Friday, 7 May 2010

Detective work

After poring for a while over that photo of Chertsey in the Roger Alsop book (and I've since had further confirmation that Chertsey was indeed there at the time), I decided to compare it with some of the few other photos I have.

The first one I looked at was this. This is Chertsey on the River Wey, on the way to or from the National Rally that year (I have the plaque too). I can be fairly sure this is the real thing, not only because of the plaque, but because I was given it by the Turners who got it from Richard Pearson, who was Richard Barnett's business partner. This is definitely the same boat as in the Harry Arnold Gopsall photos which I dare not reproduce. Even the Brasso tin is still there (though it has been moved from one side to the other). Has something awful happened to the tiller, or is that an optical illusion?

One thing that is fascinating me is the engine situation. When built, in 1937, Chertsey was fitted with a National DM2. In 1960, a Petter PD2 - the one we have just removed - was fitted. But the scars on the engine room roof suggest that at some point a third engine was fitted. This would have been prior to 1960, so might have been by GUCCCo or by BW (Ownership passed from the former to the latter upon nationalisation in 1948). I need to do a bit of digging to find out if and when GUCCCo started replacing engines - I know that information is out there and shouldn't be too hard to find.

But I am also intrigued by what I found in the pictures regarding the cabin. This much I know: Large Woolwich motor boats were built with wooden (softwood) cabins (unlike their Northwich equivalents, which were all-steel). BW's practice once the boats were in their ownership was to replace these (as they needed replacing or repair) with plywood ones, which lacked the nice lines of the Woolwich ones. At some point, Richard Barnett rebuilt Chertsey's cabin... from solid oak. The story has it that this wood was salvaged, in the form of shelving, from Colne public library. It was probably intended to function as a wooden cabin; it is double thickness. However (most likely, I guess, because it leaked) he had this solid oak cabin skinned in steel by Les Allen. That is the cabin it now has. But the photos (assuming I have their chronology correct) have thrown up some interesting questions about the cabin.

For example, in the Wey photo above, and in the Gopsall photos, you can clearly see that the cabin has side vents. These were standard in the Woolwich cabins, but I don't know if they were reproduced in the BW ply ones.

Now, here are two later photos, very kindly given to me by Richard Barnett's widow. The first, really beautiful, one (of which sadly I only have a rather poor print, which I have just scanned) was, she told me, taken in 1973. The second one I don't have a date for, but the style of clothing sported by Richard (for it is he) suggests that it is a little later.What intrigues me is that it clearly still has a ply cabin here - i.e. Richard hasn't yet got around to replacing it; perhaps he is just about to - and it is the same one as in the 1973 photo, but not the same as in the 1970 ones. How short-lived were they - would he really have replaced it twice between 1970 and the early eighties? Although it is possible, because it is now clear in the 1970 photos that the paintings inside the rear hatches are not the same as it has now, but by 1973, they are in place.

One further thought - I suspect - and, of course, like to think, that some of the oak framing inside Chertsey's cabin is original. At first I didn't believe this could be possible, but what made me wonder is the fixings revealed when we removed some moulding by the back doors - great brutal metal spikes. They just don't look like they would have been in use in 1970. Someone whose opinion on wooden cabins I would respect said he thought they could be original. And it does seem that the ply cabins were built on the original framing, so unless it was damaged (and it's 4x4, roughly, oak) there would be no reason to remove it... unless you were replacing the whole cabin with a steel one. A fate which Chertsey, I think thankfully, has avoided.


  1. Sarah
    Have you contacted or spoke to Pete Harrison specifically about Chertsey and her re-engine jobs, if anybody knows about any GU boat it is him as he has spent the last 25-30 years researching them and knows all there is to know. If you haven't let me know and I'll send you his Email address by PM.
    PS when you back up Stretton.

  2. Hi Sarah,
    It seems to me unlikely that even a double layer of oak wouldn't have been covered by some kind of sheet material whether ply or waterproof hardboard. So perhaps the cabin was rebuilt sometime between 1970 and 1973 and the ply/hardboard was later removed and replaced with steel. So maybe not as many cabin rebuilds as you think.

    It is possible that your engine room roof could have been "donated" by another boat. Quite a few of the Wendover boats around 1970-71 had them go missing. This seems more likely than BW or GUCCC fitting an intermediate engine.

    And I've found another picture for you - in "A Pictorial History of Canal Craft" by Peter L Smith. It is similar to the Wilmcote (?)aqueduct shot but taken on the Ashby Canal. The same pic and one that is also probably Chertsey in a "Shire Album & Canal Barges & Narrow Boats" by the same author.

  3. Thanks both of you - good ideas there. Blossom - I have been in touch with Pete Harrison, which is where I got the information that I have about engines, steerers, pairings etc. He only has a record of the Petter going in in 1960 so I think Paul's suggestion of an 'adopted' cabin top is well worth considering. Ditto the idea about the cabin sides - it would explain a lot, particularly as it clearly had the newly painted panels on the rear hatches by 1973, and it would make sense to think these were done at the same time as the new cabin. And thanks for the tip about the book too.

  4. Oh, and back at Stretton by next weekend I hope, just have something to get out of the way at work on Tues and Weds.

  5. Hi Sarah , ref the Wey photo , that is Triggs Lock and the boats are heading South towards Guilford so they are going to the National , not back from it .

    Wishing you well with your work and research on Chertsey .

    Duncan - - occasional steerer of Woolwich Butty Bellerophon .

  6. Hi Sarah,
    I am just a little bit late on this, but I remember Richard telling me how he had replaced Chertsey's cabin in steel, leaving the existing framing in place so as to get the shape right. We discussed it when we had a new cabin welded onto our butty. Perhaps this is old news to you now!
    Hope you well
    Matt Beamish