I’m still in search of the elusive essence of a canal bankside boatyard. What would the Iron Boat Dock, where our day boat Eileen was built in 1903 have looked like? Do these photos of locations around the Birmingham Canals,  gleamed from various sources (see captions) get me any closer?

Certainly close scrutiny of the images, even those images taken 60 plus years after Eileen was built, still carry something of the essential character of these basic canalside docks.

This is Alfred Matty’s boat yard at Coseley in a picture dated 15/3/1975 found at: http://www.whatliesbeneathrattlechainlagoon.org.uk/?page_id=163
This detail comes from an image held in the Birmingham Public Libraries Collection, Local Studies Department, and shows Lovekiln’s Boatyard, a typical bankside dock, which focused on the construction of wooden day boats. It shows the crowded character of a bustling yard, the moveable shedding providing basic shelter to craftsmen during different phases of the construction of boats, though much of the work would still have been done in the open air.
This detail, from a photograph originally taken by Aerofilms Ltd. provides a tantalising glimpse of the numerous canal side works around Smethwick Locks c.1920. In the foreground is that a day boat dock, with five boats tied up and a further boat out on the level hard standing? The image also confirms the ubiquity of day boats around the BCN system, with over twenty craft in view in this detail alone. Further information about the picture can be found on page 45 of Ray Shill’s Birmingham Canals.
This detail comes from another of Ray Shill’s books, The Birmingham Canal Navigations. On page 53 of this fine collection of annotated photos which provides an essential primer to the BCN for newcomers such as me. It’s a 1944 photograph of Bilston Road Coal Wharf, Wolverhampton. Again it’s the general arrangement of the yard that for me hints at the character of these places. The store sheds in various stages of degradation, the unsurfaced rough ground, the ‘multi-purposefulness’ of any spare land adjacent to the Cut, as readily used to sort and store coal as build wooden or iron day boats.
A further glimpse of the outbuildings at the Black Country Living Museum’s Castle Field Boat Dock, with it’s wonderfully eclectic collection of ‘useful clutter’ lying around – as would undoubtably been the case in any working yard where nothing was ever thrown away, just in case it became useful one day!



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