The boat is currently carrying the same colour scheme as when restored after fire damage in the late 1980’s ie. white main panels, blue border and red lining. It’s an attractive colour scheme designed by the then owner Jim MacDonald, and still used on his wonderfully characterful Elizabeth.

However, I want the boat to now have a colour scheme that marks the next phase of it’s existence, as our family boat.

Deciding on a new colour scheme isn’t easy.

BCN 18686 was originally an OI or open iron day boat ie. a boat with no cabin. It now has a cabin. This is a problem. If the boat originally had no cabin, how can I legitimately go about designing a colour scheme that might reflect both the history of the boat and be respectful of the traditions that grew up around BCN day boats.

The fact that we’re not undertaking a restoration of 18686 to an open day boat actually provides me with some freedoms when it comes to designing a colour scheme, one that’ll hopefully be able to respect tradition but importantly not be constrained by it.

I’ve come to see the repainting project as an opportunity to illustrate something of the boats long life and celebrate it’s various incarnations and associations. The final colour scheme will therefore be a composite, one based on research into a number of historical colour schemes from companies associated with the boat; the Alfred Hickman fleet; the Stewart & Lloyds fleet, and…

eileen.Vedmore Patterson.Leeds Wharf atReading 70sMick Ved at forend 0023
The Vedmore & Patterson livery of the 1970’s (Photo courtesy of Judy Baker)
eileen vedmore and patterson bot Lock Braunston 70s
‘Eileen’ again in Vedmore & Patterson livery, Braunston Bottom Lock 1970’s Photo courtesy of Judy Baker)
eileen Hatton 80s 0030
Eileen in UCC colours (Can anyone confirm the colour of the UCC livery at this time, would it be the dark green with yellow text as seen on the fleet today?). The photo was taken in the early 1980’s at Hatton. (Photo courtesy of Judy Baker)

Reference books are also proving helpful, by providing both colour and b/w images of cabin day boats. These pictures give tantalising glimpses of possible lettering, period design and appropriate colour schemes.

To help me start to narrow down the options and create a coherent working design for the new colour scheme, I’ve set myself some parameters. The colour scheme will:

  • reflect the boat’s earliest history in terms of colours and lettering styles
  • utilise the most universal colour scheme used on BCN cabin boats and tugs, ie. a variation of bright red, grass green and white/ivory
  • reflect BCN conventions when it comes to numbers, boat name and any other identifying marks [does anyone know the combination of crescents and diamonds used to denote a Hickman boat]
  • acknowledge something of the boat’s existence subsequent to it’s use as an open day boat and perhaps, in some way, celebrate those various incarnations [working motor, house boat, open motor etc.] over the last 110 years of the boat’s existence

Research so far tends to indicate that the Hickman Fleet, whilst large, was mainly hard-worked, open day boats. These boats would have been bought in from a number of sources, many second-hand. It would seem that a universal colour scheme was never applied to the fleet. I suspect that they followed the standard waterways practice of patching up the day boats in their own yard as repairs were needed and painting, what some have described as ‘little more than waterbourne skips’, would have had little to do with corporate image and been totally utilitarian ie. paint was a means of protecting the riveted iron platework of the boats and would have been in whatever colour happened to be at hand in the yard at the time. Standardisation of sorts might have been achieved when a yard bought in or mixed up a large ‘job lot’ of the same paint.

Tony Lewery in his excellent book The Art of the Narrow Boat Painters, describes what might be called a standard day boat colour scheme as:

As the joeys were open boats with no foredeck, and had no top clothes with their associated equipment of masts, stands and planks, all decoration was confined to the top bends or planks at the bow or stern, known respectively as the ‘fore end’ and ‘shoulders’, and the little box cabin with its slide and doors. By far the most usual colour scheme throughout the BCN was bright red and green.

From this information it became clear that I should perhaps be looking at a Bright Red Panel, Grass Green border and white or ivory lining. The standard colours used on many BCN tugs and cabin boats, as these examples, photographed over the years at Braunston show.

Simple, clear, workmanlike and right. (Photo by the author)
I love tugs! (Photo by the author)
This is where my thinking currently lies. Not reproducing the S&L livery totally, after all 18686 would never have been painted up like a tug. But using this livery as the basis for a design that takes many elements from the S&L paint scheme. (Photo by the author)
The S&L colour scheme is gorwing on me, I really like the large simple font, perhaps even more without the shading… (Photo by the author)

Steve Bingham has been extremely helpful in firming up my ideas, I’d admired the restoration he’d undertaken on the Stewart & Lloyds tug Bittel, and e-mailed him in the hope that he could provide advice on accurate S&L colours. Not only did he generously shared his knowledge of the colours used by S&L but also pointed me in the direction of a company where those colours might be purchased.

Intriguingly he also included a photo in the e-mail of a boat that the owner believes is a version of Alfred Hickman colours.

Steve takes up the story, “I believe the Tug HELEN is an ex Alfred Hickman boat, then in later life went to Leonard Leigh. John Dodwell has bought the Helen now, and recently put it in Alfred Hickman colours. Mind you there had been quite some deliberation in the year or so beforehand as to what the correct colours were. John says he’s got it right.” (Photo included in an e-mail from Steve Bingham, photographer not known)
In trying to find out a little more about the Helen I went to the Historic Narrow Boat Club site and typed in Helen. This gorgeous image comes up stating: ‘Helen 1943, with Tommy Jones(?)’ The boat is clearly in the livery of J. Holloway & Sons. Were they connected to Alfred Hickman? Did the company sub-contract to Hickmans? Is the livery theirs rather than Hickmans? Questions, questions…

The fact that this photo might reflect Hickman’s fleet colours is a tantalising prospect,  however I’ve, as yet, been unable to find text or photos to corroborate the suggestion.

So, for now, I remain wedded to standard BCN colours – red, green and white. And the research and the designing goes on, I suspect it’ll continue up to the day that brushes lay down the first coat!


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