A mystery for the narrowboat folk


A notable narrowboat photographed in a well-known spot from an unusual angle. What do you know? Image kindly supplied by Andy Dennis.

Here’s one I’ve been sitting on for a couple of weeks now, but it’s about time I shared this wonderful enquiry from the startlingly prolific Andy Dennis, who’s running a great local/genealogy/history blog that’s quite frankly, showing me a clean pair of heels at the moment.

Andy’s writing some great stuff – nip over and check it out here.

Anyway, on with the issue at hand: an interesting canal photo taken by Andy’s father, which I think we could do with knowing more about – and I’m sure there are folk amongst the readers who can help with it.

Andy wrote:

Hello Bob

I was looking for something in my ‘treasure box’, in which the treasures are memories rather than anything of pecuniary value, and I found this small photographic print (3 x 2.5 inches or 78 x 57 mm).


Andy’s treasure box. Love the clock! Image supplied by Andy Dennis.

On the reverse, in my father’s hand, is written:

The original print is none too sharp – safe to say Dad was no Lichfield or Liebowitz!

I recall vaguely seeing a TV documentary about the campaign to rescue the canal network which, in the 1950s, was disintegrating rapidly and I think Wynford-Vaughan Thomas and fellow commentator Audrey Russell took to the canals to play their part. That is all I have been able to find out.

Hopefully, someone out there will know more.

Norman ‘Wilt’ Chamberlain was a member of the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team and one of the greatest of all time.

Best wishes

This is a very interesting image. I’m fairly sure that ‘Brownhills Smelters’ was Superalloys, the war scrap specialist beloved of local kinds for their remarkable collection of junk, and the bridge looks like Middleton Bridge under the Lichfield Road as viewed from the northern side. Here it is on Bing! Maps.


Fairly certain this is the same bridge. Opinions? Imagery from Bing! Maps.

Note the stepped parapet wall and white staining. It’s a very interesting angle as there’s no footpath that side and it would have been a hard spot to get to. I feel there’s a story there in itself.

Thanks to Andy for a wonderful enquiry – so what do you know? Any contributions welcome. Comment here or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com.

And don’t forget to check out Andy’s work here.

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9 Responses to A mystery for the narrowboat folk

  1. bipolardad24 says:

    I dont think the boat was named for the Harlem Globetrotter but I could be wrong, I believe it was named after the cousin of Neville Chamberlain a fellow social reformer who was killed in WW1. This boat which was a conversion of a butty boat went to the festival in London to celebrate the coronation of our dear Queenie in 1953. Wooden it was one of many converted at the time but atm I dont know what she was previously.

  2. Andy Dennis says:

    I am sure you are right about the name, my note was somewhat mischievous!

  3. bipolardad24 says:

    Capt Ahab asked elsewhere about this boat and got this answer from the doyen of canaloraks (or the best canal boat historian out there) Pete Harrison

    NORMAN CHAMBERLAIN was built out of the former F.M.C. Ltd. horse boat CONWAY (purchased from T. & S. Element as RUBY in October 1950), its conversion being completed in September 1951. This boat was operated by the Birmingham Federation of Boys Clubs.

  4. I can’t add any information about the photo but I can tell you why the exact spot where the man is standing is important to me.

    A tale of catastrophe, loss of faith, redemption, goodness of the soul.

    I had a plastic boat (not wood or tin plate, PLASTIC!) that was my pride and joy. Mom took me to the towpath opposite that point to sail the boat. We had a long piece of string attached to the boat and Mom threw it to the far side of the canal and I pulled it back. All good until the time when she threw the boat and all the string went after it. Why did you let go of the string she asked. I didn’t (couldn’t) speak – I just looked at her and held out my hand still holding my end of the string. Not being rich we were using odd bits of string, old shoelaces, wool and anything we could find. It could not match the strength of Moms throwing arm.

    It felt like the end of the world as the boat would have been at the feet of the chap in the photo and I thought it may as well have been on the Moon. We stood there not knowing what to do when a coal boat chugged under the bridge heading for Chasewater. After a quick shout to the boat it veered to the far side picked up my toy boat, sung over to the towpath, popped the boat gently on the grassy side and went on its way without even slowing down.

    Up till then I thought that boatmen were to be avoided in case the swore, got angry or set lose mad dogs.

    I remember it like yesterday.

  5. Andy Tidy says:

    I have come across an account of an earlier part of what was a week long voyage around the Black Country in July 1952. The Norman Chamberlain was commissioned by the BBC for a daily 15 minute live report by their reporters Audrey Russell and Wynford Vaughan Thomas. The account I read was written by Vivian Bird and published in the Birmingham Weekly Post.
    The boat started at Tardebigge stopping at Gas St Basin then on to Tipton via the Stewart and Lloyd works at Halesowen and then to the power station at Walsall (now Sainsburys). At this point the author left the boat but I presume it continues around the Wyrley and Essington and the Daw End / Rushall Canals and back to central Birmingham.
    It appears that the boat trip became quite famous as it progressed and large crowds gathered on the bridges to see the famous BBC commentators and, where possible, to collect a few autographs.
    This was in interesting time for the BCN with some commercial traffic still moving, mainly from a handful of collieries. However, this was the last gasp for commercial trade and the trip was undertaken when the whole canal system was a tipping point when extinction was a very real possibility.

  6. I know nothing about the boat but I can tell you without a shadow of doubt that the bridge is Anglesey Bridge, which is the bridge carrying Lichfield Road. You’ve got the right road, and it looks like the right picture but the wrong name. Middleton Bridge caries Chase Road. Here’s a better picture of Anglesey Bridge http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4910389

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