This is the third instalment in a short series describing the painted decoration found on Birmingham Canal Navigation day boats. In this post I’m looking at decoration on cabin day boats.

1. Series Introduction HERE
2. Open Day Boat Decoration HERE
3. Cabin Day Boat Decoration THIS POST
4. Spiders, Flowers or Stars? HERE

Detail of a cabin boat, showing the general proportions of a cabin. Photo c.1930s taken from Pinfold Bridge, Wednesfield. The cabin boat, part of a train of three, is carrying small coals or slack in all likelihood destined for Wolverhampton Power Station. Photo: Wolverhampton Public Libraries

Internally the cabins were rudimentary affairs, little more than a convenient store and shelter for the steerer. They were low, cramped and relatively short, usually 6ft long. If the steerer were fortunate the cabin might contain simple side benches and occasionally a bottle stove. Often steerers would bring their own heating (in open boats an open brazier or fire bucket) and in cabin boats their own portable bottle stove.

Externally, despite the short length of a day boat cabin, there was an opportunity to make use of the cabin sides to identify the boat’s owners, and so information from the shoulders and fore end was transferred to the cabin sides. Lettering at the turn of the twentieth century tended towards heavily shaded bold white or cream lettering.

Typically there would be a single painted panel on each side of the cabin. The most common colour for this panel was ‘grass’ green, with a cream separating line and an outer border of ‘bright’ red. To further delineate the panel, some painters would thicken the intersections of the cream line with rounded corners.

A typical BCN cabin boat. In the late 1950’s a solitary boatman loading slack into Ernest Thomas & Co.’s boat Birchills Photo: Black Country Living Museum

The cabin sides, particularly in the period before tugs hauled long trains of day boats, could be relatively richly lettered, with the full name of the owners sign written on the sides. However, during the inter-war period as tugs hauled train of day boats around sections of the BCN and austerity measures took hold, there was a move towards painting just the company’s initials on the panels.

BCN 2369 test
Detail of an E. W. Read cabin day boat No. 2369 exemplifying so much of the decoration found on cabin boats; including the rounded edges on the single painted cabin side panel; the company initials sign written in heavily shaded sans serif, and the dock design mouse-ears on the cabin back… Image sourced from page 31 of E. Paget-Tomlinson Britain’s Canal & River Craft

The cabin back design had a ‘mouse-ear’ design superficially similar the long distance boats, however these designs could be part of the identifying features of the boat and could be more complicated than the simple ‘saddle’ design used on many boats which rises to a point in the middle and curves out and down from the centre point of the hatches.

Sketches of dock designs on cabin backs… Photo © Nick Holt

The colour scheme of the cabin back would echo the cabin sides, with the central design painted in red with cream lining and green border. Some companies developed their own complicated design, which acted as an additional visual aid for steerers, helping them locate a particular company’s boats. In the absence of this kind of customer specification some yards would add their own dock design to the cabin back, which would then act as a trademark for the dock where the boat had been painted.

Detail of a photo showing wooden cabin day boat No. 7 Cecil in Anderton & Glover fleet, seen here at Old Wharf, Paradise Street, Birmingham, 1912. The boat has brought neatly stacked coal from Cannoch Chase Collieries. Photo: Birmingham Public Libraries, Local Studies department

3 thoughts on “Day Boat Decoration 3. Decoration on Cabin Day Boats

    1. Cheers John,

      I came to your site via Dickie Straker’s ‘Where the Green Roads Meet’ site.

      I’m really enjoying reading ‘TwoTerriers’…

      Best wishes and keep up an excellent blog!



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