Who works on the waterways in 2012?
During the Industrial Revolution as the Irish navigators or “navvies” continued to build the waterways network, steerers were needed for the boats and lock keepers were required for a variety of maintenance tasks.
Other related professions included Reservoir Keeper, Blacksmith, Superintendent of Canal Works, Canal Toll Clerk, Wharfinger, ‘Navigator’, ‘Canal Labourer/Navvy’ and ‘Boat Boy’. (1) The canal-side inn keeper often provided stables as well as refreshments, and later, when the boatmen moved their families on board, boat steerers became boatwomen as well as boatmen. Then of course there were occasional canal-side shops and the boatyards which included boat building, boat maintenance and the painting of boat names and decorative livery such as roses and castles.
At the height of the canal age these major trade routes would have been busy with cargo carrying boats working fourteen hour days; a very different scene to the relaxing leisure resource that the canals have become today. During a peaceful stroll down the towpath, a rural cycle ride or a day’s fishing would you suspect that the canal is still a hive of activity and a place of business for many modern canal folk?
In the 21st century there is a surprising diversity of businesses on the waterways. I can think of The Marine Engineer, The Boat Broker, The Coal boat, The Trip Boat, Roses and Castles, The Floating Hairdresser, The Virtual Assistant, The Writer, The Book Barge, The Sandwich Butty, The Cheese Boat, The Puppet Barge and Mikron Theatre to name but a few. I haven’t even begun to think of the variety of employees at British Waterways; soon to become The Canal and Rivers Trust.
People like Phil, Brian, James and I at Boatshed have made canals and boats a part of our working life. Phil says, “We are very pleased to be the first Boatshed brokerage dedicated to the Inland Waterways of the UK. We share a passion for canals and canal boats and we are very lucky to be able to work at something we enjoy so much.”
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Confucius
New Year is a time for new projects and taking leaps of faith. Whether you’re thinking of working on the waterways, living aboard or taking up pleasure boating, your perfect boat could be waiting for you at Boatshed Grand Union. Seize the day!
(1) Census history reported by Marsworth Local History Group in The Marsworth Village Newsletter April 2011
Trip boat, part of a business for sale atBoatshed Grand Union
Day boat for sale at Boatshed Grand Union