Writing Re-visited: The Ship of Theseus

In exploring the next phase of our old boat Eileen‘s renovation we’ve thought long and hard about the use we’ve made of the spaces within the boat, and we soon recognised that there were many spaces that were being significantly under-used and others that were challenging pinch-points. To help ensure that in future we make better use of the space we’re planning – not surprisingly – to increase the use of the under-utilised spaces and reduce the number of pinch-points.

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The ‘interior’ traveller

Photomontage by Nick Holt

In the Spring of 1790 Xavier de Maistre was confined, under house arrest, and embarked on a remarkable voyage around his bedroom. It was a journey taken almost entirely in his imagination. The book A Journey Around My Room and the later A Nocturnal Investigation Around My Room were the result.

‘There’s no more attractive pleasure than to follow one’s ideas wherever they lead, as the hunter pursues his game, without even trying to keep to any set route. And so, when I travel through my room, I rarely follow a straight line: I go from my table towards a picture hanging in a corner; from there I set out obliquely towards the door; but even though, when I began, it really is my intention to go there, if I happen to meet my armchair en route, I don’t think twice about it, and settle down without further ado.’

In the two books familiar objects are re-viewed and the furniture, engravings etc. explored as if they were being witnessed for the first time in a strange land.

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Picturing the Past

In my archaeological dig into the history of our old boat Eileen, her builder and owners, the holy grail is inevitably  pictorial. Images help me to picture the past. They provide a way into a time and place otherwise difficult to access. Postcards provide a ready glimpse of the town of Tipton that would have been familiar to the boat builder Eli Aston and the boat’s first owner Benjamin Pearson. This was their world.

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‘Eileen’ 30 years ago…


I’d begun to think that my research into Eileen’s long history was over, as so few new leads have been found in recent months – so imagine my surprise and delight when browsing for something unrelated to the boat to suddenly come across this wonderful image on Wikimedia Commons.

The notes state that it shows ‘N.B. Eileen, Wheaton Aston, Shropshire Union Canal 25.07.1981’ ie. during a period when owner Paul Pepperell was making a solo trip around the English canals in the early 1980’s…

It’s the first time I’ve seen the full extent of the wooden cabin extension that had been fitted after the boat had been sold by Mick & Judy Vedmore.

The Story of Eileen: ‘FIRST OWNER’

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This aerial image provides a little context for the Tipton Green area. Dating from the 1930’s the Birmingham Canal main line can be clearly seen running parallel to the right hand edge, Victoria Park is in the centre of the image and the streets abutting the Tipton Green Locks can be just made out crowding the upper right hand corner of the photo.

In a previous post (HERE) I described my latest research into Eli Aston the MAKER of our 1903 BCN day boat Eileen. This week’s update focuses on the person who ordered the fabrication of the boat in the first place, one Benjamin or Ben.Pearson.

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The Story of Eileen: ‘MAKER’

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The maker’s plate of our BCN day boat, in raised sans serif, says it all: ELI . ASTON MAKER TIPTON. (I wonder why Eli Aston felt compelled to add the ‘dot’ between ‘Eli’ and ‘Aston’?)

The boat has presence. She’s a reservoir of memories and stories, a vessel, and ambient echoes thrum through her iron hull. Through association, and research I’ve been trying to piece together her history and find out more about the people who were part of her story. I’ve been helped in this by the huge generosity of a number of people who’ve volunteered memories and images, and by the fact that public records, once only accessible by visiting distant archives, are now increasingly available online.

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