people lived in a closed community. Most boat people were born
and brought up on the canals and they tended to marry boat
people, possibly nobody else fancied the life and hard work!
Some did take jobs on dry land, especially when trading was
collapsing in the 'fifties, but few non boat people decided to
work the canals.
Jack Allen (that's him at fourteen below
left) came from a big boating family. The Allens and
Deakins worked in the North West of England on the
Bridgewater Canal and River Weaver; uncles, aunts, parents,
grandparents, great grand parents! Jack was a good talker with
an amazing memory! Sadly Jack died on 17 July 1999 and most of
his memories went with him, but here's just a taste.
was born in 1920 on the coal boat Mabel belonging to West Leigh
collieries, I was actually born three foot six under water -
because at the time the boat was loaded!
grew up on the boats, but from five or six onwards I sometimes
used to stay with relatives for a bit to go to school, what
little bit of school we may have. I spent a month or so with my
gran going to Barnton school and, before my great grandfather
died, I spent a little time living up at Hill Top and I went to
Little Leigh school. Iíve been to school in Liverpool, Iíve been
to school in Burscough, Iíve been to school in the midlands,
Iíve been to school everywhere. But from eight onwards I worked
on the boats."
"My dad was badly wounded in the 1914-18 war,
so I more or less was the man of the family. He taught me a lot
and relied on me a lot. As far as horseflesh was
concerned, judging horses, I was buying and selling horses when
I was nine years old! That was the education that the boat lads
got, learning rope work, paint work, roses and castles, pricings
"We was lent out a lot, today theyíve got a
posh name for it, fostered, but we was lent out to bleeding work
for our keep! I've been lent out to more families than I can
is a funny story, you take it or leave it, but this fellow here
didnít like the moon. Our Tommy, his name was (photo on
right). Thomas was half shire, belonged to my father, and if
ever we were working all night, and the moon happened to be
shining, especially in the canal,
would go in after it! Itís true! The last time he went in as I
can remember was the end of 1938, something like that, and we
was working all night. It was my job to walk behind the horse
and we were near where Kellogg's is (in Manchester on the
Bridgewater Canal), and - this was boat life - there used to
be a big market garden and I used to take a corn bag and help
myself as the boats was travelling along. So, soon as I got
through Taylors bridge my dad gave me the corn bag. Even in the
pitch black I knew where everything was."
"When I got back out of the market garden my mum
says to me, Iíve made a brew (pot of tea). This is about 2 o'
clock in the morning and the bloody moonís out isnít it. So I
gets on the boat and has my brew and I sat in the cabin. My dad
says, come on matey. I says, whatís up? Heís seen the bloody
moon, he says. I said, oh heíll be alright. Sploosh!"
"Now you imagine from Kellogg's to the red
bridges before the tank (Barton Aqueduct). Thereís a getting-out
place there with steps, you used to have to take the boards out,
and I had to swim him from Kellogg's to there get him out. The
bugger, he swum and he walked and swum and walked. There were
places were I tried to jump him out but he wouldnít. Must have
been nearly a mile!"
"And that was the fella that hated the moon."