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.
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.
Exploring the history of our old day boat Eileen from a conventional linear historical perspective has proved hugely rewarding over the last couple of years, with many pieces of the jigsaw satisfyingly fitting into place, however tantalising gaps remain, and they’re proving difficult to fill.