Writing re-visited: ‘Ribbon of Still Water’

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The past beats inside me like a second heart.

John Banville, The Sea

The old Birmingham Canal Navigation day boat Eileen is seemingly, and at first glance, an inanimate lump of wrought iron and new steel, a ‘hole in the water’.

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‘Eileen’ 30 years ago…

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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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The Story of Eileen: The ‘Imagined’ Yard

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In trying to uncover (or navigate) the lost history of our old Birmingham Canal Navigation iron day boat Eileen it’s been necessary at times to rely on creative leaps of imagination to help bridge the current gaps in my knowledge.

For some time I’ve been thinking about the yard where she was built by Eli Aston around 1903. Contemporaneous maps provide a tantalising blank canvas. The yard seems to have been little more than a huddle of sheds on flat land adjacent to the canal.

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The Story of Eileen: ‘Nailing Jellies To The Wall’

 

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I need to get a clearer sense of where key locations in Eileen’s early history on the BCN are located. The image above is the classic shot of Alfred Hickman’s Springvale Steel Works. Eileen was based here for decades, indeed she could be one of the numerous day boats unloading coal and removing slag from the site.

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The Story of Eileen: ‘And, All The Boat’s A Stage’…

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Some time ago I e-mailed Day Star Theatre in the hope that they might be able to provide more information about a rumour I’d heard that our old boat ‘Eileen’ had, at some time, been what was described to me as a ‘theatre boat’.

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