The mid-period history of open iron day boat BCN18686 is slowly falling into place. After exploring the iron works at Spring Vale, Bilston (HERE) this week I can bring you up to update on the period when 18686 travelled hundreds of miles across the Northern canals, and around her 65th birthday was converted to a working motor for the first time.

The late 1960’s: from open iron day boat to working motor

It’s likely that 18686 remained part of the Hickman/Stewarts & Lloyds fleet of day boats, working in and around the Spring Vale/Bilston site, until being sold on, at some as yet unknown date.

It has been suggested, by former owner Jim MacDonald, that after being sold the shortening and remodelling of the stern in preparation for the motorising of 18686 were done on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. Whilst this hasn’t yet been confirmed, Tom Merrall has been able to confirm that his parents Sidney & Marion Merrall, operating Beeston Castle Cruisers from Beeston Wharf (on the Shropshire Union Canal) bought the hull from ‘Steve’ a lollypop man in Skipton, on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, in about 1966 and towed it back to Beeston using their shortened Cowburn & Cowpar motor ‘Starling’ (incidentally ‘Starling’ has since been restored to full length and is again to be seen operating in the C&C livery, see below). Tom believes that ‘Steve’ was a friend of relations of his parents who lived in Skipton. How a lowly BCN open day boat ended up 100+ miles from the Black Country in the ownership of a Skipton lollypop man is a mystery yet to be solved?!?

starling-coventry-2010-IMG_7823
‘Starling’ (photographed at Coventry in 2010 by Phil Prettyman). Notes on ‘Starling’ on the HNBC site (where this image and others can be found) state that she’d been shortened to 40′ in the 1960’s with her mid-section used to create another boat. Cyril Wood adds in Canalscape: “Starling” (the bow and stern sections of a full-length narrowboat welded together, fitted with a distinctive cabin and a BMC “Commander” 2.2 litre engine) and “Swan” (the centre section of “Starling” fitted with a cabin similar to “Skylark” and also an air-cooled Lister engine). “Swan” was renamed “Jacqueline Yvonne”, moored at Lymm and then Grappenhall on the Bridgewater Canal before changing owners and moving to the Macclesfield Canal.

Tom recalls that the hull of 18686 was in poor condition, and copious amounts of clay had to be used on the long journey back to Beeston Wharf to prevent her becoming overwhelmed by incoming water and sinking.

Ex-working narrowboats moored at Beeston Wharf in 1969
A working pair at Beeston Wharf in the late 1960’s. The image can be found on Cyril Wood’s excellent Canalscape site, click HERE.

Sidney Merrall went on to renew the bottom and about 12ft of the footings which were badly rotted.

For reasons not immediately apparent, given that the hull is quite conventional, Sidney Merrall often referred to the day boat as the ice boat.

CJW - 1966
Cyril Wood on 18686 soon after it’d arrived at Beeston Wharf in 1966.The hull is certainly BCN 18686 as the elum or rudder in the foreground of the picture is still on the boat today, as is the T-stud on the stern, and the clear ‘kink’ seen on the left-hand side of the hull is also still apparent…  Photo by James Wood courtesy of Cyril J. Wood

Within a couple of years of being towed to Beeston Wharf 18686, by then standing on blocks at the wharf, was purchased by Mick and Judy Vedmore and christened ‘Eileen’ after Judy’s mother who’d lent them £300 to buy her, as seen on blocks, at Beeston Castle Cruisers.

Eileen Beeston2
‘18686/Eileen’ as seen ‘on the blocks’ at Beeston Wharf. Photo courtesy of Judy Baker

Judy has been able to confirm that the hull had been converted to accept marinisation and whilst at Beeston she and Mick would travel from Leeds by train, bus and on foot, to work on the boat, adding a basic shell of a cabin and engine beds to accept the Fowler engine they also bought from Sidney Merrall and, in all likelihood was fitted by him too.

They then returned to Leeds with the newly motorised 18686/Eileen, who for the first time in her 65 year history moved under her own power. Mooring above River Lock at Armley further work was done to the boat to complete Eileen’s first, marine ply cabin. Judy recalls it was, “…under the arches by a scrap yard with a guard dog called Sabre Tooth…”

Eileen-Beeston.Leeds
Eileen with her first cabin, seen here newly built and freshly painted in ‘Vedmore & Patterson’ colours. River Lock, Leeds, late 1960’s (Photo courtesy of Judy Baker)

Judy goes on to say, “Being 62′ and tough, we travelled absolutely everywhere, summer and winter and in ice. We earned our living by her as ‘Canalware Supplies. We took her everywhere on the system and on rivers, trading.”

eileen vedmore and patterson bot Lock Braunston 70s
A full length shot of cabin boat Eileen/18686 at Braunston Bottom Lock, early 1970’s. in the Vedmore & Patterson livery

Judy also confirmed that, “…Ted Ward of Willow Wren, Braunston, ex. boatman and fitter,  later replaced the Fowler, and fitted the Lister HA2engine and a weed hatch which was the envy of all…”

Eileen Bot Lock Braunston0027
Same day, different viewpoint, the stern of Eileen/18686 photographed from the bridge at Braunston Bottom Lock, 1970’s (Photo courtesy of Judy Baker)

Thanks to Cyril Wood, Tom Merrall and Judy Baker, who’ve so generously given their time to share their memories of Eileen/18686 in the late 1960’s, vital pieces of her mid-period history are falling into place, I can’t thank them enough.

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