I’m back ‘Navigating’ again, trying to uncover the hidden history of our 1903 Birmingham Canal Navigation day boat ‘Eileen’. It’s a job that requires both detective work and the occasional creative leap of faith. The detective work is at times frustrating in that day boats – by their very ubiquity around the BCN –  were close to being invisible.

They were as predictable a part of a turn of the 20th C Black Country scene as pit winding gear and smokestacks. Fleet histories are hard enough to unearth and individual boats – almost impossible. However, with a little imagination it is possible to begin to get beneath the skin of these historic boats. The ‘Old Ordnance Survey Maps’ Series edited and published by Alan Godfrey reduced the original Ordnance Survey 1:25000 maps to a scale of approximately 1:4340 or about 15 inches to a mile. I thought I’d follow the route from Iron Boat Dock, Tipton where Eileen was fabricated to Alfred Hickman’s Spring Vale Works, Bilston where it’s likely ‘Eileen’ spent the majority of her industrial working life. It’s an ‘epic’ journey of 32 inches on my collage of maps, or just over a couple of miles. The fact is ‘Eileen’ existed in a very small, very particular world. To enter this world I marked each one-inch point on the map and then sought the nearest identifiable point. This information was fed into a search engine and an image reflecting the ‘legend’ selected. This is the resulting pictorial journey:

Image 1. image 2 Image 3. image 4 Image 5 image 6 image 7 image 8 shrubbery canal image 9 image 10 image 11 image 12 image 13 image 14 image 16image 17aimage18 image 19 image 20 image 21 image 22 image 23 image 24 image 25 image 26 image 27 image 28 image 29 image 30 image 31 image 32

I’m always on the lookout for new information, so if you feel you might have images, clues and/or ideas that might help further uncover Eileen’s secret history, please feel free to get in touch, it’d be great to hear from you…  IMG_5900 (3)

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