boatman’s cabin dates from this time, with its dark scumble and rose and castle decoration. One decoration of interest is the map of the BCN showing all canals whether in use or derelict (in 1965) on the wall opposite the cabin range.

The tug foredeck was replaced with a well deck with seating behind a cratchboard and short top plank, and the livery was red panels with green framing, with P.J. FREAKLEY BIRMINGHAM proudly lettered on the cabin sides.

In August 1968 Freakley bought a derelict wooden Leeds & Liverpool short boat with a Gardner 2LW engine inside. It was the Robert of the Hargreaves fleet, and lying at Tarleton on the Rufford Branch. He removed the engine and towed the short boat out into the River Ribble, where it was burnt on a sandbank. The engine, dating from 1947, was restored and was installed in James Loader with the parts manoeuvred in through the side doors. This engine is still going strong today.

The Gardner…

Peter Freakley cruised extensively and visited many rallies. From January to July 1972 it was lifted out at Allen’s Oldbury Dock for fitting several new planks in each side of the hull.

The livery reverted to Leonard Leigh colours in 1980. The canal water engine cooling was replaced by a closed circuit system running through copper pipes under the starboard counter at this time, as described in the Gardner manual. He had the fore-end top bend planks replaced at Norton Canes in 1983.

Peter Freakley sold James Loader to Andy Flack in 1991. Extensive work was carried out in 1993 and also on the hull during the winter of 1993-4 at Stockton dry dock, including replacing waterline hull planks, gunnels and stern deck.

Replacing significant woodwork, 2000

The tug deck was reinstated, as a sealed deck of hardwood planks on marine plywood, and the fore end of the cabin redecorated by Ron Hough.

James Loader glimpsed behind the Christopher James…

The next owner, Ken Cody, moored the tug at Stockton and Newbury, and also cruised the system etensively, with one memorable journey taking them to the River Medway down the Thames tideway. Repairs were carried out to the starboard swim area on the bank at Sharpness shipyard.

James Loader in 2001

Peter Boyce, the current owner, bought James Loader in May 2001 and came south to moor at Newbury.

A Grand Tour in 2002 took the tug from Newbury via Bristol and the Severn Estuary to Anderton and Northwich, then down the Ship Canal and across the Mersey to Liverpool. The opening of the Ribble Link beckoned, and after pausing on the Lancaster Canal before headed back to Manchester and a passage across the Rochdale to the IWA National at Huddersfield. Returning via the Huddersfield Narrow and the Peak Forest, with a stay on the Llangollen after visiting Whitchurch and Ellesmere rallies.

James Loader cruises the System…

Small hull repairs, painting and hull tarring were carried out in the historic dry dock at Ellesmere late in 2002, then the rest of the winter was spent at Hazlehurst on the Caldon.

The butty Betelgeuse was bought the boat in January 2003, and from then on James Loader was effectively towing cargo again. The pair of boats were registered as commercial and single loads of coal were taken from the Grand Union to the K&A in 2004, 2005, and 2006. James Loader was also added to the River Thames tug register.

James Loader towing Betelgeuse

Regular dockings kept up with tarring, shoe plate repairs and painting.

In 2006 James Loader towed the Meadow art installation from Bath to London with the artist Tania Kovats in residence on the butty. The Thames toll ticket stated “One ton of turf”.

James Loader alongside the ‘meadow’ barge art installation…

April 2006 saw significant work carried out on James Loader, with both of the top bends and the next plank down on the port bow, replaced as they were completely rotten with wet rot and fungus.

In 2007 James Loader towed Betelgeuse to a new contract on the Denham Sand Traffic with Arundel, while James Loader continued north to collect the day boat Joe from Braunston and deliver it to Lyons Yard at King’s Norton for stretching back to 70ft. At the end of the year James Loader took up moorings at Braunston Turn.

BCN No. 108 (ex ‘Joe’)

In 2008 James Loader collected BCN No108 (ex ‘Joe’) from Lapworth at the New Year, towing it to Tess Wharf, Braunston, for fitting out for the sand traffic.

No. 108 working on the aggregate traffic at Denham…

‘Joe’ was delivered to Uxbridge after the stoppages were finished, and after attending the Easter gathering of the Historic Narrow Boat Owners Club at Stoke Bruerne.

James Loader with Betelgeuse in tow then attended the Rickmansworth Canal Festival, and later, Banbury Canal Day. In November 2008 she towed Betelgeuse to Stockton Dry Dock, carrying timber for the new running gear for the town class motor Stanton. In late 2008, the tug became the working platform for work on the sunken ‘Lucy’, at one time supporting the outer leg of a gantry for lifting the heavier items out of the boat. 

James Loader supporting the re-floating of the ‘Lucy’
The ‘Lucy’ afloat again…

In 2009 James Loader was heavily involved with the recovery of the ‘Lucy’, and in May towed the rescued Lucy from the puddle banks to the marina for lifting on the steel frame. In the June the tug was drydocked at Braunston bottom lock, for hull repairs, painting and tarring.

In September he towed Betelgeuse to the River Thames via the southern Oxford Canal, to a towing job on the Basingstoke Canal. The houseboat Dragonfly, a 100+ year old iron BCN day boat sitting in an outer steel hull, needed towing to Pyrford Marina drydock on the River Wey for re-plating.

In 2010 James Loader towed Betelgeuse to Coventry for the HNBOC gathering, and attended the tug gathering at the BCLM, Dudley, over the Mayday weekend.

In June Betelgeuse was towed to Stockton carrying materials for the restoration of FMC motor Admiral, and then took the butty to Banbury for the Canal Day in the October.

Ongoing renovations at James Loader’s home mooring at Braunston Turn…

Restoration work, always ongoing – particularly on a wooden boat – continues…

(Much of the information above was gleamed from the Phobox site, click HERE)


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