I’m trying to get under the skin of our boat. The Story of Eileen is a mixture of social and industrial history combined with fiction, research and imagination. If I’m honest the gaps fascinate me as much as the facts. Given that what I don’t know about the boat would fill a book, perhaps that’s a healthy attitude to have at this point. I’m open-minded about where the journey will take me, and up for a ‘drift’ across the landscape of her stories.

As I go no doubt some of my deductive leaps are likely to ‘fall short of the other side’ but even blind alleys if not exactly leading me forward might enrich the telling.

A landscape of atmospheres, histories, actions and characters coalesce around the boat and charge it’s space. And I’m connected to it. Wrapped up in it. The boat haunts me, fascinates me.

Currently I’m seeking solid ground upon which to moor Eileen’s early history. My hazy understanding of the relationship between key locations in her story; such as the relationship between the Iron Boat Dock, Tipton (where the boat was built in or before 1903 by Eli Aston) and the Spring Vale steel works at Bilston (where the boat worked for decades) has begun to bother me. I feel a need to get to grips with the basic geography of place and so I’ve set myself a few simple questions to answer:

  1. Where’s Iron Boat Dock?
  2. Where’s Spring Vale?
  3. How far between them?
  4. What did it look like when Eileen worked there?
  5. What does it look like today?

Here’s what I’ve found out so far.

The edition of the 1901 OS map of Ettingshall produced as Staffordshire Sheet 62.15 by Alan Godfrey in 1996 brings the site of Spring Vale steel works into sharp two dimensional focus. There’s the works, and it’s relationship to the canal, the weave of railway lines and circles indicating furnaces…
The furious heat of the foundry captured vividly in this image…
The same site 110 years on, all signs of the previous heavy industry have been erased. The railway’s gone, so have the basins and wharves. They’ve been replaced by light industrial structures and in-filled with post-war housing estates. Only the topography of roads and canal provide any confirmation that this is even the same location.
The map and surviving photos talk eloquently to each other., confirming that this is the place. This view could have been taken from the L&NWR bridge shown on the inset map, reading the map ftp left to right it’s easy to spot the curved corrugated iron transfer sheds and the line of the elevator ramp to the furnaces…
This is a view of the second of the three basins serving the Spring Vale site. This time there are corrugated iron transfer sheds on both sides of the basin and the entrance, via a bridge carrying the towpath is easy to pick out. The intimate interconnection between rail and canal is also evident.
A view inside the foundry. This image was taken on the left hand side of the basin shown on the map,  the elevated section is revealed in more detail. The fevered industry of the foundry site is stunningly captured in this shot.

It’s beginning to make more sense, and i feel I’m getting closer to one of the boat’s stories.

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