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

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

‘Caggy’ at Stevens’ boatyard, Tipton, 2008 (Photos credit: Flickr)

It’s generally believed that ‘Caggy’ originated as one of a number (perhaps up to 16) ‘wartime’ 40’-ish tugs ordered by the Ministry of War Transport and built by Harris Brothers of Bumblehole.

The majority of the fleet were given patriotic aircraft names such as Spitfire, Typhoon, Defient, Hurricane and Tempest. It’s likely that part of the design brief would have been to enable the tugs to also act as ice-breakers, and this could have informed the shape of their tapered profile.

I’ve been unable to confirm it, but tend to think it likely that the tug had a different ‘aircraft-orientated’ name when initially owned by the coal merchant F. Folkes of West Bromwich before she passed to Oldbury steerer and boat owner Alan ‘Caggy’ Stevens.

Caggy Stevens used her for various jobs including tugging boats loaded with rubbish to tips around the BCN.

I’m afraid a ‘general health warning’ has to be attached to all the information above, as BCN tugs are proving hugely slippery when it comes to finding ‘hard’ evidence of their provenance. (For example, contributors on various forums hypothesise that the wartime contract was actually cancelled, and tugs were never paid for, as a result they were immediately dispersed to other manufacturers and steerers, or Noah Hingley’s name is linked to building ‘Caggy’…) if you know more, or could point me in the direction of additional information I’d be hugely grateful.

The information above is drawn from various forums and:
Blossom’s Black Country site, click HERE
Allen’s Register
site, click HERE

‘Caggy’ at Gas Street, 1993 (Photo credit: Ray Shill)
‘Caggy’ about to enter the Tipton portal of Netherton Tunnel, 1970’s (Photo sourced Blossom’s Blackcountry’ site, see link above)

caggy boat

If you take a look at this series of photos it’s fascinating to see the various incarnations of ‘Caggy’, details were updated, amended or confirmed as they changed over the years… (Photo credit: Alan Fincher @ Black Country Living Museum 2012)
(Photo credit not known)
A delightful portrait of Alan ‘Caggy’ Stevens with horse and day boat ‘Caro’. The caro formerly belonged to Ernest Thomas and had been used to take coal from Cannock Chase to the GEC at Witton. (Photo credit: Geoff Bennet. Text based on pg. 103 Ray Shill – see above)
A proud boatman, who kept tradition alive on the BCN. (Photo credit: Geoff Bennet)
BCN canal carrying in later years was often reduced to movements of spoil and rubbish. Caggy Stevens contnues this trade long after other commercial carriers had transferred to road haulage or given up carrying altogether. He used a varied collection of boats, many short-term leases from others, and were usually tugged by ‘Caggy’, however he also arranged the odd horse boat movement from time to time. This photograph was taken in the mid-1970s and shows Don Payne with horse ‘Nobby’ (thanks to Don for correcting my originally naming of the horse as Candy) drawing a boat along the BCN main line near Spon Lane bridge (photo credit: Geoff Bennet. Text based on pg. 83 of The Birmingham Canal Navigations by Ray Shill)

15 thoughts on “BCN Tugs Series: Caggy

    1. Don, thanks for correcting my mistake. Is that you in the photo above? It’s one of my favourites, somehow catching so much of the character of horse boating on BCN.
      Best wishes


  1. I worked with Caggy for a short while when Morton and Clayton’s narrowboat pearl was in the dry dock for major repairs at Tipton, we used butty boats to pull scaffolding around the three rings in Birmingham for bridge maintenance on the motorway’s. We pulled them by hand as there wasn’t enough draught for the tug.This was early in the nineties just as the canal’s where being “cleaned” up for the pleasure industry. A Very unusual chap was Caggy.


    1. Geoff, thanks very much for sharing your memories of Caggy. It’s very much appreciated.
      And a fascinating portrait is forming.




  2. Dear Alan, thanks for letting me know that it’s your image, if it’s OK to still use it I’ll add a credit straight away.

    I’d love to get up to the BCLM for the tug gathering but work commitments are likely to keep us away too.

    Best wishes



  3. InI first saw “Caggy” (Man & Boat) in 1969 when I became a volunteer skipper on the “H F Truman”, built & based at Peter Keay & Son, Leamore. At that time, the steerage business was known as ‘Stevens & Keay’ and as well as a number of dayboats of various types, they had 2 tugs, “Caggy” belonging to Alan Stevens, and “Judith Anne”, belonging to Ken Keay.
    At that time, they were taking coal to Baxters Nuts & Bolts in Birmingham (now Symphony Court!). The boat weas loaded from lorry at Oldbury & usually pulled by horse ‘Mac’. The main traffic was the ‘rubbish runs’ from a variety of sites in Birmingham to Moxley Tip. Until Farmers Bridge Locks became obstructed by building work, Mac was used to get the boats to the top & tugs were used to Ryders Green.
    Your pictures show the modified cabin. The original cabin top was all one level, but in the early 70’s, Caggy had it modified at Leamore to give more room in the cabin. He also had made a collapsible hatch shelter, mad with a shelf inside “for my mug o’ tay”!


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