A DETAILED HISTORY OF THE NARROW BOAT FULBOURNE
FULBOURNE is a motor narrow boat built by Harland & Wolfe for the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company as part of a contract to build 24 motor boats for Â£900 each in the Town Class style between 1936-37. This contract was part of a major expansion programme undertaken by the GUCCCo in the mid-1930s under the auspices of their General Manager Leslie Morton. FULBOURNE was built at North Woolwich on the Thames in February 1937 and delivered to the GUCCCo's base at Bulls Bridge on 24 March. Known as a large Woolwich,
nominally she was 72 feet long 7 feet wide and 7 feet high and was designed to give a loaded speed of 6 knots She was first taken to Rickmansworth so that the back cabin could be measured to ensure it complied with various Public Health Acts before being registered. This inspection was made on 21 June and the necessary certificate was granted on July 20. When she began carrying, FULBOURNE's fleet number was no.1424, her Grand Union Canal gauging number was 12740, and both cabin sides were inscribed 'Registered at Rickmansworth No 174'. Her test gauging on 21 February 1938 indicated that she loaded at the rate of one ton per inch draught to a maximum of 41 tons although it is unlikely she ever carried this weight. Her first intended butty was FULWELL, a wooden boat built by W.H Walker & Sons of Rickmansworth for Â£390 as part of a contract to provide butties to pair with the Town Class boats being built at Woolwich. At present it is not known whether FULBOURNE and FULWELL ever worked together.At some date in late 1936 or early 1937 the GUCCCo took a decision to introduce a new red white and blue livery to replace their original two-tone blue. It is assumed that the choice of these new colours was associated with the crisis over the abdication of Edward VIII in December 1936 and the accesssion and coronation of George VII but no definite evidence to this has been found in either the annual reports or the minutes of the Grand Union Canal or the GUCCCo. It is also assumed that FULBOURNE was launched in this new livery but there is no contemporary documentation or photographic evidence to confirm this assumption either. It should be noted that FULBOURNE is named after the Cambridgeshire village of FULBOURN and that the difference in spelling is explained by the fact that the railway station serving the village has an 'e' in its name even though the village does not. It seems the names of the Town Class boats could have been taken from a railway guide.
We have been told that Charlie Bexton was the first steerer but the records of Coventry Public Health Department show that in April and May 1939 she was steered by Richard Bexton with NESTON as the butty. In April the pair were loaded with coal and in May they were awaiting orders. On 30th May 1942 FULBOURNE and EWELL passed through Cowley Lock carrying 56 tons of gravel from Stockley to Leighton Buzzard, and on 30 January 1943 FULBOURNE passed through Cowley travelling empty from Bulls Bridge to Harefield accompanied by POLARIS (a small Woolwich). Nothing else is known of her movements during the war.
There is a GUCCC Ltd Manning List in circulation for 14th September 1944 which shows Fulbourne in the hands of S(idney) McDonald and paired with Sunbury. Sid went on to work for WW and BMCCC if I remember correctly (Writes Mike Constable). Not shown in the HNBOC copy of this manning list, but very clear on the original documents that Fulbourne was fully manned but Unsatisfactory. (Usually this seems to mean that the pair are in the hands of an inexperienced and probably very young Captain rather than anything more sinister.)
The records of passage through Cowley Lock, recorded in Appendix 1, show that from as early as January 1947 (and probably December 1946) until September 1947 FULBOURNE was paired with HAGLEY. From October 1947 until July 1948 she was paired with CHALFONT; she was steered during these months by John Beechey. The exact identity of this steerer(s) has yet to be confirmed, being entered as John Beechey, John Beechey junior, or J.J Beechey, and these records show that a John Beechey, and more than one John Beechey junior, worked for the GUCCCo. During John Beechey's spell on FULBOURNE a variety of cargoes were carried including stone, wood pulp, coal, beer, empty beer barrels, grain and flour. During the months August to December 1948 there is no record of FULBOURNE passing through Cowley Lock and since she underwent docking for maintenance in November 1948 it seems likely that she had been withdrawn from service. John Beechey's last recorded trip on FULBOURNE was on July 29 1948, and by September 7 he had switched to another motor, BEAULIEU, whilst retaining CHALFONT as the butty. He was never to return to FULBOURNE, but another relative was to become steerer during 1954-56.
The records of the Cowley empty craft register, listed in Appendix 2, show that by March 1949 FULBOURNE had been taken over by Jim and Phoebe Wallington who were to continue on FULBOURNE until 1953. Jim and Phoebe were both born and brought up on the cut, but before the start of the 2nd World War both had left to work in factories. However, with the onset of war they were directed back onto the cut, working for private carriers, probably A. Wander Ltd. Between January and October 1947 they were working for this company on HARRY and LILLY, but by February 1948 they had transferred to the GUCCCo, working during that year on either CHARLEY and POLLY or HARRY and POLLY until as late as December 1948. The exact date they took over FULBOURNE is not known but from March 1949, when they are first recorded on her, until July 1952, they worked with DUDLEY as the butty, and from October 1952 until March 1953 they used ANGEL, the switch being made some time between July and October of that year but the records do not allow a more precise date to be given. These records show that the Wallingtons took 50 tons of coal to Uxbridge Electric Supply Company on 19 November 1949 whilst from personal reminiscences we know that they also often carried coal to Harefield. They once carried a load of 63 tons of lime juice. At times work was almost non-stop when delivering valuable loads of copper cathodes and billets. A journey to Weston Point on the Manchester Ship Canal in search of a cargo is recorded. Although FULBOURNE is often recorded as travelling empty through Cowley Lock the Wallingtons thought of FULBOURNE as a lucky boat for they often got return loads and did not travel empty too often. They also mentioned that their children worked with them at times but exact details of this were not pursued. In 1948 much of the canal network was nationalised but it was not until 1 January 1950 that the assets of the nationalised GUCCCo (including FULBOURNE) were transferred to the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive. Jim Wallington became more and more fed up with FULBOURNE's engine and eventually gave the motor up in favour of TARPORLEY, though they took ANGEL with them as the butty. From March 1953 they were still on FULBOURNE but by July they had switched to TARPORLEY on which they were to stay until January 1954. In July 1956 they were on BARNET and ROMSEY but soon afterwards Jim took up a shore job at Bulls Bridge. The September 1989 issue of Waterways World includes a picture of FULBOURNE and an unidentified butty which was said to be taken during 1954. There may be some error in this dating for Jim and Phoebe Wallington have identified themselves as working FULBOURNE and ANGEL in this picture. Phoebe is steering the breasted up pair into a lock whilst Jim holds back the gate which was giving problems.
In November 1953 it was minuted that FULBOURNE's engine awaited repair and in February 1954 she was docked in order that the work could be carried out. The engine was a two cylinder National diesel, number 46656. On April 7 1954 shortly after the repairs had been completed the empty boats register for Cowley Lock shows that FULBOURNE and her butty EWELL were being steered by an S. Beechey. This steerer continued on FULBOURNE until at least June 1956, usually with EWELL although on one occasion in March 1955 the butty MALUS was used. At present the exact identity of this steerer has not been established as the Cowley registers show that there were at least two, and possibly three steerers who were entered as S. Beechey. Little is known of his period on the boat but in December 1955, FULBOURNE was recorded as being in Birmingham, whilst in October 1956 she was seen at Leighton Buzzard loaded with coal.
There is a gap in the Cowley empty boats register between November 1956 and June 1957, but by March 1957 Joe Alcott was noted as the steerer by the Birmingham Public Health Department using CHESHAM as the butty. The Cowley register confirms this when this pair passed through in July 1957. Before taking over FULBOURNE, Joe had been the steerer of PURTON between 1951 and 1956. Fleet lists in May 1958 and January 1959 show that Joe was still on FULBOURNE but that he was using HALTON as the butty. During his time on FULBOURNE, Joe carried coal to Apsley, Colne Valley Sewage Works, Croxley and Nash Mill, delivered grain to Wellingborough on the river Nene, took spelt/steel from Brentford to Birmingham, and lime juice from Limehouse to Boxmoor. He too took the boat to Weston Point to unload a ship but since the dockers were on strike he went to Manchester for a load instead. A picture of FULBOURNE from this period is in our possession. It shows the boat tied up at Bulls Bridge opposite the junction with the Paddington Arm. Joe does not appear, but his daughter Brenda is seen polishing an engine room porthole whilst another steerer, Owen Flowers, looks on. An unknown boat, possibly FULBOURNE's butty, is tied up outside her. Jim and Phoebe Wallington informed us that Joe died recently either in the last months of 1989 or the early months of 1990.
The evidence from the Braunston Boat Traffic Movement Book, reproduced in Appendix 3, shows that by June 1959 Ted Ward had taken over FULBOURNE and a fleet list in February 1960 notes that he used the butty HALTON. The following month, however, a steerer, Sammy Lawton, who now lives near Cowley Lock, used FULBOURNE as his spare boat for a couple of trips before Terry Barratt (Jr?) took her over in June 1960 and remained with her until April 1961. Then from May at least until October 1961, and possibly longer, she was steered by someone under the name of Grantham. The Braunston records show that the usual runs were coal for either Nash Mills, Croxley Mills, Apsley Mill or Colne Valley Sewage Works. There is a possibility that when Grantham was the steerer that FULBOURNE no longer worked with a butty but was paired with another motor for she is recorded as passing through Braunston with ASTEROPE in May 1961 and with SUDBURY on other occasions later that year.
No definite knowledge of FULBOURNE's movements after October 1961 has been discovered. There are several stories that towards the end of her commercial life she was used as an ice-breaker. However, in June 1962 a decision was taken to reduce the number of boats in the South-Eastern fleet and FULBOURNE was listed amongst those no longer required. Thus FULBOURNE was consigned to the scrap heap, even before the bad winter of 1962-63 convinced the newly appointed British Waterways Board to cease commercial carrying. We have been told by the Wallington's son that FULBOURNE had often been tied up at the end of the Wendover Arm during the 1950s and 1960s because of the lack of demand for water carriage.
She was sold in 1963 at Gas Street Basin to Derek Wilkinson and his father, both from Birmingham, who wished to use the boat for pleasure, not for commercial carrying. FULBOURNE was eventually moored near Knowle Locks on the Grand Union where David and Trish Faulkner saw and purchased her in July 1965. The Wilkinsons had built the basic conversion over the hold and the Faulkners, after boating her down to Iver near Slough, finished fitting her out for living on board. They were married in September and spent their honeymoon on her. FULBOURNE was home for about a year during which time their first child was born. They moved to Cowley for a short time then headed north to Cowroast Lock on the Tring summit.
Meanwhile the Faulkners were having serious thoughts about emigrating to New Zealand so they placed an advertisement in thE Daily Telegraph on 4 June 1966:-
Canal narrow boat, converted, permanent home and cruising for sale. 'Fulbourn' Cowroast Lock Tring Herts.
It was seen by Derek Palmer, a vicar from the Bristol area and an enthusiastic member of the Kennet & Avon Canal Trust. After negotiation the purchase was concluded on 8 August 1966. Derek owned FULBOURNE for some years, not living on board but boating extensively around the Midlands with his wife four children and other canal enthusiasts. The boat was used on a timeshare basis for about Â£25 per person a week. FULBOURNE was originally moored at Patch Bridge on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal. One of the enthusiasts was Bob Shopland who later became General Secretary of the Inland Waterways Association and then onto pastures new as one of the founders of Waterways World.
Two years after Derek had owned FULBOURNE, and on the advice of the previous owners, he sold the National for about Â£25 replacing it with a new Lister SR3, a three cylinder diesel, the work being carried out by R. W. Davis & Son of Saul near Glouceste. There were several problems, initially stemming from the attempts to use the existing propeller. This fault was later rectified by using one with a smaller diameter. Because of Derek Palmer's roving pastoral work he reluctantly had to part with FULBOURNE. She was sold in April 1975 to Robin Taylor and his family from Portishead near Bristol who had already been on FULBOURNE for their holidays and who continued to use her in the same manner as Derek Palmer had done.
FULBOURNE was dry-docked in 1976 at the BWB's yard at Tardibigge for plating repairs carried out by Malcolm Braine. The engine maintenance was carried out by Lister's of Dursley. Malcolm Braine was to come in contact with the boat once more some ten years later when he was asked to carry out a structural survey on her. FULBOURNE was eventually sold on 26 August 1978 to Keith Taylor (no relation). From the records of the Narrow Boats Owners' Club there had been sightings of her in May 1978 at Weedon on the Grand Union, a year later another sighting at Long Itchington, and in May 1980 at Woodford on the river Nene where Keith Taylor moored her. He owned FULBOURNE until 1983 and during this time he gutted the interior with the intention of rebuilding the living accomodation. Due to personal problems the rebuilding was not completed Instead a local businessman who had been watching the progress of the work decided to buy her and complete the work himself. The new owner, David Powell, took FULBOURNE up river to Northampton, craned her out and brought her back to his yard by road where amongst thousands of worn-out tyres she was stacked up on wooden pallets. She lay there unattended for three years. Either through pressure of work or the realisation of the enormity of the task, no progress was made on the cabin's interior during David Powell's ownership, though in late 1985 Malcolm Braine carried out a structural survey on her.
During 1985 a group of canal enthusiasts were looking for a boat to restore and use on the canals. Their intent was to purchase, improve, maintain and run a traditional motor narrow boat for pleasure use, but it was also their intent that as near as possible it was to be restored so that in external appearance it looked as it would have done when first launched as a working boat. Initially the group were concentrating solely upon the motor but the question of obtaining a butty and working as a pair was considered as a possible long-term aim. After inspecting some boats which did not meet the criteria the group placed an advert in Waterways World and this was seen by David Powell who contacted the enthusiasts.
After several visits to inspect FULBOURNE a price was agreed and the purchase finalised. The new owners were fortunate in that their initial work on the boat could bo carried out whilst FULBOURNE was out of the water. Another survey was carried out by Malcolm Braine, and a sheet-steel fabricator in an adjacent yard was employed to overplate the areas identified in the survey. The group hired equipment and needle-gunned the exterior of the hull prior to giving it an anti-rust treatment tarring and pitching. The interior was completely cleaned out and most of the floor was wire-brushed. The owner of the yard had already informed the group that they would have to move FULBOURNE from his yard as he intended to erect a building where she lay, and so, after several delays, on 12 June 1986 FULBOURNE was craned onto a low-loader for her return to the canal. British Waterways recommended that the best place was adjacent to Lock 2 on the Stoke Bruerne flight, an hours drive from the yard. After an uneventful journey, FULBOURNE was lowered into the cut and a quick celebration was then held in The Boat at the top of the flight. She was then week-ended to her new mooring at Harefield which had once been the coal wharf at Colne Valley Sewage Works where FULBOURNE had delivered several loads of coal in 1959 and 1961. Whilst journeying south, FULBOURNE cruised the Aylesbury arm and there met an elderly couple walking the towpath who recognised the boat as an ex working boat, and on being told the name introduced themselves as Mr and Mrs Wallington.
During the remainder of 1986, the interior of the hull was needle-gunned and the floor given several coats of anti-rust paint and then the traditional red oxide, and then the process of preparing and laying floor panels inside the hold and front locker began. As the National Rally was at Brentford it was decided to attend, and a meeting of the group that was held on the back deck of FULBOURNE during this weekend was later used as a front cover for Waterways World in January 1988. In early 1987, investigations began into boatyards capable of building a traditional style back cabin since FULBOURNE had somehow lost hers prior to David Powell's purchase. The new owners decided that this objective would lend credence to their intention to restore FULBOURNE to her former glory. A contract was eventually awarded to Warwickshire Fly Boat Company. After attending the May Bank Holiday rally at Little Venice, FULBOURNE was taken to the Company's boatyard at Long Itchington. The work was more complicated than envisaged, so additional work such as new gunwhales alongside the cabin and a new stern deck had to be undertaken. The stern deck had a new steel base surmounted by ash tongue and groove planking on top of which were put oak cants and the original dollies. The top rubbing band around the cants came from ALDGATE, another Town Class boat. For the remainder of the year work continued on the floor panels, on painting more of the hull interior, and other small tasks, but throughout autumn and winter some boating was enjoyed. FULBOURNE was taken to the National Rally at Hawkesbury and then down the southern Oxford Canal, the Thames, and the Lea and Stort, before returning to Harefield.
At the AGM in October 1987 it was agreed that the next major objective would be deconversion as it was thought more important to continue the task of making the exterior look traditional before fitting out the interior to make it more convenient and enjoyable for cruising. The main thrust of this work was to remove the existing cabin over the hold to make new gunwhales along the sides of the hold and to set up all the necessary support structures to allow side, top, and cratch cloths to be put in place. Much discussion, research and preparation was necessary before these tasks commenced. For reasons of cost it was decided to use tropical hardwoods such as iroko and kpur instead of oak for the gunwhales and other woodwork despite some reservations about this departure from traditional boatyard practice and concern about the destruction of the tropical rain forests. There was some disagreement about whether deconversion would require professional expertise or whether the group were able to undertake the task themselves but after discussion a vote decided upon the latter and Chris was appointed as overseer. In spring 1988 the timber was purchased from James Latham a timber merchant on the lower Lea and from the boatyard at Uxbridge. There was also discussion about the cloths but it was finally decided to purchase traditional black canvas cloths and four top cloths and all necessary side and cratch cloths were purchased ready-made from Warwickshire Fly Boat Company, though the group had to proof them themselves. Further discussion has suggested that three rather than four top cloths should havo been purchased as this was the number traditionally used by GUCCCo during the 1930s, and it was only later that the number was increased to four. There was much discussion about which livery scheme should be used but it was decided that no firm decision could be taken until further research had been carried out. On July 2 the work of deconversion began, and by the evening the old front cabin had been destroyed and removed, but persistent rain from July 3 onwards meant that original plans for a two week blitz on the work were frustrated and it was not until early August that enough work had been accomplished to allow the boat to be taken northwards for the IWA Annual Rally at Castlefield. For the remainder of the year there was much boating in the North and Midlands whilst work on deconversion continued.
During 1989 work on deconversion continued but other important tasks were also started. These included the decoration of the back cabin so that it resembled those found on traditional boats, both in facilities and appearance, the repair of the engine room roof by Uxbridge boatyard, and the first efforts to provide better and more permanent accommodation facilities within the hold. Since the IWA National Rally was at Waltham Abbey, boating was mainly in the London area with several visits to the Lea, including a trip round the Bow Back Rivers as part of a demonstration to show that these usually unused stretches could be navigated even though much dredging and cleansing was necessary. FULBOURNE was also chosen to be the first boat to pass through Limehouse Lock at the official re-opening. After the National Rally at Waltham FULBOURNE was taken to the Midlands for boating and rallies in that area.
In 1990 work on the above tasks continued but also after much discussion it was decided that despite the absence of conclusive proof it seemed probable that FULBOURNE would have been launched in the GUCCCo red, white, and blue livery that was adopted in early 1937. So a decision was taken that she must now be painted in that livery. The painting was done by the group, but a signwriter was used for the lettering. Before this was done the engine room was cleaned, needle-gunned, and repainted, except for the very lowest floor and bilge areas. Later that year, just before the National Rally at Gloucester, the GUCCCo logos were painted onto the top cloths as part of a final spruce up before the rally at which FULBOURNE received 2nd prize for the best turned out working narrow boat. Earlier that year FULBOURNE was taken to the Wendover Rally in order that Jim and Phoebe Wallington could visit the boat, but from June onwards various members of the group took the boat to the National Rally at Gloucester going via the Midlands and returning via the Oxford Canal, the Thames and the Kennet & Avon. In late February 1991, FULBOURNE was dry-docked at Uxbridge for a survey to be carried out for minor repairs to be made to the hull and to the stern gland. Whilst there, advantage was taken of the situation to put two or three coats of bituminous paint on the sides and bottom. The survey was favourable, but it was noted that a new bottom and new engine would be substantial improvements to be considered for the future.
The Lister SR3 engine installed when the boat was converted was eventually replaced by a National engine although not the one originally fitted.
In 2000 we repainted the cabin in its wartime austerity livery.
Regular working parties are held to ensure that the boat is kept in good condition and regular dry dockings take place for maintenance and painting of the hull. The cloths have to be replaced regularly as good quality black canvas cloths are now hard to come by.
Until 2000 Fulbourne was based at Harefield on the Grand Union Canal from where it cruised the canal system extensively usually attending the IWA National Rallies and Canalway Cavalcade at Little Venice. Fulbourne is currently based at the Aylesbury Canal Society Circus Fields marina on the Aylesbury Arm of the Grand Union Canal and continues to cruise.
Appendix 1 Excerpts From Check Sheets At Cowley Lock January 1947 To December 1948
Appendix 2 Empty craft register Cowley Lock January 1949-July 1957
Appendix 3 Braunston Boat Traffic Movement Book 14/05/1959 to 13/10/1961